Sven Groeneveld Wins 10sballs top award

Written by: on 24th December 2011
Sven Groeneveld (ADIDAS)
Sven Groeneveld Wins 10sballs top award  |

Update: After the WTA’s recent announcement that Caroline Wozniacki will end the year ranked as #1, would like to once again congratulate Sven Groeneveld on not only this achievement in coaching, but for all of his work he continues to do for the sport of tennis. He truly is deserving of our first ever Top Coach Trophy, which will be presented to him and his amazing assistant, Mats Merkel next year at the Indian Wells tennis tournament.

We are proud to present our first ever award – The Top Coach Trophy. And the first recipient of this prestigious award is – cue drum rolls and trumpet fanfares – Sven Groeneveld.

Sven is the main man in the adidas player development programme, working as a trouble-shooter to assist any adidas player with whatever coaching or training help they need.

Born in Holland, Sven’s whole life has been intertwined with tennis, even when he did not want it to be, and he has coached the brightest and the best to success after success. Beginning with Monica Seles, he has helped Arantxa Sanchez, Michael Stich, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki. But that is but a skeleton outline – over a long chat at the US Open, Sven gave his life story: from playing football in his back garden in Holland to coaching the best players in the world via working on a building site.

In part one, Sven takes us from childhood to Monica Seles.

“I come from a background of sports. My mom was a national champion in table tennis and played the world championships doubles; and my dad was a very good soccer player before he was elected, actually, to go to the national team. He actually had a really bad incident with his knees and meniscus, so he never made it to the big stage. But he was also a very good cyclist.

When I was growing up in the city of Haarlem, in Holland, we grew up in a neighborhood that maybe was not really the best neighborhood for tennis and I was playing a lot of football. But then my parents decided to move to a small village called Vijfhuizen – it translates as Five Houses – just to give us a better chance, my sister and I growing up, and a better involvement, and they had some tennis courts there. My mom always played tennis. I always was sitting next to the court when she played tennis, but I was too young to actually play. But when we move to Vijfhuizen, I was introduced to tennis. My first year was spent playing on the streets with my new buddies, my new friends in the new little place.

Then they said, No, you should become a member of the club. It was a little bit expensive, but my parents decided it would be nice to do something else besides football. Little did I know I actually had some talent and won my first tournament, and it was called the Future Tournament. That gave me basically the right to be selected for the regional training from the federation.

I was 10 years old when I started playing tennis. Since then it has kind of dominated my life. I got away from football. My parents were very supportive.

My school was not the priority. I really focused on a lot of tennis. I did finish high school, and but still always wanted to play tennis. In ’83, we moved, the whole family, to South America in Colombia. It gave me a chance to experience international tennis on a level that was national level in Colombia. I was 18 years old. I got a chance to compete with the best in Colombia.

I did that for about a half a year. It got me some titles and was ranked in the top 10 in Colombia. But then I was introduced to a guy who was at that time No. 1 in Colombia, Alvaro Jordan. And he said, Wouldn’t I be interested to play in America in college? Obviously I always had a dream about that. Tennis in America: it was the time of the McEnroes and the Connors, and tennis, really college tennis was big. Most of the American players were coming from that. So I couldn’t say no.

I got a full scholarship to a small school in Missouri, Southwest Baptist University, and I stayed there for two years. It was the NAIA Division, and we won the nationals in ’84. The following year was ranked No. 2 in the nation, and I wanted to see if I could move up to the bigger league, NCAAs.

But there were some restrictions due to the education and me being a foreigner, and so I ended up losing a year of eligibility. So I only played one year at the University of Kansas where actually we won the regions – it was called the Big 8 – and we went to nationals then.

The following year I was hoping to play again, but due to the rules and regulations I was not allowed. But I still had a scholarship and I was made an assistant coach, which was actually not my ambition, to be I still wanted to be a player, and the coach actually gave me a lot of chances to train. His name was Scott Perelman. He was also the coach of Chris Woodruff for a while.

I ended up starting to do more coaching than playing and I felt frustrated. I was very disappointed with my tennis so I decided to hang up my racquet, and didn’t touch it for almost a year, because I was very, very disappointed in the sport and in myself.

Then instead of staying in school, I went to Kentucky. There was a sponsor that helped. I moved there for half a year, and I worked in construction. I was laying bricks and making mortar, and started in the summer and ended in the winter. I mean, Kentucky can be quite hot. It was a very good experience, because I was making, you know, $4.50 an hour. You know, if you wanted to have a beer, you thought, Okay, that’s an hour’s work.

I learned a good lesson in that half a year. But I was contacted by my family saying, Hey, listen, maybe you should come back. They actually convinced me to come back after half a year in Kentucky, and made me aware that there was an American University in the Netherlands. I could take my credits that I had accumulated, and I went to university in Holland. I decided to go home.

That’s when I also start picking up tennis again. I could make some money playing club tennis. I went to play Germany a little bit, and started to re-enter the tennis scene a little bit.

During the time that I was finishing my university, I really didn’t want to continue with my tennis. I was 25; felt that I was too far behind. Lost some time, obviously. Didn’t have the sponsors and the financial help that I might have needed.

