Apr/20

3

The Man Who Taught Maria And Serena How To Box

A couple of years ago I finally picked up Maria Sharapova’s book “Unstoppable.” It was a superb read with many surprises and highlights. One particular highlight was a photo Maria placed in the book, it was of her at age eight boxing with the renowned Sarasota boxing coach Harold Wilen.

I know Wilen from the early 2000s when our paths crossed a few times in regards to a junior Olympic boxing champion from Sarasota I was helping manage. I contacted Wilen to inform him of his inclusion in Maria’s book, a very special honor.

Yesterday I made an appointment to revisit Wilen at his (temprorarily closed) gym on Mango Street near downtown Sarasota to talk about his memories of training the eight year old Maria on the finer points of the sweet science.

As we sat on the shaded loading dock of a warehouse converted to a gym, amid a mess of gigantic tires, some weighing 750 and 800 pounds, we discussed some very old memories.

“Maria was eleven when she came here. The book said she was eight,” the recently inducted Florida Boxing Hall of Fame trainer recalled. “So I don’t know where that misunderstanding came from. At the time she came with her father Yuri. He said she was eleven. I don’t remember her first day, just the cumulative of better than nine months she came here.”

Even at a young age, Maria showed the extraordinary drive which tennis fans are so familiar with now. “What stood out about her was her incredible work ethic. And whenever her father – because he knew her better than anybody – when her father felt she wasn’t giving me maximum effort, he’d shout at the top of his lungs, “MA RI AAHHH!!!!” And she was startled and she started to work harder.”

I asked Harold how the Russian father with the little girl found out about his typically rugged-looking, hardcorem blood sweat and tears boxing gym which was then located a couple of blocks from the ritzy downtown Sarasota area (the gym has since been relocated two more times a few blocks away). “Some kind of way they knew that I worked with other tennis players which I had, who came from Bollettieri. That was the initial impetus to check me out in terms of Maria training with boxing to improve her tennis game.”

The veteran boxing figure now in his 60s or 70s, who has worked with dozens of world class contenders and a few world title challengers, still remembers the specific exercises he taught the young Sharapova. “We hit the mitts to get an idea of her athleticism. Working her to her physical limit, like non-stop punching. So that’s all for the good to strengthen her upper body, to strengthen her forehand, backhand, whatever. We also did agility drills for footwork which is inherent in boxing and tennis.”

Maria came to Wilen’s gym for over nine months but he never saw her again in person, only playing on TV. “I’m not surprised by what she has accomplished by what I saw of her work ethic and progression from what I saw at the age of eleven…that she told me and her father told me she was, to what she became. It would be a big thing to see her again.”

Wilen says he was honored to see himself on the page of her book in print and photo, “but my name was spelt wrong, instead of Harold it was spelled as Herald.”

The lasting memory of Maria? “Her incredible work ethic. I never saw her lazy. Her father saw it but I didn’t see it. I still remember hearing him yell MARIA!!! at the top of his lungs.”

Wilen remembers his fee for the Sharapovas back in 1998 or 1999 – $25 per one hour session, once or twice a week.

Then in 2006 or 2007 another famous female tennis star appeared at the Sarasota Boxing Club. “A man called me on the phone to set up an appointment for Serena Williams to take a private lesson. She was rehabbing a knee injury in either 2006 or 2007. She came four times. By the fifth one she didn’t call or come. I tried to contact her but didn’t. I don’t know what happened but we had four private lessons (at a $100 per).”

Wilen was impressed by the power, speed and intensity of Serena and one day asked if she ever considered changing sports from tennis to professional boxing? He still remembers her reply, word for word…”I don’t want to get hit in my face.”

Wilen did not get much of a sense of Serena’s personality while they worked together. “Hard for me to say as a person, what stood out about her. Just her athleticism stood out for me. There was respect, mutual respect shown during the four sessions.”

Having seen both Maria and Serena up close and personal training in the ultimate realm of one on one physical competition, I asked Wilen who showed the superior skills? “Hard to say. Given the different ages. I’d say Serena. She was a woman with all the developed fast twitch muscles Maria didn’t have at that age.”

How about if he trained both for a week now for a boxing match who wins? “Similar age…I’d go with Serena. Given power.”

Power is vital in boxing. As I left the gym I looked at those huge construction vehicle tires sitting there on the asphalt, weighing 700 and 800 pounds each. Wilen told me his prized prospect Johnnie Langston, an 8-2 cruiserweight, can lift and move those tires all the way to Lime Street and back (about 50 yards). Curious, I tried to lift one of the tires to feel what 800 pounds feels like. Humbled, I could not budge the black mass even a millimeter.

The strengths and benefits of boxing training are immeasurable. And this man Harold Wilen instilled some of it into two of the mightiest tennis champions in history.

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28 comments

  • Mike onello · April 3, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    Great article/story Scoop about a great trainer..!

