I recently posted a blog about sport being a solution for those finding themselves steering off the straight and narrow and into unacceptable behavior; I wanted to follow this up by using a high profile sports personality who found sport as their saviour.
Both Elena and I were very interested in the sport of fighting, we both recognised the similarities between fighting and tennis, and both of us recognised the benefits that sport can give to young children. While we were on the WTA World Tour Elena took full advantage of a player event commitment run by the WTA, which was attending a Muay Thai tournament in Thailand. We were both very impressed with the young fighters, their discipline and level of skill.
The person I wanted to focus on is Anthony Joshua, who currently is the unified World Champion, holding IBF, WBA and IBO titles.
This in itself is an incredible achievement, but for anyone who comes from the fighting business will know, what makes this near to a minor miracle, is the fact that Anthony did not start boxing until he was 18 and for me, as an ex fighter, this is mind blowing.
To put this into perspective, Floyd Mayweather started when he was 7, Robert Duran at 8, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Lenox Lewis were all 12, these fighters had between 6-11 years head start on Anthony, that’s a massive amount of time in terms of sport skill development.
Great memories of the England fighters at crystal Palace, during an England training camp
Anthony would be the first to admit that he has not always been the great role model that he is today with a list of criminal behavior that does not make good reading, remanded in Reading Prison for fighting, possession of cannabis, supplier of class B drugs.
It could have all been so different if he had not committed 100% to a sport.
Sport embeds certain aspects into your life, focus, routine, mental and physical discipline, all great elements that protect young people from the negative temptations in life.
Anthony Joshua is not the only young man to be saved by sport, the list is endless, I believe the earlier a child adds sport to their life, the better.
The US Open – Memories
The US Open holds so many memories for me, including staying in our official hotel in New York, all the experiences on offer in this great city and my time supporting Elena (as her coach) while she competed in this very unique Grand Slam.
I thought I would share some of these experiences and let you see few of the many hundreds of personal images I have of our time at Flushing Meadows during one of the greatest tennis tournaments, the US Open.
This was an image I took right at the top of the Arthur Ash stadium while Elena was being interviewed after one of her matches, what an incredible view, and an incredible stadium.
Here is Bally in front of the Unisphere, we often passed it. It’s such a striking piece of work, everyone stops to take a photograph, it’s just one of those must-do things. It was commissioned as part of the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Down to business next - the reason why we were in New York, a little matter of the US Open. It's one of the four biggest tournaments in tennis history, the others being Wimbledon, The French Open and The Australian Open. Here you can see Bally training on the marque courts in front of the world famous Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Centre, with the Arthur Ash stadium above.
And of course, if you are attending the biggest tournaments in the world, the biggest tennis stars will be there. Coaching Bally was a privilege which brought so many other great opportunities. I was working in a business where legends are part of your everyday working life; great competitors like the one and only Serena Williams.
The WTA would always set up events for the players, here Bally and Anne Keothavong, the current GB Fed Cup Captain were being interviewed by Sky Sports presenter Jacquie Beltrao It was a great event as both Bally and Anne were put on the massive screens in Times Square
The WTA would always set up events for the players, and in the picture above, Bally and Anne Keothavong, the current GB Fed Cup captain, were being interviewed by Sky Sports presenter Jacquie Beltrao. It was a great event and both Bally and Anne were excited to see themselves up on the massive screens in Times Square
When you are part of the tennis world tour, most evenings afford you the opportunity to visit incredible restaurants, and as anyone who has been to New York would know, you are spoilt for choice.
Bally and I decided to visit a very famous Russian restaurant, what a fabulous time we had, I remember Bally was so excited to be able to enjoy some of the dishes her mother Olga had cooked her. We started with the traditional Russian soup called Borsch.
Walking along the streets of New York is a feast for the eyes and the senses, there are so many different people, from so many cultures showing you their products, skills or art. I was fascinated to witness what an artist could do with a spray can, the completed art never ceased to amaze me. I found it an almost hypnotic experience to watch the layers of an image coming together, and seeing the skill needed to create these stunning pictures.
Bally was always popular with the crowds, and she was often surrounded after a match - as most of the players have experienced. The crowds at the US Open really appreciate being up close and personal with the players. Bally loved this aspect of her job, she was always polite and accommodating when anybody wanted photos.
Another part of being a professional tennis player which becomes part and parcel of sporting life, is the post match interview. Bally was interviewed by almost every one, Sky Sports, BBC Sport and EuroSport to name but a few.
