Category Archives: Q & A

Sitting Across MT-Desk: Bastian Gründler with PACIFIC

Recently I caught up with an old friend, Bastian Gründler from Germany, whom I have known since his years of playing college tennis in the U.S.A. He grew up playing tennis in Germany before moving to the U.S. to play college tennis for the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) – his brother Philipp played for the UCLA team that won the 2004-05 NCAA Championships. He went on to get his Sports Science diploma from London Metropolitan University in England. He continued to play tennis and went on to win in 2010, the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) UK Individuals Singles & Doubles Championships, as well as the Team Competition with his university team.

He now works for PACIFIC – a German Tennis goods manufacturer. The company was the Official ATP-Partner for Strings, Grips and Stringing Machine in the years 2007-2012. Having acquired Fischer Racquet Division in 2009, PACIFIC today is a full-range supplier and one of the major players in the string and racket industry.

I have often intended to do Q & A article with faces in the industry, and I believed holding one with Bastian would be a perfect start to the “Sitting Across Mertov’s Tennis Desk” series.

Bastian, for starters, can you please provide a brief background of PACIFIC?

BG: PACIFIC Entermark GmbH started as a distribution company for various sports goods, founded in the early 70’s. Our own PACIFIC brand has grown stronger over the years, due to high quality production & innovative products. With the quality label ‘Made in Germany’ – PACIFIC manufactured the 1st electronic Stringing Machine in the 1980′s. The company was famous for their own Natural Gut production, equipping world’s best player such as for example John McEnroe. As much as the company has grown, it still remains 100% family-owned, with its headquarters located in Stuttgart, Germany. Even with all the revolutionary developments, you still see the best players relying on traditional products! A great number of today’s Top 100 players, actually more than 60 out top 100 players, prefer ‘Hybrid Stringing’ – a mixture of Natural Gut strings combined with synthetic materials. Gut strings provide elasticity and power factor, while synthetic strings provide control & accuracy factor.

What is your area of responsibility with PACIFIC?

Bastian Grundler & Florian Mayer - At a tournament signing sessionBG: I have been with PACIFIC for 4 years now, and I am working within two divisions at PACIFIC. One the one hand I work with the Int. Sales department where all efforts are combined, providing our worldwide sales partners with everything PACIFIC’s got to offer. On the other, I am responsible of the division of ‘Global Brand & Player Services on ATP / WTA & ITF Tour’. Together with Tom Parry, our Player Services Director, I am looking after all our sponsored players (see picture with the current ATP #30 Florian Mayer during a signing session), as well as scouting upcoming talents and potential future champions. Furthermore, PACIFIC works closely with more than 250 coaches worldwide, because one of our central concerns is to educate tennis players, improve their ‘material knowledge, more importantly, instill the importance of the service factor in tennis.

Can you further elaborate on this aspect that you refer to as the service factor?

BG: By saying ‘service factor’ I am underlining the importance of serving and educating the
customer with an in-depth knowledge of the full range of products that we have to offer. The company has been holding material & service seminars all around the globe throughout the last +40 years educating sales partners, industry and also consumers on fundamentals. The company’s foundation in manufacturing Strings & Grips provided ground for such seminars, demonstrating the actual function of Accessories to the racket itself. Without a motor, no car could move an inch. Without Strings, a racket cannot be used to perform, therefore the Strings are often called ‘the engine of the Racket’.
At PACIFIC, we provide our players with best materials & advice. My job is to interact with Players, and also deliver my advice and services onto our global distribution network, retail partners and Tennis specialist stores. It’s a well-functioning combination of Sponsoring, Marketing and – obviously what’s most important for any company – Sales.

PACIFIC is one of the top companies in the industry competing for the world market for hard goods, especially rackets. Where do you see PACIFIC’s current status and in what ways can PACIFIC hold an advantage over its competitors?

