Chilling With Andres Gomez

I saw the tennis legend from Ecuador, Andres Gomez watching some matches at the 2019 Eddie Herr Championships by a fence pole, seemingly unnoticed by anyone. At first I wasn’t sure if it was really him or Fernando Roese.

It was indeed the 1990 Roland Garros champion who bested Andre Agassi 63 26 64 64. I traded Gomez a copy of my Marcelo Rios: The Man We Barely Knew book for his memories of Facing Guillermo Vilas. And the conversation continued down a fascinating path.

Gomez said as a junior in Ecuador, the kids at his club knew the new copy of World Tennis magazine would arrive by mail at the club on Wednesday and he would get there when it came that afternoon and read it avidly, to see the pictures, the scores, etc. Back then, World Tennis printed all the scores for pro and big junior tournaments. And Andres would track the results of all the notable players, some world ranked juniors he could face later on. Seeing their results he could learn something just by scores in print. It was like homework and match preparation – anything for an edge. Some kids today don’t even bother to look up anything on their opponent and just walk on court knowing absolutely nothing about who they are playing, despite having a phone that can reveal past results on any player.

Vilas was a key inspiration for all South American junior tennis players as Vilas winning French Open and Australian Open in the 70s showed that more South Americans can do what Vilas did. And Vilas sparked sufficient inspiration in young Andres to believe he too could conquer the tennis world.

The dream came true for Gomez in 1990. He beat Muster in the semis – after having lost to Muster in Rome earlier that spring. Which was actually a blessing because no man had ever won Rome and Roland Garros in the same year at that time (Nadal later changed that history). Gomez said he actually played better vs Muster than in the final vs Agassi where he said he did serve and volley a lot actually, he preferred the serve and volley on clay than on hard court because he could slide into the volleys.

Next year will be the 30 year anniversary of the Gomez-Agassi French Open final and Andres is trying to invite Agassi to Ecuador to play an exhibition to celebrate the landmark achievement. So far, no reply yet from Agassi.

I asked Gomez what is the most important qualities for striving juniors and he said desire is first.

That same day I met a former player and current coach/director of tennis at University of San Francisco, Peter Bartlett, who played Agassi a few times as a junior and hosted Agassi’s pro training at his old club The Olympic in San Fran. Agassi, when coached by Brad Gilbert, would train there before flying off to majors and a ritual Team Agassi had would be to schedule (on Thursday) a final practice for Friday before the major. But Andre and Brad and Gil Reyes would never show up. It was a quirky ritual they did, schedule that last practice but never show up. Also, another standout out memory of Agassi practicing was how Gil Reyes would walk around the back court of the baseline behind Andre during the practice and speak encouragement and praise for the whole practice, ego pumping cheerleading phrases like You’re great Andre, You’re the best… That’s all Reyes would say, over and over and over, massaging Agassi’s ego with positive verbal reinforcement.

Surprisingly Gomez said he did not see the full version of the Nick Bollettieri documentary Love Means Zero, which his final vs Agassi is a prominent element. In three days at the Eddie Herr tournament I did not see Nick there once, which is a sign of concern that the 87 year old legend could be injured or ill.

But I did see plenty of pros training hard for 2020, including Nicolas Jarry with new coach Dante Bottini. Jarry was sparring with Australian Jordan Thompson on a court next to Michael Ymer and Chun-hsin Tseng and his new coach Dominik Hrbaty. One drill I saw them doing was Tseng in the backhand side half court only hitting slices up the line and cross court to Ymer who could hit anything back to Tseng’s backhand half (orange cones were set up down the middle). Apparently the drill was to strengthen Tseng’s backhand slice.

Sebastian Korda was training with his dad and mom, I saw him working on his serve. I talked with Petr briefly after and he said he got a lot of negative feedback about the article I did in a Chilean newspaper aSegundo about his memories of defeating Rios in the 1998 Australian Open final which I’m sorry about and it was not my intention to cause Petr any grief. Petr said he will never talk about Rios in the media again. But anything else is okay.

Nathalie Tauziat was also here. The former coach of Bianca Andreescu for three and a half years is now working with a 14 year old Canadian teen Kayla Cross. The intent is the same as for what she worked on with Andreescu, to broaden her game and dimensions and try to get her to move forward more and also to build up her physical strength.