Annabel Croft interviewed Bally many times for Eurosport, and the best memory I have of both of them together was of the fun they had before, during and after every interview. They were good friends and always pleased to see each other.
Sports Parent and Child
Sports Parent and Child
I absolutely hate the term “Pushy Parents” when it comes to young potential champions and their training and competitive regimes. I prefer the term “Opportunities”, as I believe that parents work very hard to provide their children with the chance of becoming a sporting champion.
The term “Pushy Parents” has been earned by parents who have not conducted themselves appropriately in terms of their child and their training and competitive experiences. These parents put their hopes and dreams before their children’s. This is a very unhealthy motivation, for parent and child and there have been many high profile examples of how this can go very, very wrong. These parents typically will set very high and often, unrealistic expectations for their children. Again, often very early on in their journey, adding pressure at ages as young as 6 years old. These young children will endure what could in severe cases be described as physical and mental abuse. This can be brought on by excessive training regimes and unrealistic expectations, leading to failure and the parent reaction.
The other important aspect of this negative type of approach is the impact it has on the parent’s relationship with their child. I've taken training sessions where a young athlete has not performed to expected levels, and they've reacted by crying hysterically. I asked one particular young girl “why are you so upset?”. She responded by saying “I know what my dad will say and do in the car park, and he’ll keep shouting at me all the way home”. Personally, as a father myself, this really did upset me, and I took appropriate actions to address this issue. It also made me very disappointed that this particular father was missing the joys of a healthy father, daughter relationship. This has prevented his daughter from benefiting from a healthy relationship and support from her father.
On the flip side, elite sport for parents and their children can be a very healthy and enjoyable experience for both parent and child. You would see most relationships would fall within this category. This type of relationship will mean that the parent will guide the child in their chosen sport and provide the finances to make training possible. They will also communicate with coaches, arrange training schedules and tournament diaries, all with devotion and commitment to their child, for the right reasons. They will share the highs and the lows with their child, providing a parental crutch during the downs, and someone who will show pride and share enjoyment during the highs.
The sport can be used as a combined life experience for parent and child. This presents challenges that they will both need to manage, separately and together, whilst taking on these overloads jointly. It is amazing to see the bond and relationship between them grow and flourish. The trust that the child builds during these experiences will last for a life time and will be part of who the child will become in the future as an adult.
End of Year Tennis Review by Nino Severino
What an incredible global tennis year it has been, across the ATP and WTA, I salute all the great players and champions who provide us with an outstanding display of tennis to watch, enjoy and appreciate. In this 2016 tennis review I am going to specifically focus on the success of Great Britain, as it has been an outstanding year for them, finishing the 2016 season with 3 World Number ones, Andy Murray, Jamie Murray and Gordon Reid.
Tennis Review - A Sporting Phenomenon
The Murray brothers are simply a phenomenon, when I wrote this word, I thought, is this too strong a statement, so I went to Google, as you do to look up the definition, “extraordinary things, occurrences, or persons”, I came to the decision, without doubt, this describes the Murray brothers perfectly. And of course, you can’t talk about the Murray brothers without mentioning one of the most significant personalities in global tennis, the one and only Judy Murray.
Without doubt, Judy Murray is an incredible mother, but beyond this, she has been a genius in terms of coaching her sons through junior development phases and then positive support, beyond into Global senior tennis domination. I have been privileged enough to see the mother son relationship that her and her boys enjoy, and the incredible devotion they all have to each other. This devotion comes of course from simply the mother son relationship, but it’s the level and magnification of this devotion and relationship that is incredible. But this is not surprising to me, as I know the tennis business, and the Murray trio, together, have not only survived the process of battling through the junior tennis ranks and all the personal sacrifices this includes, they have also together survived the brutal sporting world of tennis, and have, in my opinion transcended to legendary status.
I personally witnessed the very special relationship Judy has with her boys; my wife Bally and I were competing in Palm Springs and we were having lunch with Judy at one of the tables in the player garden, when Andy comes walking through with his team, what happened next was quite extraordinary, Judy got up and ran over to her son and they embraced as mother and son as if no one else existed or was there with them, it was truly an example of the love and tightness Judy and her boys enjoy.
