Sven Groeneveld On US Open: “It Was A Controlled Environment, Not A Bubble!”

PROSTEJOV, September 8, 2020

Over the last 30 years, Sven Groeneveld has coached a variety of players to Grand Slam victories, finals and semi-finals, both on the women’s and men’s tour. Besides travelling the professional tennis circuit, the 55-year-old Dutch is also the former Head Coach for Swiss Tennis, had his own academy and facility in Amsterdam and created the Adidas player development program.

Groeneveld, also the co-owner of OrangeCoach, is currently working with Japan’s Taro Daniel. After the 27-year-old World No. 112 competed in the Western & Southern Open as well as the US Open in New York, Daniel and his coach returned to Europe to play at this week’s Moneta Czech Open in Prostejov, an ATP Challenger 125 clay-court event.

We met Groeneveld on Monday afternoon at the venue of the TK Agrofert Prostejov after Daniel’s first-round win against Facundo Bagnis from Argentina to talk about his work, the US Open and the ATP Challenger Tour in general.

Tennis TourTalk: You’re here in Prostejov with your protege Taro Daniel, who won his first-round match in three sets. It seems that the transition from hard court to the clay worked out pretty well?

Sven Groeneveld: You can see that Taro is more comfortable on the clay. That’s where his foundation is. It is actually the first tournament for me to work with him on clay. We have been together on hard court since November. After Indian Wells was cancelled and we were stuck in five months of a break, it’s nice to see how his game is suited to clay. There are still elements to improve, on which he can work in this period of transition. I don’t consider this as a full season. As long as the points are not coming off and you don’t have anything to really defend, it is the perfect time to work on your game. It is a great privilege for all these players to actually play, having the US Open, the Challenger Tour back. For the players it is not only about the ability to make some money but more importantly to work on their games again. For me, I used this situation to really adapt and see how I can add even more value to Taro on the clay. It’s an education period for me.

Many players said that they spent a lot of time during the suspension of the tour to work on their fitness. Anything that Taro and you did as well?

Yes, of course. He put on some extra muscle. Maybe he is one kilo to heavy but match play will get him fitter. However, he needed to gain some weight. He needed to gain some capacity. The game is changing. The big hitters are the future of our game. Just putting the ball back on the court is not sufficient enough.

You have just returned from the US Open. What can you tell us about “life in the bubble”?

They did a great job. Everything considered, they maximized all they could. It was more a controlled environment, not a bubble. I expected a lot more restrictions. The tier 1 group stayed in two hotels and one of the hotels was not in a fully controlled environment. That was a little disappointing to see. It was not as thorough as I expected but when you see what everything has to be done, they maybe even overachieved the things they had to do: from transportation to hosting, dinner and practice situations.

What surprised you the most during your time in New York?

I was surprised that the players were allowed to play after they were in contact with Benoit Paire. The week before with Guido Pella and Hugo Dellien they set the standard and I thought that was good. It was according to the protocol. We were prepared regarding contacts. Tracing was in place. 50 minutes or longer with one person and you are then in the segment that you could be put in quarantine. They did it in the first week. In the second, however, they bypassed and created a new protocol. The city approved it but the county in which we stayed in did not. To be honest, the other ones did a great deal and still could play, the others not. However, they bend the rule there, too, because they were allowed to practice. They went off-side anywhere at the facility, which I found strange. They broke the protocol themselves, which I found disturbing. If I would have known that in advance, I don’t know if everybody would have come.

A lot of things are going on in the tennis world right now. Novak Djokovic resigned his position as the president of the ATP player council …

He was asked to resign. Anybody, who was involved in the PTPA was asked to resign. It was not that he did it on his own. It was also the terms of the ATP. We will see in the future how that turns out.

Do you have additional information about it?

I am very involved in players’ rights. I have always been very vocal. I think that the players need independent consultation. They need to be represented as a collective in order to protect their rights. I was really pleased to see that Vasek (Pospisil) and Novak had taken the decision to go public, saying okay, that’s what we are going forward with.

What are the goals of the new players’ association?

Obviously they want to represent the players’ interests. That is across the board, not only male but also female. I think they went for the male section as different rules apply. It is also a different tour. My question is: why didn’t the women also start for themselves? I know there are some discussions about this going on in the back. There are also female players not feeling represented properly by the WTA.

Let’s also talk about what happened on Sunday when Novak Djokovic was defaulted after a ball he struck towards the backboard hit a line-umpire. Was it the right decision?

I think the linesperson was caught by surprise. She couldn’t defend herself and was hit in the throat just after she made the call. I hope that she is fine. Unfortunately it was Novak on the biggest tennis court during a pandemic. It could not have been a worse time than this. Obviously the rules are in place that he had to be defaulted. Two points before he hit the ball really hard to the side of the court. I heard that he barely missed a ball boy. In his match against Bautista Agut, he also hit a ball outside the stands. He has a tendency of doing this but I am sure he will never do it again.

It took some time until the decision was made. If this happened at Challenger level, the player would have been disqualified pretty quickly.

You only have one chance to make your call correctly. You are at a bigger stage and I am glad that they took their time making their decision based on the facts and information they had.

You have already worked with many players, being one of the most prestigious coaches on tour. Could you describe the differences between coaching a superstar like Maria Sharapova and an up-and-coming player like Taro?

Of course there are differences but I do not treat them differently. I adapt to the situation, to the player and to the players’ needs. Taro and I are here by ourselves. With Maria you travel with an entourage. You have a bigger group to lead and constantly have to manage. Here I just have to manage Taro, which means that I have a lot more time with him. It allows me to work on elements that are not just on court. It impacts your daily routines and your personal energy levels but listen, whoever comes to my court or whoever court I enter, they get a hundred percent from me and it doesn’t matter, who it is.

What are the goals for Taro for the rest of the season?

The most important thing for me is that I can help him to identify on what he needs to work on. I don’t want to work on convincing or forcing somebody, I want to educate them. Education takes longer but it will stay longer.

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It’s your first time here in Prostejov, right?

Yes.

What are your impressions of the tournament and the Challenger Tour in general?

We are here in the heart of Czech tennis. You can see that everyone here is totally committed to tennis. The facilities are at high standard for an ATP 125 Challenger. You can see that the passion for tennis in this country is great. There are also a lot of great players here. It’s a high level. We bypassed the tournament in Kitzbühel, as we thought that we didn’t get in and decided to play a Challenger instead. I love Kitzbühel and I would have loved to be there but I am happy to see this. It is important that you are in a competitive atmosphere. They do a great job here.

You seem to be a big fan of social media, sharing a lot of insights from your life on tour. What are the values of this medium?

It gives me the chance to voice my opinion, sharing my experience, whoever is interested in that. I have treated it like a business as well. I have a big warehouse and before it didn’t have a storefront. Now we are accessible to anybody and everybody who writes me a message, I will respond. There are not millions of people writing me. It’s a great way to share and express. That’s why we are sitting here right now. It is a great way to connect and human connection is very important, of course not only via social media.

Thank you for your time and all the best.