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  • Andrew Miller · December 15, 2019 at 10:59 am

    Nice Kozlov win. Many players crumble in that set-up, and many players like Harrison etc lost to a young Kozlov.

  • Harold · December 15, 2019 at 11:02 am

    Isn’t Minaur the first Nadal Academy kid on tour. Though he probably trained somewhere else earlier in his Junior days

  • catherine · December 15, 2019 at 11:07 am

    Don’t want this argument to run forever – I’d just seen Sloane doing her bit for continuing the Williams’ ‘legacy’ and putting Naomi in there as an African-American player, whereas the truth is a little more complicated, as it usually is. It’s true Naomi has been developed in the US but her Japanese heritage is becoming more emphasised as she grows older – I notice she spent a long holiday in Japan this off season and she does seem to enjoy some aspects of Japanese culture. So she might be a role model for modern Japan, having connections in both countries.

    Doesn’t matter where we live really – tennis is full of players who don’t live in the countries they represent, for a variety of reasons.

  • Jon King · December 15, 2019 at 11:20 am

    The entire thing has to be taken in context of the people you are dealing with. Naomi’s father ran the show down here and made a whole lot of promises to a lot of facilities and coaches who helped develop her. He promised future compensation and was quite a charmer. Many, many folks in S. Florida spent time with Naomi and her sister and family, they never expressed one bit of interest in portraying themselves as Japanese in any way.

    The Japanese angle seemed to coincide with Yonex and other sponsors, the Japanese federation jumping in late to offer more funding than the USTA, and the money they could make by straddling the line of Japan and America.

    Peoples reputations are made over time. When a family uses people, charms people, uses a countries facilities, then casts them aside, it is what it is.

    Naomi Osaka and family were American 99.99999% until it became more financially beneficial to pretend to embrace Japanese culture. Sorry, the truth is ugly some times.

  • Jon King · December 15, 2019 at 11:24 am

    Just a tiny bit of how Osakas used people along the way. She is an American tennis system product, 100%.

  • catherine · December 15, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    Jon – I don’t really care, but the stuff about the Osakas that keeps coming up presents them in a pretty unflattering light. They sound an awful greedy bunch of people and why anyone would want them as role models heaven knows.

    However, Naomi’s mother is Japanese, she was born in Japan and that’s that. As Naomi has grown older maybe she has become more interested in her Japanese side. It’s her decision.

    I don’t really understand why it matters which flag of convenience Naomi sails under. Nationality is by the way – and if you happen to be of mixed nationality, well, that can be difficult at times. You can be torn in two and targeted from quite irrational resentment. A bit like Kerber who is suddenly Polish when she wins and German the rest of the time. Herself, she’s chosen to be German.

  • Hartt · December 15, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    Yes, but “African American” has a very specific meaning. At least in theory, Naomi had to give up her American citizenship, so if that did happen she is no longer American, wherever her residence.

  • catherine · December 15, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Harrt – you’re right, and Naomi did give up her US citizenship earlier this year. She now officially represents Japan. I can understand many US fans want her to be American but I think Sloane slipped up a bit in including her with Gauff, Keys, Townsend etc in carrying on a specifically African-American legacy because Naomi doesn’t actually belong there.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 15, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    Sloane must be smoking some dope, Osaka is Japanese Haitian, nothing to do with Africa. Maybe Sloane wants Osaka to be African.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 15, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    Jon, the word is USTA snubbed Osaka and opted not to fund her, picking Sloane and Keys instead. USTA rejected Osaka and so the family accepted support from Japan and switched to Japan. I was told Japanese federation is very small, only has two courts at their base. USTA had chance to link with Osaka but snubbed her for Keys and Stephens.

  • jackson · December 15, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    “Scoop – Jackson, are these the first juniors of any notable success from Nadal academy?”

    Scoop, I think this is the first time any kids from the Academy have traveled to America to compete (other than quite a number who have gotten college scholarships). They of course play (and win) in a lot of competitions closer to home in Europe.

    I don’t know if this Rincon kid is a hot prospect from Spain but he sure cruised through the competition at the Orange Bowl. Won the semis against a U.S. player Anthrop 2 and 3, and the final against an American, Guzauskas, 0 and 1. He and Abdullah Shelbayh, a Jordanian player also an Academy student, won the doubles as well 1 and 2 against an American pair.