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 3, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks Mike. You would not believe how heavy those giant tires are. I could not budge it. And to think a guy could move them so far with his own body weight is unbelievable. I would have bet big money nobody could move those things. I do believe boxing training is very important for a young tennis player, for endurance, increased range of motion, confidence, arm versatility. All players all athletes should do boxing training.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 3, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    It really helped Serena. She was down and out in 2006, Nike was about to drop her, many experts like Pat Cash thought she was finished. Maybe it was the boxing training that was part of her spark.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 3, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    This citizen journalist makes a strong case the virus pandemic is a hoax. Check it out. If it’s real bless everyone. If it’s a hoax, heads must roll. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1wIsMi8ryw&fbclid=IwAR0UyksCnY30GPn70F3Okg0pnuquG82mmWcYOGcN9kzwMwCsKohkVyiGPl0

  • Andrew Miller · April 3, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    No one will ever or should question the Sharapova work ethic. I firmly believe Lansdorp sharpened her strokes up, but Sharapova showed up and kept doing so. I will always appreciate her competitiveness.

  • Andrew Miller · April 3, 2020 at 8:50 pm

    Scoop…the USTA is now discouraging playing. Wimbledon is cancelled. Pat McEnroe has it and it recovering. It’s real. People you have met have it. That you have interviewed and know well.

  • Steve Jackson · April 3, 2020 at 9:40 pm

    Wow who would have thought….I knew Serena had a little boxing background. I remember Richard Williams on a video explaining how Venus and Serena hit an Everlast heavy bag to improve their groundstrokes. Thanks for sending me the link… stay healthy… and be careful my friend

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 4, 2020 at 5:08 am

    Sharapova is the hardest working most dedicated female athlete machine that I can think of. Yuri was super tough on her and she responded to his methods. Landsdorp has played a vital role in many future champs. I should ask Maria Lindsay Pete Tracy Austin if they would vote Landsdorp into hall of fame.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 4, 2020 at 5:10 am

    Andrew, what happened to stay strong stay resilient? I think people need to play tennis. Live life. Live normally. Dont ever succumb to fears. Look fear in the eye and spit on it.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 4, 2020 at 5:14 am

    Steve. Serena scoop secret new info. Happy to learn and share.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 4, 2020 at 5:16 am

    Not worrying about it. No fear. As long as media operates and air travel continues it means were all safe and it’s all ok. Patrick McEnroe is in top health. He’s all over social media. No symptoms. Fortunately. He’s one of my favorites.

  • Sam · April 4, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    “This citizen journalist makes a strong case the virus pandemic is a hoax. Check it out. If it’s real bless everyone. If it’s a hoax, heads must roll.”

    I saw some videos about this yesterday. A lot of hospitals that are supposedly “overwhelmed” with Covid-19 cases are shown on camera to be virtual ghost towns. πŸ˜›

    Also, apparently there are hundreds of coronaviruses, many benign. I heard that you may test “positive” for Covid-19 even if you have one of those other viruses in your system. So, many of the “tests” seem to be wildly inaccurate.

    The virus itself seems to be real, but there appears to be a lot of “fake news” concerning the actual impact the virus may be having most likely in order to engender mass hysteria.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 4, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    If this virus is as lethal as they hype all media airports and restaurants should shut down. But the agenda only seems to be to screw the people and small business.

  • Andrew Miller · April 5, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    Local tennis courts shut down. From here on out it’s backyard tennis. Keep the fire alive. This is a good time to put up a lot of the cutting room floor on tennis, remind all that there’s a lot that goes into the sport. Maybe a deeper dive on how Andreescu became Andreescu, which hasn’t been explored enough for me at least! Her life went from qualies to US Open champ so there’s never enough that can be written.

  • Andrew Miller · April 5, 2020 at 3:36 pm

    Scoop, I am playing, in my own way. Maybe we should all consider the example of the players on social media. Somehow they are training inside their own homes. Andre Agassi, I am sure you read the book “Open”, or have recalled many of his press conferences as he made his comeback, had taken Brad Gilbert’s advice as mantra and improved on any measure he could, including the mental aspect, which we know that, if you have the goods, the mental side separates you from the pack. Some time in the future, maybe it’s months from now or under a year from now, we’ll all remember what we love about tennis and build it back full throttle.

    In the meantime, from a competitive standpoint, it will depend on what they do. If they have the mental fitness. If they have the will to hit the jump rope and free weights etc one more time, even when it seems pointless. I don’t want to see any players after this say if only they had thought to do X, Y, or Z during this tennis slump. I want to hear the stories of how they kept their dreams alive, or read Scoop and Dan’s books.

