Sven’s story, part two: from Fed to Greg

Written by: on 25th December 2011
Sven’s story, part two: from Fed to Greg  |

In part two of our exclusive interview, Sven Groeneveld takes on a merry-go-round of players, from grand slam successes to working with a young Roger Federer. And he also discusses his lifelong battle to come to terms with his ego and learn with how it works. Sven picks up the story just as he is beginning to work with Arantxa Sanchez:

“So, I started off with Arantxa and worked with her for a year. It was quite an experience, again, working with a quite tight family and going through some tough times.  She was struggling a lot.  Maybe even looking back, I think I might have made a mistake, again, to step out of the relationship because in ’94 when I stopped, she actually rose to No. 1 in the world; in ’94 she won the French Open and she won the US Open.

But I felt I made a great impact, because before I stopped, I said, Okay, 99per cent I will stop, but the only way I will stay is if you do exactly as I say.  Then she won Amelia Island and she won the World Championships in doubles.

That’s what I actually said when I’m looking back, I said, Maybe I should have stayed in there, because I finally got her to what I felt she needed to be doing.  I said, Yeah, I don’t like to work under threat, under pressure.  I don’t work that way.

And that’s one of the things that Mark McCormack said to me.  He goes, Sven, one day you will be one of the greatest coaches, but you have to learn a little bit about yourself and your ego.

I never really knew what he meant with that, but I will never forget that, because I was searching for that.  What does he mean, ego?  What does he mean?  I never got a chance to really ask him other than thinking to myself, Okay, ego, I know what it stands for.  I don’t think I have an ego.  I’m quite humble.  But over time, obviously, I learned what it really means.

So in ’94 when I stopped with Arantxa after Amelia Island when she won the title ‑ I think she won it against Martina Navratilova ‑ I got an offer to start working with Mary again.  That’s when I worked with her for about a year and a half.  Got to the final at the French against Arantxa.

So a month later, I’m sitting in the box, and here is Arantxa and it was really awkward to see these two girls, when you have a good relationship with Arantxa, which was quite odd.

But Arantxa had the luck with her because there was really bad weather, and the final was put on Sunday instead of the Saturday.  It was rainy, rainy, rainy.  Mary only lost seven games to the final that year and was playing incredible tennis.  Just that one day extra, she just didn’t do it.

I felt that I was in my role, and Mary won the Australian Open in ’95. We had a pretty good run, and then she kind of reached the goal and it seemed like she lost total focus.

I was working with Nick Bollettieri quite closely.  He was overseeing it.  I was on the road; I was a traveling coach. We had – I don’t want to say a misunderstanding – it was just that he had a different vision of how things would go to mine.  So I decided that it would be better for me to stop.

But during the time Mary was playing Fed Cup, I was still at the academy, and Nick had asked me, Sven, can you please take care of Michael Stich?  He’s coming into town; I’m working with Boris.  I can’t refuse him, because the academy is open for everybody.  I’m working with Boris, but I cannot be on court with Michael.  There’s no chance.  Please, can you take care of Michael Stich?  So I said, Yeah, that would be great.  I’d love to.  I mean, you know, the guy is talented, but he’s struggling.  He’s going through a tough time.

So Michael flies in.  And this is in ’95.  He flies in and he says, I’m struggling; I’m not winning anymore; my serve is gone, motivation.  So I pick him up and we’re going to the hotel, and he doesn’t have all his bags.  Something has happened.  But I said, Okay, I’ll bring the bags later when I bring them to the academy, and I said then the next day we’ll start at 9:00 a.m.

Previously he has said to me, he said, I need somebody to tell me what to do.  So I said, Okay, I’ll pick you up at 9:00.  He goes, Sven, I don’t start before 10:00.  I said, Michael, didn’t you just tell me that you’re having problems and you’re asking me to tell you what to do?  You need somebody to really take the lead?  Now you’re taking the lead again. I said, Do you understand that that maybe also the cause of your problems?  I said, Either I’m gonna be telling what you to do or you’re gonna be controlling it.  So he goes, All right, pick me up at 9:00.  That actually set out a good relationship, and we got along great.

