Tjis is from the Independent on Sunday (UK) Interview with Carl Maes and he talks a little about Kim.
Champion of a winning cause
Maes answers the rallying call in attempt to identify the British talent who can be tomorrow's world-beaters
By Ronald Atkin
20 October 2002
This is the week in the tennis calendar reserved for that annual fiesta of chauvinism, the National Championships. Roll up to Bolton! British winners guaranteed! Foreigners need not apply! All the more ironic, then, that on the eve of this cosy little happening the Lawn Tennis Association should cast their eyes across the water to hire new coaches.
A Belgian, Carl Maes, and a Czech, Zdenek Zofka, have signed up to the LTA scheme for four "hotbed" academies to develop 12 to 16-year-olds. The appointments were made by the LTA's French director of performance, Patrice Hagelauer, who already has an Argentine, Tito Vasquez, working with the boys' intermediate squad. So there can be no more cavilling about a perceived unwillingness in the association to look abroad for teaching talent.
The academies, on which £1.2 million is being spent every year, are at Bath, Loughborough, Leeds and Welwyn Garden City and the scheme got under way last month. Zofka, previously a national coach in Germany, will operate out of Bath with Simon Jones, while the 32-year-old Maes is in charge at Welwyn. The position of top man at Leeds has still to be filled but, as Hagelauer pointed out, "it isn't easy to find people of this calibre with international experience".
All the more reason for congratulation, then, that in signing up Maes the wheels would seem to be turning in the right direction and with some purpose. Here in our midst is the coach who helped propel Kim Clijsters to third in the world, a fact which, on the surface, makes his decision to come to Britain a strange one. The explanation, delivered in faultless English, is swift. He parted, entirely amicably, from Clijsters following the French Open in June because he felt, after six years, there was nothing more he could do for her. "The easiest thing would have been for me to hang around with Kim. It was good money and I didn't have to do a lot any more because she was a formed player. But I like to wake in the morning and have something to challenge me. I have that here in Welwyn."
While acknowledging that Belgian tennis is enjoying a golden period, with Clijsters and Justine Henin in the women's top 10 and three men, Xavier Malisse and the Rochus brothers, Olivier and Christophe, doing well in the ATP rankings, he feels his country does not possess greater strength in depth than Britain. "If you take the top 10 Belgian men and the top 10 from Britain, the average ranking of the British would be higher," he pointed out. Maes is a firm believer that talent will make its own way to the top. "If Kim Clijsters had been brought up here she would still have been top 10. If Tim Henman had lived in Belgium he would have been top 10, too. It is never good to look at the exceptions, you have to look at the group."
Having decided, at the age of 18, that he would never make it as a player, Maes took himself off to university, earned a degree in physical education, and started coaching the Under-14 and then Under-18 age groups in Belgium before going full time with Clijsters. He worked with Malisse when this year's Wimbledon semi-finalist was a 14-year-old. "Xavier was extremely talented and had huge potential, though too often he was playing himself as well as his opponent. But you knew once he sorted his head out he would get to the top. And he has made that switch himself. The only thing you can do as a coach is to set the table. They are the ones who have to eat."
Maes' original intention had been to set a few tables for young Belgians. "But we are a rather small country, we don't have that many players, and we have one national centre with two good coaches there already. So I decided to try to come here to do a job I can't do in Belgium, simple as that. The age group I will be coaching is particularly interesting because there is no time to lose. Of course you need to have the fundamentals before the age of 12 but then you have to start preparing to get out into the world at the age of 16. That makes it particularly challenging from my point of view. I don't mind whether the children are Belgian or British. I am trying to make tennis players out of them and what language they speak does not matter to me."
What Maes did not need to add was that Belgium needs to watch the euros, while the development of tennis in this country floats on a cushion of money provided by the success, and generosity, of Wimbledon. "I can do my job better here than in Belgium because of the greater funds," he agreed. "Having said that, in Belgium with less money we were forced to be very efficient." With Wimbledon's largesse towards the LTA likely to show a drop because of a smaller surplus, belts may need to be tightened, though the academy funds are ring-fenced. No bad thing, thinks Maes. "Maybe having had that money over the years in Britain they haven't needed to be efficient. It is going to be interesting to see how they deal with less money. But Patrice Hagelauer is setting up a structure with these academies, which are a long-term investment and won't need all that much money when they are rolling."
Having agreed to devote a minimum of three years to the scheme, Maes is living out of a hotel and making weekend trips to see his wife and two children back home in Antwerp. "After three years I will evaluate whether I like it and whether I have been successful, though maybe after three years the LTA won't want me to stay on. But if I like it I don't see any reason why I couldn't stay here."
Hagelauer certainly hopes so. "Carl is a fantastic guy, with great spirit and a desire for perfection. He knows it is difficult because we are working in a country where things will take longer because we have a shortage of players with the right talent, but he wants to be part of it and feels, as I do, that this programme is what needs to be done to motivate people."
Maes will be conducting a broad sweep for talent rather than joining the increasingly desperate search to unearth another Henman. "In five years' time I would be more happy to have three players in the top hundred than one Henman. I know this is not the way the public see it because they want to sit on Henman Hill. But my way is a better way of knowing a good job has been done than waiting for another Henman."