    Also, another Academy player, 18 yr old Alex Eala won the girls doubles against a Canadian doubles team. So all in all, a good weekend for the Rafa Nadal Academy which, don’t forget, has only been in full operation for about three years.

  • jackson · December 15, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    Harold – both Munar and Caspar Ruud train at the Academy and play full time on tour. Up until a year or so ago, Christian Garin trained at the Academy also.

    Of course there are all sorts of other tour players who go to the Academy for a week or two of training but aren’t considered ‘attached’ to the Academy. They’ve recently started construction on more courts and additions that will almost double the size of the facilities and improving the comfort and the privacy for tour players was a consideration. More indoor courts, more training and medical facilities, more private hotel rooms so the famous players don’t get mobbed for selfies and autographs. That was part of Rafa’s dream from the beginning, to create a place that would cater to the tour players needs while they were away from home, and it looks like it’s all working out for him. 🙂

  • Andrew Miller · December 15, 2019 at 8:41 pm

    Nadal Academy: Post Tour Employment 🙂 I expect zero outstanding players to come from there. You can’t reverse engineer a Nadal, even if you ARE Nadal. Munar…not impressed. The younger kids we’ll see.

    We used to talk up Vesely (see Doogie) and I talked up plenty of players that were en fuego on the challengers, and couldn’t make a durable leap to the main tour. As much as it pains me to say it, talent matters and there is no Spanish Armada to “replace” the current mothership, or even match up with that of the era of Bruguera etc.

    That’s why your next Federer or Djokovic or future slam supernova is as likely to come from Romania or Italy etc, because champs are kind of born and made. It’s not a recipe. They need a sick thirst and want to die on the court. Or make up their mind like Wawrinka, a former junior champion, that they want to “die on the court”.

    Even in an era where so many players are retiring these guys aren’t moving up.

    At some point talent matters.

  • Andrew Miller · December 15, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    Players and their allegiance. Good topic. No right answers. Most impressive move in years is for Canadian players to play for Canada. Personally my favorite story is the Andrea Collarini story. Best ever. Switching between USA and Argentina. Sorry for being so salty.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 15, 2019 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks Jackson, you know more about Nadal than anybody I know. Remarkable. Might even know you more about Nadal than he does himself.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 15, 2019 at 9:23 pm

    Rincon must be very very good to sweep through the Orange Bowl.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 15, 2019 at 9:24 pm

    Collarini switched back to Argentina. Patrick McEnroe recruited him to USA thinking he was going to be another Nadal, if I remember correctly.

  • Andrew Miller · December 15, 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Collarini is Exhibit A when it comes to some of the stupidest moves of all time from U.S. tennis elders. There’s no sure thing in junior tennis. Generally if someone makes a French junior final they are a good player, but the whole Collarini recruitment thing was a total failure. I think that was on the Pat McEnroe watch, just goes to show can’t predict who leaps from juniors to pros with the right stuff.

    Collarini. Quinzi. There are as many woes among former junior champs as there are decent or so-so or “not bad”, “passable” etc pro careers. It’s tough out there.

  • jackson · December 15, 2019 at 10:35 pm

    Scoop – I don’t know that much about Rafa but you’re right, probably more than you or anyone you talk to. That’s because the English media ignores the Spanish media and Rafa is the most popular and beloved famous personality in Spain. I only follow one Spanish Rafa fan on twitter and one forum that has a couple of Spanish fans who post some tidbits about him. You have to read some good (not google) translations of his Spanish interviews and appearances to know him and who he really is instead of just the gossip and junk that’s occasionally published in the English media. Clive Brunskill, the famous photographer, recently said this about Rafa: “I’ve been very lucky over the years to get to know Rafa very well and do many exclusive photo shoots with him around the world and in his native Mallorca. He’s one of the greatest athletes I’ve shot in my 38 years shooting all sports and one of the nicest super stars on the planet.”

    I don’t post that much about Rafa here, nothing like Catherine with her Kerber obsession for instance, but I do get ticked at some of the speculation and false notes about him that are posted so I occasionally respond.