BG: A large portion of the tennis market for hard goods, especially rackets, is held by Babolat, Head, and Wilson. However, PACIFIC has become a strong contender for the number 4 position and we plan to aim even higher. Traditional brand names are fading, and loosing share to current major players. It’s important to develop & grow key markets, but also invest on your foundation. PACIFIC products are recently available in +80 countries through active distribution network.
PACIFIC’s product range provides high quality performance products in all segments, being full-range supplier (except shoes). There are many companies out there, that produce 1 or 2 good products in just 1 category, may it be ‘Racket’ or ‘Grips’, while PACIFIC is growing as a strong performer in all product categories.

Bastian, this all sounds interesting in the scope of the industry’s ins and outs, but how does it help the consumers in the general population, in other words, your everyday tennis players in the clubs and tennis fans who picked up the game?

BG: Let’s give the example of a great champion and work our way to all tennis players. Just like Roger Federer did when switching to a new frame, every tennis player, regardless of their level, should ask themselves the following question: “What is the best product(s) for my individual performance?” A couple of years ago, I was at a tournament in Switzerland. In the evening, I was walking by some local courts when I noticed a senior player who looked to be about 80 years old. It was obvious that he was barely able to hold on to his ‘preferred’ racket. It turned out that he chose Federer’s heavyweight, small head-sized racket to play, and I can assure you that he was not enjoying his Sunday evening performance. So, I walked up to the court and asked him who on earth recommended that frame to him. He responded that he went up to a Tennis retail store to buy the World #1′s racket, because that racket ‘must obviously be the best one on the market’.

Here again it is my job to combine multiple perspectives such as understanding the player’s mind in connection with the game’s different facets, analyzing market trends, providing feedback for today’s world’s best athletes, as well as the consumers. I need to respond to the demands of the professional players as well as the Swiss senior club player. I follow closely the requirements of products, and I seek answers to questions such as how to match products to the individual player’s ability and how to enhance performance and while maximizing the joy of playing tennis. What does the player require from his/her product? What are the deciding factors for tennis players & consumers when choosing one brand’s product over another? My job is to not only answer these questions but bring in different perspectives and angles to various individuals according to their abilities.

During the 2012 London Tour Finals, PACIFIC Tour Coach Robert Davis (long-time Coach of Aisam Qureshi) held a Kids Clinic (see picture below) instructing young Tennis learners how to mount a grip band. It starts with the simple things.

Klinik

It seems that racket and string technologies have evolved tremendously. Companies are always introducing new models, different technologies with flashy names. I can’t even count all the different names given to the various stringing materials. How do you keep up with all this?

BG: Actually, the shape of tennis rackets has practically not changed throughout the last 50 years, while materials absolutely did! Back in the days, rackets were wooden, heavy, and not comparable at all to today’s high-tech frames. Then came along a racket made from aluminum, then another from carbon, and yet another from graphite. Eventually, the manufacturing process was industrialized because the technology side became too important for the business. In 2009/10, PACIFIC acquired Fischer Racket Division, a company who has equipped Slam winners such as Michael Stich or Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Starting the company’s first own racket production in 2010, PACIFIC and Asa.Tec, a research and development company specializing in raw materials, pioneered in utilizing basaltic fibers during the process of racket manufacturing. In a highly complex process, Volcanic rock is melted and extruded in the form of continuous fiber which is then strategically positioned in PACIFIC tennis rackets, providing enhanced comfort and precise feedback. In short, you asked me how I keep up with all the developments. We are part of the innovations and actively involved in the developments, thus it our job to know everything inside and out.

Considering all your interaction with the players, have you seen any players express strange concerns, or make unusual demands with regards to their equipment?

BG: Absolutely. There is this one top-female contender, who does not want her Grips being touched and prepared for the match by anyone other than her coach! There are several Tour players out there who do not want ANYONE to touch their match rackets other than their trusted personnel or entourage.

Roger Federer was one of the first players to consequently change frames before every ball change because his preferred string tension drops during match play. Today’s tour players are very sensitive with their materials, and I mean this in a positive sense. Same with coaches, physical experts and trainers; with regards to material, no stone is left unturned in order to enhance performance. Material experts and specialists are brought in to tweak here & there in order to figure out little advantages for the player.

