Two years ago at Indian Wells when you first started with Hubi, if someone would have told you in two years he will be at the Nitto ATP Finals, what would you have said?
I had no doubt that he would have made it here. I would have said, ‘Well, that was pretty quick.’ I told people that fall of 2021 was going to be his time, but then Covid hit. I actually thought this all was going to happen next year. I would have signed right then. The only surprise to me is how quickly it’s come about. It’s not a surprise that he’s here at all.
What was it that stood out that made you think that?
When I was watching him play in Indian Wells, there were pockets of each match when it was just jaw-dropping tennis for me and I just felt like if somehow we could cultivate that and have those pockets that I saw become more frequent or longer in duration, I really felt that he was a menace to deal with quite honestly.
I felt like his serve had a long way to improve, but had the potential to be a top-level weapon. I saw the pieces there and it was exciting. It was about how we could have this great level tennis come to the surface more often and consistently.
Since you said he still has room to grow, on a scale of 0-100, where is Hubi right now?
I would say 55. A lot of room to grow. That’s what you wake up and knock on the door of opportunity for. You want that. It’s fun trying to orchestrate how he will try to get that other 45 per cent.
If you told a lot of players that they had so much room to grow, but they could still make the Nitto ATP Finals, they would be thrilled. How do you try to get the most out of this moment right now while keeping that in the back of your mind?
When you experience firsts, there is always that period where you don’t know the unknown. There are a lot of unknowns here. Once you have the experience, then the things that you might question just become second nature and you don’t have to put much energy towards it. That just takes time and touch.
We’ve got to be together long enough and spend enough time to where we can talk about these things and cultivate plans about these things and then good, bad, indifferent, whatever happens, adjust accordingly and keep moving forward.
Has Hubi ever come to you to say he really wants to get to ‘x’, or a certain point?
We don’t really talk about ‘x’ because what drives ‘x’? What drives ‘x’ is execution. What drives ‘x’ is being prepared mentally. How much are you willing to follow the game plan? ‘X’ is the car and we’re talking about the gas.
I’d rather focus more on what makes the car go than the car actually going. The car just doesn’t arbitrarily go unless it’s Novak. He has so many reps and it’s just so second nature to him. Everybody else isn’t really there yet.
I imagine that takes a lot of concentration and avoiding distractions especially with success. How well has Hubi stayed the course in that way?
He just comes to work every day, really. After Miami I gave an interview in which I said we had six or seven weeks in a row where we didn’t take a day off. At one point I was like, ‘Dude, we need to take some time off’, and he was adamant in saying, ‘No, no, we need to keep working. We need to keep working.’
Miami then happened. In between Miami and Wimbledon he lost some matches in a row, but we didn’t change anything. We just tried to improve some things, really. I knew from the first ball he hit at Wimbledon that he was locked in. I could just tell. It was different. You keep working without really knowing when it’s going to pay off. You just keep working and keep trying.
A lot of people see Hubi’s smile and how polite he is, but he also is very focussed on his work and competing hard at the same time. What’s your take on that perception?
It’s very fair to say. What you see doesn’t necessarily mean that he doesn’t want to win. He wants to win and he wants to be the best in the world. He has all those same goals, it’s just maybe not as in your face as some others. He could be serious, but within his personality.
He’s a very delightful young man. He’s the guy who as a father you’d want those qualities in someone dating your daughter. Also in a next-door neighbour. He’d be very respectful. But he wants to win. It’s great to see him have that, but also within his own style.
This week is a new opportunity for him. What’s your message to Hubi about how to approach it?
Try to be business as usual. This is something that is the pinnacle of the sport, so you want to have the balance between soaking it all in, but also coming here with a mission. Doing something for the first time, at the end of the week we’ll see how it goes and assess it, look forward. But for the most part guys are going on court with a game plan, just like they would any other time.
Are you going to execute that game plan? History usually says the guys who are the most comfortable will do it. It’s about getting him comfortable. Hubi is 4-0 in finals, so when he gets to the finish line, he usually does pretty well coming over the finish line. I’ve never worked with somebody like that. Once he gets there, he usually comes good.
Why do you think that is given the pressure?
I wouldn’t say he’s played his best tennis in the final, but he competes. He plays his best tennis when it’s most important. He competes. He just finds a way. Obviously he serves well and that helps.
When you first started with Hubi around Indian Wells in 2019, you mentioned you thought he had shades of Andy Murray in him. How have you seen his development?
The mannerisms and the way Hubi and Andy walk and do things are similar. Hubi used to return a lot like Andy, but we’ve changed that. Andy’s balance on return is off the charts, you have that or you don’t. It’s really difficult to produce that. We’ve changed that return.
Hubi serves pretty well and Andy has improved his serve a lot. But I don’t see the similarities as much any more. But they do have similar characteristics and traits. I think once we changed his return style, it’s not as prevalent.