There is no set path to becoming a tennis champion. The rolls of honour at the Grand Slam events feature countless players who eschewed tried and tested methods and did it their way. Rafael Nadal famously turned down the Spanish tennis federation to work with Uncle Toni, while Marion Bartoli learned her craft on potholed courts using training techniques that ranged from the imaginative to the bizarre.
But the majority of today’s top players have spent at least some of their formative years at tennis academies, which have become more professional and businesslike since the dawn of the Open Era. Here is a list of the world’s most high-profile and successful tennis academies, ranked from ten to one according to the calibre of their alumni…
10. Gorin Tennis Academy
Vitaly Gorin is the brains behind the Gorin Tennis Academy, situated in Northern California. He offers year-round programmes that utilise intense drillings to develop and fine-tune technique. Although the academy hasn’t produced any truly elite players yet, Gorin has guided many competitors into the top 100, including Dmitry Tursunov, Igor Kunitsyn and Jimmy Wang.
9. Evert Tennis Academy
Chris Evert’s academy in Florida is relatively small in scale and intended as a more intimate environment for budding tennis players. The centre offers strength and conditioning programmes as well as mental coaching and nutritional education. While the majority of its alumni have opted not to join the pro tours, several of today’s top 100 players spent time at the Evert Tennis Academy, including Madison Keys, Peng Shuai and Jesse Levine.
8. Saviano High Performance Tennis Academy
Nick Saviano is a former top 50 ATP player who founded his own tennis academy in Florida in May 2003. He offers year-round programmes that adopt an exhaustive approach to training, and his methodology has produced more than 50 professional players on the ATP and WTA tours. Sloane Stephens, Eugenie Bouchard and Mallory Burdette are some of Saviano’s most successful students.
7. Good to Great Tennis Academy
The Good to Great Tennis Academy is based in Sweden, a country that has always punched above its weight in the tennis world. Run by former top players Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillstrom, the academy aims to turn the best youngsters into champions of the future. Grigor Dimitrov recently trained there and saw an immediate upturn in his results; current world number 11 Stanislas Wawrinka has also benefitted from the academy’s coaching.
6. Saddlebrook Tennis Academy
One of the world’s largest tennis academies boasts 45 courts on all the Grand Slam surfaces. Founded in 1986 by Aussie legend Harry Hopman, the Saddlebrook tennis academy in Tampa, Florida is famed for its state-of-the-art facilities and focus on fitness. It has been a breeding ground for many top American players, including James Blake, John Isner, Mardy Fish and Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan.
5. Mouratoglou Tennis Academy
Patrick Mouratoglou founded his tennis academy in 1996 and has coached many of the best up-andcomers in today’s game, including Laura Robson and Jeremy Chardy. Marcos Baghdatis and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also hit the big time thanks to his expertise, but his most famous pupil came to him much later in life. Serena Williams sought Mouratoglou’s guidance after losing in the first round of the French Open in 2012, and has since won three Grand Slams and Olympic gold.
4. Pilic Tennis Academy
The Pilic Tennis Academy is run by former Croatian player Nikola Pilic, who made the final of the French Open in 1973 and coached three different nations to Davis Cup wins. Located near Munich, his academy is not perhaps one of the best known, but there is no denying the achievements of some of its former pupils. Pilic played a key role in nurturing the Grand Slam-winning careers of Goran Ivanisevic, Michael Stich and Novak Djokovic.
3. Spartak Tennis Club
A world away from the modern facilities and plush accommodation of the American academies is the Spartak Tennis Club, situated on the outskirts of Moscow. The inclement Russian weather means that its 15 clay courts are open for only four months of the year; the rest of the time, students undergo their rigorous, old-fashioned training indoors. Yet the academy’s success rate in recent years speaks for itself. Notable alumni include Grand Slam champions Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Anastasia Myskina and Marat Safin, as well as former top-ranked doubles player Anna Kournikova and singles number one Dinara Safina.
2. Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy
Emilio Sanchez Vicario and Sergio Casal are the founders of the Academia Sanchez-Casal in Barcelona, and have since opened a branch in Florida. An educational institution as well as a training ground for tennis stars of the future, it pioneered many training techniques such as the now famous “Spanish drills”, in which players are fed ball after ball from proximity. Past students include highly ranked players such as Daniela Hantuchova, Juan Monaco, Feliciano Lopez and Janko Tipsarevic; French Open champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic; and newly-crowned Wimbledon champion Andy Murray. The Scot came to Barcelona as a 15-year-old and knew immediately that the academy would make him a better player. “From his very early days with us he was always looking to improve,” said Sanchez, who Murray defeated 6-3, 6-1 shortly after arriving. “We sometimes had to fetch him from his room to make him train, but he had this look about him that said, ‘I want to beat you’.”
1. IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy
Possibly the most famous tennis academy of them all has produced some of the greatest champions of all time. Boris Becker, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, Tommy Haas and Serena Williams and Venus Williams are just some of the players to come through the Bollettieri programme, which combines innovative athletic training techniques with intense academic study. Bollettieri himself remains one of tennis’ biggest characters, and prides himself on his ability to spot a champion. When Andre Agassi’s father said he couldn’t afford for his son to stay at the academy for more than three months, Bollettieri remarked, “Take your cheque back – he’s here for free,” claiming that the young Agassi was the most naturally gifted player he’d ever seen.