When I stopped with Mary, he gave me a ring and said, Would you be interested in working with me? I might need you only for 15 weeks. I don’t want a full‑time coach. I told him, Listen, yeah, sounds great. Gets me the chance to go into men’s tennis.  It was a great challenge.  We got along good.

He goes, Okay, we are starting Essen. I think it was indoors.  He was playing an event and I’m watching, he’s playing Todd Woodbridge. I’m watching.  Okay, tight match.  He doesn’t ever relax playing him.

So after a few games I go home and I wanted to finish it at home to watch it on EuroSport.  I get back, the match is done, it’s finished.  All of a sudden, they show a highlight, and it’s when Michael actually just tore all his ligaments that year.  I was supposed to start with him the following week.

I call, and I said, Michael, what’s up?  He goes, Yeah, not good.  Not good at all.  Do you have a couple of months?  Would you wait for me?  I said, you know what?  Yeah, I’ll do it.  I’ll wait.  Then we went through the whole rehab, and we tried to get him ready for the Australian Open.

We went to Qatar.  We were in Florida training.  We worked with Mark Verstegen.  I also worked with Mark Verstegen with Mary Pierce.  He really liked it.  He really, really, really made improvements.

Then we get to Qatar, and he plays okay.  He goes, No chance I’m gonna go to Australia.  I’m not ready.  I said, Okay, but I’m not gonna go back to Europe.  No chance.  I said, If we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna go back to Florida.  He says, Yeah, you’re right.  You, right.  Okay.

So we went back to Florida, worked with Mark Verstegen.  Comes back, wins Antwerp first tournament back; beats Krajicek and Ivanisevic; he’s playing incredible tennis.  Worked on his forehand during that time.  Was just playing like a god.

Go to Milan, steps off the plane, wrong steps his ankle, rolls it again.  So he’s about to go on court.  I think in the first round he beat Volkov, and then had to play second around Guy Forget and he got slammed. He tells me, Yesterday I had trouble, but I can’t put my foot down. Here we go, surgery.  The it was rehab, rehab, rehab, and he gets ready for the clay.  Go to Rome, wins – I think he beat Emilio Sanchez – and then loses to Gaudenzi. He absolutely flips. He goes, How can I lose to this guy?  I’m not playing Roland Garros.  I’m done with the clay.  I will see you on the grass. And then he leaves.

I’m like, he’s had all this time off.  He’s ready, but it’s tough for him.  And so I speak to Ken Meyerson, his agent and still his agent now.  I said, Ken, we’ve got to get him to play, he goes, Sven, just send him a fax. I said, Okay, I’ll send him a fax.  I explained to him that he should really reconsider and play.  Because even if it’s just a taste, you haven’t played for a while.  You need to get back on tour.  You need to be in there so you get better prepared for the grass.

He says, You know what?  I’ll come.  Let’s see how it goes.  He gets to the final.

So, it all kind of flows into each other, and just every day is a new experience.  I’m learning from teaching, from being in Japan to all of a sudden like ’95 winning in Australia and ’96 and being with Monica when she won in ’92.

It was a lot of success in a very small period, and being part of a very exciting time with these players.  But it’s also tough; this world is not very easy, and I was still finding my place.  I still had to deal with my ego.  Still had to figure that one out.

So we had a little bit of a disagreement, and it was not so much about Michael and I. At that stage, I’m married, and his wife and my wife were kind of not really getting along at that stage.  It was a little bit of an issue that couldn’t be avoided.  So I said, You know what?  We had a good time.  Let’s just call it quits.

Pick it up with Mary again.  That was the end of ’96, but she was injured.  So, Okay, what do you want to do?  She says, I want you to be here; I want you to prepare me for the new season.

