MAY 2015—A breezy, sun-filled day on the French Riviera set the tone for our interview with Patrick Mouratoglou, Coach of Serena Williams. (See PART ONE & video here). The interview took place at the Sophia Country Club in Nice, adjacent to the building site of the new Mouratoglou Academy 2016. We set up on the spa balcony, in view of the bustling construction. Below us were the manicured club grounds and shaped pool, where the Laying of the First Stone celebration was about to take place.
Coach Mouratoglou founded the Paris location of the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in 1996 and has coached many up-and-coming players, including Marcos Baghdatis, Julia Vakulenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Aravane Rezaï, Jérémy Chardy, Laura Robson, Yanina Wickmayer and Grigor Dimitrov. As of June 2012, Mouratoglou is the current coach of Serena Williams. His new academy in the South of France, will be the largest in Europe.
We talked about his beginnings, drive to succeed, and what he looks for in a champion…
CG: When did you first fall in love with tennis?
Coach Mouratoglou: It’s a story that probably a lot of kids have had. My parents were going to the tennis club on the weekends and I started playing between ages 4 and 6. There were a lot of kids of my age, and I completely fell in love with the sport. I was playing every weekend, and then I started to play more seriously. After starting to get some lessons, I simply didn’t want to leave the tennis court. I was spending … I don’t know … 5, 6, 7 hours on Saturday and Sunday, every Sunday … every weekend. I could see the players on other courts getting tired and leaving, but I was staying as long as I could.
I could see the players on other courts getting tired and leaving, but I was staying as long as I could.
CG: Your coaching career is exceptional. Marcos Baghdatis, Grigor Dimitrov and Serena Williams, just to name a few… and now you’re building the largest tennis academy in Europe. What inner passion or desire propelled you to become one of the most successful coaches in the world?
Coach Mouratoglou: [Takes a deep breath] Whoa … There are many reasons for that. I think the first reason is … the way my parents raised me, educated me. My father is very successful in business and my whole family has a certain mentality about giving 100% to everything you do … whether you want to do it or you don’t. Being raised with that mentality is a big part of me, even when I don’t try to think about it. Whatever I do, I want to do it as well as possible. So that’s the first reason.
The second reason, I think, is my personality. I really feel that life is short and I want to achieve all the things that I love. I’m working really, really, really hard … I love tennis so much that I’m interested in everything that surrounds tennis. Of course coaching, and also teaching kids … bringing more people to this sport that I love so much. That’s why I started my TV show on Eurosport, about tennis and about my mentality, because I want to share this with others.
I really feel that life is short and I want to achieve all the things that I love.
I do have to add, that I was lucky enough to meet the right people. I think it’s something very important in anyone’s career … for a player or in business or in anything. If you meet the right people who give you what they can give you to improve, then you can achieve very good things in life.
CG: Was there ever a situation or a person that just got you down, and you had to really dig deep to turn it around?
Coach Mouratoglou: Yes, I think everybody goes through situations that are difficult in life. What’s important is to know where you want to go and to accept the idea that you’re going to fail sometimes. If you accept that idea and you accept taking responsibility for the failures, then you always progress because you want results. As a coach, whether my player wins or loses, I feel that it’s my responsibility. If I don’t get results I always question what could I have done differently. What should I do now? What did I miss? And then I find solutions to find the way.
What’s important is to know where you want to go and to accept the idea that you’re going to fail sometimes.
Of course, I had difficult moments in my life. I remember when I worked with Bob Brett for the first six years at my academy. He was the top coach at that time and I was nobody. I was learning and he actually taught me most of the things that I know now about coaching. He’s a great coach. One day he decided to leave the academy, it was very tough. I was almost discouraged, and at that moment the players were the ones who really helped me. They came to me and said “you cannot stop, we need you”. So I couldn’t stop. And very quickly, I was completely back on track.
CG: Can you talk a little bit about your method?
Coach Mouratoglou: My method is simple. There is no method. [Laughs] No, I’m serious. The problem with coaching in general is that when a coach has success with someone, he thinks, ‘oh, now I know what I should do with every player’. The problem is that the needs of every player are completely different. The way to communicate with every player is totally different. So my method is understanding how to adjust to each player. How to take the right information in order to make the right decisions… Because as coaches we have great responsibility – careers depend, in part, on the decisions we make and the directions we choose. So my method is much more about adapting to the person, and I teach coaches to think this way. When you ask yourself the right questions and ask the players the right questions, then you will have a good chance to get the right answers and to make the right decisions.
My method is simple. There is no method.
CG: Is there a way to tell that a player has potential for greatness?
Coach Mouratoglou: If you look at the top 100 players, most of them have completely different qualities. And that’s the good thing about tennis. Whatever your qualities are, you always have a chance to succeed. Of course some players are more gifted, but in a way it is not always an advantage. Because when you are gifted, you feel you don’t need to work as hard, and working hard is most important. I look at the mentality of the players. I think that’s the thing that makes a difference. Champions really think differently from other people — their will, their dedication, their ability to compete and their self-esteem are very important.
All those mental qualities can make the difference and take players to the very top. Of course everybody needs physical abilities. Of course you need a kind of talent. But this is true for everyone. Between the player ranked 100 and the player ranked 1000, there are so many very talented players who never make it because they don’t have this mental strength, this dedication, this ambition that is lacking in most people. So that’s why I look really, really closely at the details.
Champions really think differently from other people — their will, their dedication, their ability to compete and their self-esteem are very important.
CG: What advice would you give to young players who want to fulfill their dreams and who have this desire, drive and ambition?
Coach Mouratoglou: If they have this dream and if they’re prepared to do anything that it will take to achieve this dream, I will just tell them, “Go for it!” There are so many people that will tell them that it’s too risky, that maybe they have no chance, people who will try to discourage them because they’re jealous, or because they didn’t fulfill their own dreams in life. I think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world to have a dream and to be able to do everything every day to achieve this dream. I will never discourage someone who wants to go for it, because I think that having the dream is the most important thing.
If they have this dream and if they’re prepared to do anything that it will take to achieve this dream, I will just tell them, “Go for it!”
CG: How do you think your students would describe you in three words?
Coach Mouratoglou: What would they say? That’s a good question. They will say “motivational”, that’s for sure. They will say, “connected”. That’s something that I heard from all of them. And, I do think it’s so important to connect with them. You asked me for three, I have two. Three. One more … “self-confident”.
From his success as a professional coach, to his many other contributions to the world of tennis including: building the largest tennis academy in Europe, a new show on Eurosport, and his recent book “Le Coach”—Coach Mouratoglou’s passion, perseverance and hard work are truly inspirational.