Bastian thanks for your time. We will keep in touch. Any last word to the readers?

BG: Thanks for your time, and my best advice to the readers: pay attention to details when you get your equipment, and try at least a few varieties before settling on one.

The US vs. Serbia Davis Cup Tie Aftermath: A Closer Look with Jim Moortgat

It’s done. The unthinkable happened. No, I don’t mean that it’s unthinkable that Serbia led by the world’s number one player Novak Djokovic would defeat U.S.A led by number 20 Sam Querrey and number 23 John Isner in Davis Cup, but that the world’s number one ranked doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan twins would lose on Saturday to a doubles tandem composed of Nenad Zimonjic, and some guy named Ilija Bozoljac (many pundits nicknamed him “Bozo”) who is ranked number 1150 in the ATP doubles rankings, and a mere 335 in singles! But anyone who has watched the matches over the weekend and who has read about it is aware of the headline tidbits. So, let’s go beyond the doubles upset or the retrospective obvious.

I caught up with Jim Moortgat, an old friend who currently runs a tennis academy in Boise, Idaho where the tie took place. He resides in Boise, thus he attended the Davis Cup weekend and was in charge of the ball kids. Jim is a well-known figure amongst tennis coaches and circles at the national level. Since the late 1970s, Jim has been involved in tennis as a competitor for a few years, and since then as a coach at many levels, including a successful career as a college coach, and a 5-year stint with the USTA Player Development Program. Tennis is an essential component of his life, and coaching is his passion. I asked him to reflect on what happened during the weekend, and below is what he had to say.

Jim what was the most striking memory of this Davis Cup tie for you?

JM: What struck me most actually happened before the weekend, and it has to do with Novak Djokovic. But before I get to that, let me add this: we live in a soft culture in the USA, and when you add the tennis arena into it, it becomes even a softer culture. There are no other sports where the player “drives the bus” so to speak. Everything revolves around what the player wants, the player tells the coach what he wants to work on, the coach is the player’s employee in a sense, and the coach can’t “bench” the player for bad play as is the case in many sports. American professional tennis players subscribe fully to this notion.

Then, you have a player like Novak Djokovic, head and shoulders above the rest of the players involved in the weekend. He is the earliest one to come to Boise to get used to the altitude. In Miami the week before, he stayed in the tournament longer than Isner, and lost in the same round as Querrey. Yet he gets to the site days before any Americans and starts training Monday night. He wants to run EVERY stadium stair here at Boise State stadium. To have access to the stadium, one has to get special clearance, and get the security personnel to open the doors. He actually takes the trouble to arrange all that, just so he can get in his necessary workout. I see this, and I am wondering what the American players are doing on Monday night wherever they are, but they are definitely not in Boise. Novak is out the next morning for practice again. If you want to be like everyone else than do what everyone else is doing. If you want to be #1 in the world, than be an outlier! That is the lesson to learn from Novak’s pre-weekend preparation. His training is very different from the Americans, both outside the top 20. We have a guy like Jim Courier at the helm who used to outwork everybody in his days, and yet there is not one American guy who works as hard as the other top guys.

That brings me to my next question: with all due respect and in all fairness to Jim Courier, how much influence the Davis Cup Captain has in the development of American players? To what end does the buck stop with him for this weekend’s loss?

JM: I am not sure how much of the blame/credit can be placed on the Captain. If there is blame, it certainly does not lie with Courier alone. Courier has the players for less than a week. He could demand that they come a bit earlier, but again, that goes back to what I was saying previously. The players drive the bus. Jay Berger is the head responsible of USTA Player Development program. Technically, he is Courier’s boss. All coaches in the program should demand more from the players, and in my opinion, they simply do not. When Courier was a player, the knock on him was that he did not have “enough talent”, similar to Ivan Lendl when he played. Yet, both of these guys rose to number one and overachieved through sheer determination, will, and pure hard work. Since 1968, this is the first time we have never had a player in the top 20. Perhaps we need to realize that “working hard” is also a talent, perhaps the most essential one. The buck stops with the governing body.