  • jackson · December 15, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    Scoop – I don’t have any info on Rincon except for some congratulatory posts from the Academy on twitter – there’s virtually nothing on the ITF Juniors page. He’s only ranked 355 or something.

    That’s probably who Rafa was talking about in one of his pressers when asked about who was going to replace him and the other Spanish stars who are getting old and Rafa mentioned a youngster coming up that had a lot of talent and promise. The kids are learning well from their master though on how to handle the trophies they win – there’s a picture of the two doubles players biting the bowls filled with oranges that they won. 😛

  • jackson · December 15, 2019 at 11:10 pm

    “Andrew Miller · December 15, 2019 at 9:07 pm
    “Nadal won’t be Niki Pilic anytime soon”. Sorry. They aren’t development coaches.”

    Who said anything about Rafa being like, or aspiring to be like, Niki Pilic? He’s busy being the #1 ranked player in the world right now and in the foreseeable future. He has plenty of able and well qualified people running and coaching his Academy for the time being.

  • catherine · December 16, 2019 at 1:57 am

    Back to Osaka/Fisette- I notice a couple of announcements about this union have mentioned that Fisette will be with Naomi for this season. Apart from his time with Clijsters this may be the way Wim works now. Just a year. It’s possible some players don’t understand that, so it comes as a surprise when they find themselves terminated. I’ll be interested to see if this new pairing continues beyond 2020.

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2019 at 2:40 am

    Nadal is careful and stingy with praise as he should be. He knows full well that winning slams is incredibly hard and is amazed he has done so and done so in historic fashion. I appreciate his measured responses when asked about anyone’s future. The best you’ll get from Nadal on other players is “for sure you will have many more chances” (sort of what he said on Medvedev). He likes Felix AA a lot and likes De Minaur as well.

    That’s it, that’s Nadal the super competitor talking. He isn’t going to raise anyone’s hopes, and shouldn’t, at least while he is still out there feasting on slams.

    No I don’t see Nadal’s academy doing much other than raking in the fees. It’s like job security for his uncle. I don’t see it as giving back to Mallorca or anything like that. It’s a business. The Nadals are business people. They manage an empire and the top player in the world.

  • jackson · December 16, 2019 at 6:22 am

    Andrew, why do you continue to post disparaging comments about Rafa’s Academy when you know absolutely nothing about it? Uncle Toni hardly needs financial security from it as he’s very rich in his own right plus he has a very busy schedule on the talk circuit earning money for giving talks about tennis all around the world.

    As for doing anything for Manacor, the Academy has been a huge tourist attraction drawing in many many thousands who also support other local businesses and cafes. The hotel part of the business is doing so well they are more than doubling it in size. The Academy provides employment for over 300 Manicorians which will also increase with this expansion, not including the number of jobs created for the construction and the use of local products as much as possible.

    Rafa is expanding the medical facilities that are open to Manicorians and has brought practitioners and different medical expertise that weren’t/wasn’t available in their town before. The spa facilities are also being expanded and upgraded and again, are available to all the citizens of the town at very reasonable prices. Participation in their exercise and workout programs of all varieties includes thousands of locals.

    As part of the conditions for building it, they had to set aside green space for public parks for the townspeople and contribute to upgrades to the road system and round-a-bouts to move traffic better in the town. It goes without saying that the Nadals and the Academy are also super busy with charity events and sponsoring other sporting seminars that go far beyond the world of tennis.

    So don’t go giving me any more crap about the Nadals just being money hungry and looking after themselves.

  • jackson · December 16, 2019 at 6:33 am

    And what is this nonsense about Rafa being stingy with praise? He’s honest and realistic and doesn’t jump on the latest media constructed bandwagons, but he has been more than complimentary about many players. Just within the past couple of weeks he was talking highly about Shapavolov, saying that Denis had great instincts and talent and that elusive something that most players don’t have, and that he predicted Denis would have the best career of the nextgen if he kept working hard.

    That doesn’t sound like stingy praise to me.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 16, 2019 at 6:49 am

    I like how Nadal manages his praise for rising young players. If he over does it and says he or she will be no. 1 and win majors, it puts a big fat bullseye on their back. Oh, Rafa said this player is destined for greatness…it puts too much pressure and expectation to win on the prospect. I think Rafa is very careful in how he distributes praise. Remember Murray said Caro Garcia was a future no. 1 after her close loss to Maria at Wimbledon about 8 years ago?