Everything was good.  We made an agreement.  She was No. 50 in the world or something.  She had totally dropped out.  Things were not going good since ’95, winning the Australian Open.  So now mid ’96, he’s still injured and not going well.  She says, I want Sven back.  Sven comes back; does his job.

But when we made an agreement, I obviously had an agreement also with the management ‑ but mostly with Mary ‑ and there was no involvements from anybody.

We had a good understanding.  I get to Australia, gets to the final of Australian Open ’97, and all of a sudden we had some disagreements about a contract.  I said, you know, this needs to be in it, and a couple of points.  All of a sudden the contract changed again.

Mary, of course, again, steps in.  I say, Okay, I’m done.  It’s not gonna work.  So I quit.  I quit.  And, you know, that was also a year for her that she was gonna get back.  Maybe I look back and maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did.

That’s when I took some time off, a couple of months.  All of a sudden got a ring from the Swiss Federation asking me if I was interested to become the head coach from the women’s division.  I said, No.  If I’m gonna do something, I’m want to be both men and female.  If that’s the case, then I’ll do it.  They had just built a brand‑new tennis center in Switzerland.

We get to Switzerland, I start, and there was a really talented young boy, and they wanted me to see him.  I started.  His name was Roger Federer.  I said, Yeah, I can work here.  We have a good team.  I’ve got a choice of couple good coaches.  One of the biggest recruiters there was actually trying to get Peter Carter, the coach of Roger when he was really young, to come to the federation, because Peter Lundgren was already committed, and some Swiss coaches also.  So I asked Peter Carter, and he says, Well, I don’t really want to work for the federation.  I said, Yeah, but we have a good team.  Roger, you know, will really be needing your help, and we need somebody that knows him.

So he joins, and we had a really good team, a strong team.  Marco Chiudinelli was playing there, Michael Lammer, Yves Allegro.  From the female side, Patty Schnyder came by every once in a while.  Mirka, she was using that as a base.  She came by.  We had some younger girls that never really broke through, but it was a great year.

In that year, I still had to learn a lot about my ego.  I was doing a lot of administrative work, and I was getting on court a little bit, not as much as I would like to, because my administrative side was handled by a person that didn’t really speak good English or German.  Was from the French part of Switzerland.

But there was one individual that I would have liked to have had in that position, working more as and administrator, so I could be more on court.  So I suggested to the federation, Could you please make that change, and I will continue as we are?  They didn’t want to make the change, so I said, Okay. I gotta go.  I left.

That was when actually I got the call from Greg.  That was in ’98.  I started working with Greg.  We worked together for two years.  We had some good results and learned a lot.  He was just going through a tough time, I guess, and after two years, we both made an amicable decision to stop in ’98. That’s when I actually started working with Nicolas Kiefer.

Maybe I’ve worked with too many people but that was my learning process.  I think because of all those experiences I’ve become who I am, though.

Nicolas was one of the really tough individuals but I gave my best shot for about eight months.  Then also, again, we just got to the point where I said, you know, it’s not gonna work.

As a coach, I feel that I need to make a difference for a player.  It’s not the player has to get used to me or adapt to me.  I have to adapt to the player.  If I feel that I cannot make that difference, I should not be there.  They have one career.  I can work with many players, obviously, and in many situations.

When we decided to call it quits, I got a call from Tommy Haas.  So I worked with Tommy Haas for a very short period.  Three months we worked.  Also, after that I said to Tommy, Tommy, you and I are not meant to be.  This is not what we should be doing.

So I stopped.  Worked a little bit with some juniors, and thought it was a good time just to take it easy until I got a call from Greg again. Can you come back?  So then worked with Greg for another year.  That’s 2000, end of 2000, we started, so 2000, 2001.  We had good stint again, good little period, some nice results.  But even before that, here comes the time again:  Yeah, not going well, you know.  Maybe we should stop. But we’re friends.  We are still very good friends.

It’s also one of those things that if you are working together, you do have to take in consideration the personal side.  I said, you know, Let’s just make sure that you and I remain good friends.  And we did.”

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