It seemed that the American’s hopes of defeating the Serbs rested on winning the doubles point. It was a massive upset win for the Serbs. What do you make of that?

JM: This relates a bit to the previous question’s comments, but before I get there, let me tell you a quick story. There are very few people that I really look up to with their tennis knowledge and the guy that shared the first-hand knowledge of this story was a friend of mine named Steve Smith from Tampa, Florida. Steve told me that long time ago, when Gabriela Sabatini was number two player in the world, she asked Jack Kramer to evaluate her game. Kramer bluntly told her that her serve was terrible and that she did not know how to play the court. He added that he would not help her because he felt that it would take a year of adjustments to add those aspects to her game. Sabatini replied that she was number two player in the world, so she must be doing something right. Kramer said that rankings had nothing to do with it, either you can or not. The implication was that she could either rest on her ranking based on a comparison to the players below her, or take the extra step.

Now, why do I bring this up? Because there are very few coaches, hardly any, who are willing to do what Kramer did, i.e. demand the best player to do something ‘more’ regardless of how well they do many other things compared to the players below them. They feel like leaving them alone on certain things is the safest way to go. Jim Courier fell into this trap during doubles. His team may well be the world’s best doubles team but on Saturday, the best doubles player on the court was Nenad (Zimonjic), and the second best one was his partner Bozoljac. Why? Because our team made them play well. Mike and Bob kept serving to Bozoljac’s backhand and he was on fire with the returns. In a crucial point in the first set, the Americans served to his backhand he once again hit a scorching backhand return winner. You would think that Jim Courier would notice that, but yet, they kept serving to his backhand and through his returns, Bozoljac’s confidence soared and he started serving and stroking the ball in a zone. Then comes late fifth set, and once again on a crucial point, another serve to the backhand and another return winner. When you are on the bench, even if you coach the number one team in the world, you have to demand more, still strive for perfection. That includes sometimes that the coach demand his team to do something out of their Plan A but one that will make the opponent uncomfortable and take them out of their zone. Courier and the Bryans never did that. As a result, their opponents who, under normal conditions, are not as skilled as the Bryans in doubles, found their perfect rythm and overachieved.

Any last thoughts?

JM: Yes, there is one more area where they overachieved, or we underachieved, depending on one’s perspective. The Serbians wanted it more than us. Their awareness of what a Davis Cup tie means was tremendous. On the bench, they had 18-20 people, always invested emotionally in the match, vocal and enthusiastic, creating extra energy for their players on crucial points. Djokovic was eating inside when the second set tiebreaker began, and he ran to the bench with his food to encourage and cheer his teammates because he knew how primordial that tiebreaker was to the outcome of the tie. The Serbians sure as heck knew who they were playing against and what was needed. In contrast, our bench was subdued for the most part, except on few important games and the extension of the fifth set tiebreaker, and we never had more than 10 people on our bench who were far less vocal than their counterparts. The tie was held at an 11,000+ seat arena. There were around 100 Serbians in the crowd, yet several times in the match, it felt like we were playing an away game. Our approach to Davis Cup paled in comparison to how the Serbs approached it.

Q & A with Pat Cash

For most tennis fans, Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon winner, member of multiple Australian Davis Cup teams in the 1980s, and former top-5 player, needs no introduction. Before I ever had the pleasure of meeting the legendary Australian tennis star, I wrote an article back in October of 2004 rating his autobiography entitled “Uncovered” (2002) as the best tennis-related autobiography that I have ever read. Since then, other books have been published, notably those by Tim Henman, James Blake and Andre Agassi. Unfortunately, I have only read a chapter of Agassi’s book, and I am hopelessly falling behind on my tennis literature in the last few years. Nevertheless, I would recommend “Uncovered” to any avid tennis fan. Pat also maintains a blog in which he recently finished a fascinating, 5-part-long “Greatest Tennis Player of All Time” series.