Andy and Jamie have simply had a “Dream Season”; here is a list of their Marque achievements this year:
Andy Murray's 2016 Achievements
Became world no 1 for the first time in his career
First ever British player to be crowned number 1
Andy became most successful player of the Queen’s club tournament winning 5 times
Won Wimbledon for the 2nd time this year - only British male to do in open era
Produced his season best for victories - 72 in 2016 with 71 in 2015
First brothers to simultaneously occupy ATP World No.1 rankings
Jamie Murray's 2016 Achievements
Jamie Murray won his 1st men's doubles Grand Slam title at Australian Open
Won second grand slam title (first time) at US Open with Bruno Soares
Became world number 1 doubles with Bruno Soares
Jamie and Andy became the first brothers to reach the Aus Open finals (singles and doubles) in the open era
Received an OBE this year for his service to tennis and charity
First brothers to simultaneously occupy ATP World No.1 rankings
Top Ten Finish
I can’t write this blog without saluting the amazing achievements of Jo Konta, the British Number one; she is an amazing young woman and a world class tennis player. Jo was ranked 150 at year end 2014, 47 at year end 2015 and her highest WTA ranking in 2016 was World No.9, finishing the year at 10. I am proud to say that my wife Bally and Jo had a very special relationship when we were travelling on the tour and Bally without a doubt had a big soft spot for Jo, I remember one of the years Jo was on her own at the US Open and Bally asked her to join us at our favourite Italian restaurant Di Tony’s. I can honestly say, Jo must be one of the loveliest personalities on the tour; she simply is a very caring and considerate lady. Since the passing of my wife, Jo has agreed to honour Bally and she has become an official patron of The Elena Baltacha Foundation. Even with her gruelling schedule, she keeps in regular contact with me and shows great interest in all the foundation activities and has even this year been involved in personally mentoring one of Bally’s EBAT players through texting, a massive commitment from a top 10 WTA player who would have so many demands on her time.
Here is a list of Jo’s Marque achievements this year:
Jo Konta's 2016 Achievements
Jo won her first WTA title at Stanford
She became the 1st British woman for 33 years to reach a grand slam semifinal in Australian Open
Jo has reached her highest ranking this year and made world top 10 - first British player since 1984
Reached her biggest final at Beijing which took her into world top 10
She has won 2016 WTA most improved player award
Achieved a highest ranking of WTA 9
This brings me onto Gordon Reid, our World Number One tennis wheel chair Champion. Tennis is tough enough, but add the challenges of not being able to walk and having to deal with the daily struggles that this must bring, only makes you respect Gordon even more for proving himself such an incredible athlete, player and Champion. I remember when Bally and I used to get back to the National Training centre in Roehampton, London after an evening out, we would always have to walk along the balcony to get to our room, and down on the court, the wheel chair players would be training hard deep into the evening. Without fail, we always stopped and just watched them train in absolute awe, the determination and skill level they showed was incredible, these athletes show what the human spirit is capable of, against extreme odds.
Here is a list of Gordon’s Marque achievements this year:
Become year end world number 1
Gordon won his first grand slam title at the Australian Open 2016
Gordon defeated fellow Brit Alfie Hewett to take the paralympic gold singles title
Won both the doubles and singles title at Wimbledon 2016
2016 Roland Garros Doubles champion
I cannot finish my blog without mentioning two of the British coaches who have achieved so much and who I can proudly call friends, Leon Smith and Louis Cayer. Leon Smith enjoyed the status this year of being captain of the defending Davis Cup team; I would like to salute him for the incredible achievement of leading the British team to the World title, and on a personal note, for believing in me and supporting me as a coach when I was on the tour with my wife.
And last, but definitely not least, the great and simply incredible Louis Cayer, who is to me and countless others considered as one of the most talented coaches in the world. Louis was a major member of the Great Britain Davis Cup coaching team and his coaching genius would have undoubtedly play a major part in the success the British team enjoyed on their way to the World title. I am placed very well to talk about this man, he coached my wife at the end of her career, and I remember the very special relationship Bally and Louis developed, I know he respected my wife greatly and she him. My respect for Louis Cayer goes well beyond his coaching abilities, he has been an incredible friend, support and mentor to me, and for this, I would like to take this opportunity to thank him from the bottom of my heart.
Exciting Times Ahead
As the Chairman of my wife’s foundation, The Elena Baltacha Foundation, I am involved in a number of events which I will cover in my next blog. These will include a coaching experience for our players with the world class WTA tour coach Nigel Sears, Coach to Ana Ivanovic and the mentoring programme delivered by Anne Keothavong the new Britain Fed cup Captain and BT Sport and BBC commentator, our day with Yonex our foundation friends and of course the players experience with Judy Murray our foundation Patron.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas period with your family and friends.