    In fact that’s exactly what I want as a fan. I want to hear how they made themselves better when it seemed impossible. I want to hear they read Dan and Scoop’s books. I want that for the sport’s sake.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 5, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    Hard to keep producing relevant original content now as the tennis world is in a coma. Not inspired to do boo hoo stuff like how aging vets like Fed, F LO, Bryans, Serena, Paes are losing valuable days weeks months in the home stretch of their careers. Or babble on about how freezing no. 1 hurts Djokovic. Going to take some creative pills and try to come up with something…

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 5, 2020 at 4:57 pm

    Andrew, I think we are going to see some of the most exciting exhilarating tennis we ever saw when this storm passes. Tennis players are addicted to playing training and most of all winning. Their whole lives have been devoted to winning tennis matches and tournaments. They are all starving to do what they were born to do. Those first touraments back combined with the high spirits of the fans will produce tennis magic. Ordinary players like Kudla and Millman may suddenly come up with Rios skills. Dr Ivo may suddenly add 25 mphs to his serve. Imagine Nadal’s passion and fury to be back on the court again. Imagine every player will feel like he or she is on bonus time and so grateful to be playing again instead of whining about the length of the season and travel weariness. My guess is the elite players are on court somewhere,secret home courts, working. But they won’t show that. They will show playing frying pan games in the living room. I have finally found a set of four public courts open here. Not many know about it but a few do. Will do a story about it.

  • Andrew Miller · April 7, 2020 at 10:26 am

    A tennis rennaissance would be great. Personally I believe the renaissance of tennis was well underway dating back a few years now. Any thoughts on whether players may be tempted to play platform tennis with paddles, gloves?

    To me the same players who do anything to win before, short of illegal stuff, will show why they are who they are. I am certain Nadal and his uncle are ready to wait fifteen years to pile on a few more slams…his hunger and desire could fill up a few fleets of cars if they were fuel and as we all know Nadal has come back repeatedly from long periods away from tennis.

    The questions are still there. Can Kenin grow from where she was? Will Andreescu find some way back to the court (this time away should only help). Serena Williams, who tends to suffer with this much time away, can she turn some leaf? Etc. How much “Brian Baker” etc do any of these players actually have? Can Noah Rubin go beyond being a voice for tennis to find another mental gear? Are these guys reading tennis classics on the mind or playing video games?

    That’s all in addition to staying healthy and away from this explosive sickness. Assuming they/we all can. I will leave that question alone.

    Yes, I think the sport has a good comeback in it. The trends over the years has been the growth of the sport internationally even if specific countries or regions are dominating as Leif has written many times.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 7, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Will Federer and Serena freeze themselves until this storm passes? And come back with their ages frozen? I remember people talking when I was a kid saying if you froze your body alive for 100 years you could come back to life when thawed out. They seemed serious. I believed it. In reality, I did hit today on the ghetto courts and who was there? Two pickleballers and three juniors with a woman coach who turned out to be Andrei Cherkasov’s wife, with her son and daughter and an asian kid from IMG who didn’t go back home. She told me Shapo is here training with Youzhny at a nearby club which is not closed. She said they were both at the ghetto courts yesterday.

  • Sam · April 7, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    “If this virus is as lethal as they hype all media airports and restaurants should shut down.”

    But there’s very little evidence to indicate that. It’s been suggested that Covid-19 may be actually be more like a severe seasonal flu:

    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMe2002387

    “But the agenda only seems to be to screw the people and small business.”

    These state governors are getting downright authoritarian with their power trips. I heard one lawyer say that it’s unconstitutional to order businesses to close without offering them compensation.

    Are we even still living in a free country?? πŸ˜›

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 7, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    Sam I’m sure you know this quotation
    To learn who rules over you realize who it is You’re not allowed to criticize.

  • Sam · April 9, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    Scoop, no, but it makes a lot of sense!

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 9, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    Sam, it’s a Nietszche quote.

  • Sam · April 13, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    Scoop, according to this article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Alfred_Strom, the quote is attributed to Strom.

    Oh, well–it doesn’t really matter who first came up with it. It’s just as true regardless. πŸ˜‰

  • Sam · April 14, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    Scoop, try this quote on for size:

    β€œThe government is good at one thing. It knows how to break your legs, and then hand you a crutch and say, ‘See if it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.'”

    β€” Harry Browne

    πŸ˜‰

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 14, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    Sam, it’s truth mixed with humor. How about the quote about the CIA: “We’ll know when our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” – William Casey, CIA director first staff meeting 1981.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 14, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    Sam, or how about this film, the most important film I ever saw. http://www.outofshadows.org You and everyone must watch. The truth is learned, it’s never told. You have been programmed for your entire life and you don’t even know it.

  • Sam · April 14, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    Scoop, hadn’t heard that Casey quote, but it’s a good one.

    “Sam, or how about this film, the most important film I ever saw. http://www.outofshadows.org You and everyone must watch.”

    I’ll have to watch that–thanks.

    “You have been programmed for your entire life and you don’t even know it.”

    Yes, our educational system is designed just for that. Did you realize that standardized tests encourage conformity of thought?

    From Noam Chomsky:

    “The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on–because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.”

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