I would like to thank Pat for taking the time to do the following Q & A with me:

Question: Pat, it seems that we had a great era in men’s tennis starting with late 70s, through the 80s, into the early part 90s, one in which you played a part as well. Then, men’s tennis staggered through the rest of the 90s and early 00s. Then Federer and Nadal came around and from that point on men’s tennis found the spotlight again. Now it seems we are in the middle of a golden era again. Logic says that it will go into stagnation again once the top 4 go into decline in a few years. Do you believe that is inevitable? Or does it simply depend on the generation of players? What picture do you see five to ten years into the future in this context?

Pat Cash:
Unfortunately as a purist I see men’s tennis going in to a boring stage. There will always be superb athletes and tough competitors of course but the complete and utter lack of foresight from either the ATP or ITF have inadvertently created tennis players with little or no variety in their game. When Federer leaves the tour there will be only a few players on tour with any style of flash about them with any variety. We already have a tennis world dominated by two handed backhands big forehands following up from big serves. Ventures to the net will be to shake hands and that’s about it. When the Grand Slams started slowing down the game in the mid 90’s by introducing slower courts and balls they had little foresight in making decisions on things such as technology advances or decision on court speeds and surfaces. They changed the game that was initially for the better but as we see it now quickly becoming mundane unfortunately. There must be a committee of ex-top tour players who can discuss the game and what may be the correct decisions as far as technology or court surface speeds and if it is a good decision to change or not change things. String technology must be outlawed if we are ever to see a serve and volley player near the top of the game ever again. You must look at what surfaces favour what styles. Clay and any hard court favours the baseline player no matter what speed the court may be (unless it’s an extremely fast old indoor court). Only grass favours the volleyer or attacking player but over the past 15 years the grass courts at Wimbledon have become so hard that a good volley will bounce high just like a hard court and this again favours the baseliner. Don’t get me wrong I love watching Nadal vs. Federer and some of the other battles we have seen over the last 5 or 6 years as they are just incredible but we must reward good attacking shots and net play as well as baseline battles. It is very clear that the court surfaces balls and strings do not do that at all.

Question: Some of the players from your competitive years have gone into coaching and have had considerable success, including coaching some of the top players on the tour. Let’s imagine for a moment that there is one particular young talent who is succeeding extremely well in the juniors and you feel that he is ready to make the jump to the next level. Let’s also say that one day he comes to you for advice on whom to hire as a coach. Assuming that, for one reason or another, you are unable to be his coach at that particular time, whom would you recommend and why? What sets that particular coach apart from others in your opinion?

Pat Cash:
I think the main thing for a coach is to identify what can be improved and how, but sometimes it means some issue shouldn’t be changed. That could mean technically. For instance I would do some work on Federer’s volley technique which has become a weak point in his game and only works well from time to time. What shouldn’t be touched? I wouldn’t touch much else of any of the top players (other than volleys which are now an afterthought in junior coaching hence the poor volleying) as this may require a period of going backwards and ranking loss so therefore you can work on tactics and /or perhaps the physical part of the player. What would you change in David Ferrer’s game? He has just about maximized his ability. His backhand technique limits his power, but to fix that may require several months perhaps a year to get it better, and at 31 this is not something I would do.

So the question really is, what coach can do all of these? I don’t know any. The best thing a coach can do is to get a team around him as I did in 1986. I had a fitness trainer a sports psychologist and a coach all traveling with me. This was unheard of in 1986 but I realized that no one coach could do everything well, so I got experts from different fields to help make me a better player all over. This is common place now with the Centre Court player’s box full of people. Towards the end of my career I used sport biomechanist Brad Langevad, a body movement specialist, who worked to correct some long-standing technique problems but also to help some existing injuries, and then prevent new ones. This was good timing for me as I had many injuries, so I had time to rebuild my serve in order for it to have more power, and it also helped my back. Last year I served equal to my fastest serve ever at 47 years of age. With some practice I can consistently serve harder than I ever did on tour in the 80’s and 90’s, and it’s not about the strings as I can’t use a full racquet with modern polyester strings as they have no feel on the volley.

