A well-known Biblical verse goes: A prophet is not without honour save in his own country.
This may well be the case with South African tennis coach Jeff Coetzee whose awesome feats at recent Majors, Wimbledon and US Open, have largely been overlooked in the country of his birth.
Coetzee has just guided the Colombian doubles pairing of Robert Farah and Juan Sebastián Cabal to back-to-back Grand Slam titles. This ranks as a first in the annals modern-day South African tennis history.
Never, at least, in Open era of tennis (April 1968 onwards), has a SA tennis coach guided a player to a Grand Slam title. Of course, before the Open era, South Africa produced several Grand Slam champs, in singles and doubles, under the guidance of local coaches.
Farah and Cabal started out six years ago with Coetzee and at the time they hovered in the 60s on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) doubles team rankings. Now after their two Grand Slam conquests, the pair are No 1 in the world by a fair margin. They top the standings with 7940 points and the No 2 pair are on 4625.
Also, the pair are joint No 1 on the ATP individual doubles rankings, again way out in front (8610 points). Next is No 3 on 5790.
Coetzee said when he started six years ago, he spent several training sessions with the players before he accepted the position as their travelling coach.
“I needed to establish how they played and what they offered as a doubles team before accepting the post,” said Coetzee, who during his playing career was one of the world’s leading doubles players with a career-high ranking of No 12.
“I felt the need to change things a fair bit which meant working hard on improving their basic shot-making technique. After a while, they started seeing improvement and that proved a major boost in our association.
“The next step was to look at aspects like strength and conditioning, nutrition, speed and agility so that they could stay with intensive training schedules. The players called in specialists who needed my input so that eventually it all amounted to achieving optimal performance at events.
“Now all we do is to stay sharp and match ready. There’s also the matter of tweaking playing strategy because as World No1s our opponents have us under the microscope all the time.”
Next, up for Coetzee’s charges are events in Asia and Paris. After that, they sign off for 2019 in London for the ATP doubles final.
SA’s last Grand Slam winner Johan Kriek, a back-to-back Aussie Open winner in 1981-82 has kept an eye on Coetzee’s progress. “He’s obviously a great guy and smart,” said Kriek.
Presently Coetzee is in Cape Town helping the SA Davis Cup team preparing for the tie against Bulgaria on Friday and Saturday.
Coetzee has been roped in as a consultant for the team, which is captained by Marcos Ondruksa, who like Coetzee is also a former SA Davis Cup player.
In partnership with ANA and Sports Leo