  • Hartt · December 16, 2019 at 7:49 am

    I had made a note of what Rafa said about Shapo, although I don’t have the prediction that Denis could have the best career of the Next Gen that Jackson mentioned. As people said, Rafa does not normally make big predictions about players, so this stood out:

    “Denis is special. He has a lot of things you can’t practice, either you have it or you don’t. And he has it.”

  • catherine · December 16, 2019 at 8:07 am

    Scoop – I thought Garcia would turn out better too, after she won Beijing and Wuhan a few years ago. I suspect she stayed with her father as a coach too long, or hasn’t had a decent coach since. Now she’s just a doubles player. Big disappointment.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 16, 2019 at 8:36 am

    Shap is training at IMG, was hitting with Lorenzi last week.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 16, 2019 at 8:39 am

    Murray’s high praise backfired on Garcia, he made her number one before she was even close to it and it added too much pressure and expectation, would have been better for her to be under the radar. Rafa understands how much power his predictions have and his careful not to hurt the young player. Murray I think learned this too and since his well meaning praise for Garcia did not work, he has since refrained from going overboard on over praising young prospects.

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2019 at 9:03 am

    Jackson, I’m not Nadal’s PR agent.

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Nice award for Andreescu. Hard to win top Canadian athlete! Competing against NHL etc. Huge honor.

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2019 at 9:13 am

    But I am Dan Kosakowski’s unofficial PR agent for his one handed backhand. That was a beauty.

  • Hartt · December 16, 2019 at 9:36 am

    We’ve been talking about the effects high praise can have on a young player. At least Bianca had some solid success before Annabel Croft said this:

    “Croft said: “Bianca Andreescu is quite possibly the most talented female player I have ever seen in terms of her overall game.

    Her tennis is mesmerizing. I loved watching her befuddle so many opponents this year with her imaginative play, her flair and her artistry. With the way she moves around the court and sets up her shots, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the US Open champion feels like a female version of Roger Federer.” (Tennis World)

  • catherine · December 16, 2019 at 9:40 am

    Hartt – I haven’t got enough fingers to cross.

  • Hartt · December 16, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Catherine, I’m optimistic, although I know there are no guarantees when it comes to a young player.

    If they can find a way to deal with her propensity for injuries, she should be fine.

  • Hartt · December 16, 2019 at 9:47 am

    As Andrew wrote, Bianca winning the Lou Marsh Award was a huge honour because it covers all sports. Not only is this the first time a tennis player won it, it was the first unanimous decision. Winners in the past include Sydney Crosby (hockey) and Patrick Chan (figure skating).

    “In earning the Lou Marsh award, Andreescu becomes the first tennis player to get the nod as Canada’s top athlete. Thus far in the trophy’s history, hockey has led the way, claiming the award 13 times, with figure skating (nine wins), swimming (eight wins), track and field (seven wins), and alpine skiing (six wins) rounding out the top five sports.” (Tennis Canada)

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2019 at 10:03 am

    As for comparisons to Federer…too much too soon on this stuff. Let’s see where we are at end of 2020.

  • Hartt · December 16, 2019 at 10:26 am

    Yes, the comparison to Federer was over the top.

    In the original article in, Croft has an overview of several top WTA players.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 16, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Federer and Andreescu is a poor comparison IMO, nothing at all like each other, different bodies, different games. I see zero in common.

  • catherine · December 16, 2019 at 11:29 am

    It’s a ridiculous comparison. Just rubbish. I don’t know what Annabel Croft is thinking about. Magazines are really struggling to fill their pages these days because the internet has made them quite redundant. Can’t imagine any of them make any money unless they are sponsored, as tennishead is, or part of a media group, in which case the content is usually compromised.

  • catherine · December 16, 2019 at 11:34 am

  • Andrew Miller · December 16, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Andreescu is indeed her own thing.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 16, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    So the curfew excuse to not play the match was a lie?

  • catherine · December 16, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    Not really – the curfew made it unsafe to play the match but Federer is concentrating on his disappointment and emotional let down. I’m not sure he really understood the political situation anyway. His kind of celebrity exists in a bubble.

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