So I finished university and went to Japan in 1991 on invitation to start a junior program for what was called the American Tennis School and in Tokyo. They had 23,000 adult students. They wanted to start a junior program.

So at first I had to start in the senior program, and we would have, each coach would have about 16 to 25 people on one court, and that was called Pachinko Tennis. I don’t know if you know the game Pachinko. The players that we had we were just feeding a lot of balls. I was doing that for a while.

The guy who actually scouted me out of all the résumés that were sent, his name is Tex Swain. Happened to be the brother of Gary Swain, the manager of McEnroe and recently also Donald Young before, and with IMG.

So Tex said, Sven, you’re too good for this. You need to be playing professional tennis even. You can play here; you can play in Japan; you can go and join the league here. I said, No, no, no, I’m done. I want to coach professional tennis maybe, but help some juniors. My ambition is not to be a player.

So then he actually got an invitation by IMG from his brother and I was asked to work with Monica for the duration of about 10 days. That was in ’91 when she came to Japan for the Toray Pan Pacific. So did that; she won the tournament. I got many requests then, all of a sudden, from that area, and out of Japan, as well. Had a really nice offer to work and I worked a little bit with Naoko Sawamatsu who was top 30 in the world.

They offered me to work half year on tour and half year in the academy. Everything would be taken care of. I thought, Hey, here I am teaching 23 people on the court to working with a pro who is ranked that high after just a week with Monica. I thought, Hey, that’s great.

But then the telephone rang, and Monica asked if I would come to the States and work with her for about four weeks and get a chance to prepare her for the three last tournaments of the year: Oakland, Philadelphia, and the Masters, and I had one week in Florida. I said, I can’t turn that down. I mean, No. 1 in the world. If I want to go into coaching, if I want to go make a name for myself, I should be able to take that.

So I explained it to the people in Japan, and they basically said, Well, if you’re going to do that, then we’re done. Either you stay or you go.

So I had a really good contract and great opportunity in Japan, which I don’t think many people were getting at that stage, or go with Monica for four weeks. Obviously I chose to go with Monica. That lasted for about seven, eight months. That was in ’91, ’92. At that stage we were obviously working good and getting good results, and solidifying her position.

In that work, with the father, as well, the father was the coach. I was seen as the hitting partner. But I was getting more involved as time goes on. But I think there was a little bit misunderstanding between the father and I at one stage, and he said, Well, you know, for the French I’m going to try to use somebody else, but in Wimbledon I would like for you to start up again.

Well, you know, the stubborn Dutch comes out again. They gave me, you know, like kind of ultimatums. And I said, No, I don’t like that.

So I actually asked Stanley Franker, who earlier was the federation coach in Holland, and I asked him, I said, What should I do? If I stop, would you have something for me? He said, No, I cannot promise I have something, because you need your diploma and your education. I said, I don’t have that. I have my university degree. Yeah, he said, But I advise you to stop. So I said, okay. I’ll take your advice. I’ll stop.

But then, after the French Open in ’92, I started up with Mary Pierce, and it was still ’92. In that period was just a lot of things happening, and Jim Pierce was still involved very heavily, and we got along great.
She won her first tournament, but I felt that he, Jim Pierce, maybe felt a little bit threatened and maybe losing his position. So at one stage it was not in the best interest for me to stay, and also the better interest for Mary at that stage. So I decided not to continue. This was, yeah, ’92. And then I got an offer again from Kimiko Date to come back to Japan and to work with her.

I went back to Japan, and worked with Kimiko, but it was very tough, and I didn’t know that, because I always seen her on tour. But when I got there I was working with her and a translator. She was not speaking very well. She had a translator on court and everywhere. So that didn’t last very long. We did all right, but again, it was one of those things that just was not the right time.

So ’93 comes around. I went to Australia with her, but after Australian, I said, Kimiko, it’s not gonna work. I understand that we might be able to work, but it’s not the best for either of us.

Then I stopped, and I went to Orlando. A good friend of mine had an academy at that stage, so I just wanted to visit him. But Betsy Nagelsen and Mark McCormack are in town. I’m asked, Do you have time to go over to the house and have a hit? Obviously I knew who they were, and I said, Great opportunity; would love to meet them.

And so I spent a lot of time with them over about six month period. I got introduced to a lot of people, spent a lot of time with Mark, a lot of time Betsy, obviously, on court, but she was doing television, as well. So it gave me a little bit more insight. That’s when Mark asked me to work with Arantxa.”

Read part two of Sven’s story on Thursday.

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  1. Karen Anderson says:

    Thanks for this insight on Sven! I love reading about the success of others. It is such a positive story and Sven should be proud of himself! Congrats Sven- you are a star! Karen

  2. [...] Kuala Lumpur: Hi Jon, Found a candid and insightful interview with Sven Groeneveld in three parts. Here, here [...]

  3. [...] Kuala Lumpur: Hi Jon, Found a candid and insightful interview with Sven Groeneveld in three parts. Here, here [...]

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