Question: It has been over a decade now since your excellent autobiographical book “Uncovered” was published. As you well know, I called it the best tennis book that I have ever read in one of my articles before we ever met. The last chapter is entitled “So what comes next?” and you speculate on many things regarding your future career, possible endeavors and your personal life. Do you ever take a look at that chapter now and smile reading what you were thinking 11 years ago and what has transpired since?

Pat Cash:
I can’t remember what I wrote back then. As you know I decided to be very open about my life outside of the sporting arena which, up to that stage, had not been done in a sports book. I’m glad Andre Agassi did the same thing and I know he enjoyed my book. Perhaps it gave him the confidence to be candid as well. I sometimes wonder how I am managing to play tennis at a good level after all the injuries I have had and I surprise myself when I write ‘tennis player’ in the form at passport control when I arrive in to another country. I don’t really see myself as a tennis player any more though I still do too at some level. I’m more of an entertainer now but in the end that’s what all tennis players are to the public. My life is ever evolving and I think I will move away from just tennis at some stage as there are lots to do beyond tennis. As I continue to enjoy many parts of it still, I will continue to coach, commentate and write.

Question: As you know, Brad Drewett is unfortunately stepping down as ATP’s Executive Chairman to deal with his illness. Is there anyone that you would like to see replace him? If not, what qualities are important for the top position of the ATP? Or do people make too much of it, in other words, at the end of the day, does the ATP Executive Chairman have as much authority on issues as the title would suggest?

Pat Cash:
I have known Brad for many years and played Davis Cup with him. He was a very good player winning events on all surfaces. The difference between him and other CEO’s at the ATP is that he was a player and understands what players need, so that brought a different dimension to the tour. He made sure that after 30 years of debate players finally had extra weeks off, though I did laugh to myself when I saw Federer and Djokovic racing all over the world playing exhibition matches over those new free weeks. Some were charity fund raisers which I admire. The point of having a chairman or CEO is that they lead the company in the right direction, I think given time he would realize that men’s tennis needs some hard issues looked at. It’s easy to get bogged down in politics and finance, but if the product is no good there will be a problem in the end, either that or the marketing better be very good, and this is what tennis is doing well. For instance you watch TV or read magazine and you believe the article of food you see is a good product but in reality it’s just a chewy bit of old cardboard that has been marketed well enough to attract attention and people buy into it, in the end its just cardboard but if cardboard is all you ever had, it’s pretty tasty and that’s what the younger generations are eating. Women’s tennis is much the same. The WTA slogan ‘strong is beautiful’ with shots of the players hitting tennis balls dressed up in night club dresses and ball gowns, what the hell is that all about? It doesn’t exactly promote tennis as a high quality sport does it? It did attract attention so perhaps that’s not a bad thing. The problem arises again when the product isn’t great and at the moment much of that attention goes to two of the top players who are the noisiest grunters in the sport putting spectators off in their thousands.

Question: Outside of Bernard Tomic and Marinko Matosevic, there are no top 100 Australian Men in the ATP. Does Australian Tennis need a change in the system, or an overhaul of the system, or is this simply a phase like one that any other country goes through at times? Where do you see the next 10 years in terms of Australian tennis’ future?

Pat Cash:
That’s a long conversation. The basic reality is that tennis in Australia is a small sport compared to many. It’s hard to believe considering the champions we have had over the years but it has struggled for various reasons to capture the interest of children and families to pick it up as a playing sport. Tennis Australia has done a very poor job of promoting tennis at a grass roots level for many years and is still hiding behind the fact that the Australian Open is a big financial success. The open is a big corporate event that brings needed money in to player development. Where and how the money is spend is spent is up for debate and conjecture. Tennis Australia has aimed to take control over all things in tennis and I do not believe that is a healthy situation to have. It needs some diversity and non-Tennis Australia ideas but they are not welcome and that creates tension amongst coaches, families, and the association.