JD: Itís important to have a good hitting partner, too. Iíve read that you worked with Maria Sharapova in this capacity. What does it take to be an exemplary sparring partner?
CM: Hitting partners are there to set up the ball for whatever the coach wants the player to do. It sounds simple, but actually doing it consistently is very tough. Because youíre trying to groove them and get their confidence up, and thatís tricky. For me, it was about trying to bridge the relationship between the coach and the playeróseeing what heís trying to do for her, the player, and then manipulating the ball in order for her to believe in what the coach is trying to tell her.
JD: What do you mean?
CM: Like, if weíre working on low balls, Iím manipulating the ball to be low, so that she can keep on hitting it and trusting it. It takes repetition to get that feel. But if I canít hit that shot low and with slice in exactly the way the coach wants it to be hit, then the player might not start believing. And the coach can see: If the coach tries to hit with the player, he canít evaluate him or her from different angles. To do his job, he needs the help of a good hitter.
JD: And if youíre not consistently perfect, then she may not get into that groove?
CM: Right, exactly. Hitting partners are ones who always give a great ball thatís consistent and true to what the rest of the field is hitting. I felt like I was always good, because Iím pretty fast, and I can get a lot of balls back. Iím like a human ball machine who can go from different places, different angles, and just hit you another ball. [Laughing]
JD: It seems on tour that itís more the women who utilize hitting partners, not the men. Why is that?
CM: Itís a tough question. The subject of a hitting partner is weird, itís interesting. I know guys use hitting partners to practice. Growing up, I practiced at Bollettieriís, so I was a hitting partner for Boris Becker and Petr Kordaóall the pros went over there to play. I traveled to Munich three times with Boris Becker to hit with him. I think that really helped me a lot in my game.
But yeah, I get this vibe: I donít know if everyone feels like thereís a need for hitting partners. People say, like, ďgirls should be practicing with each other,Ē things like that. But for the women, I think they always travel with hitting partners just to make sure to always have somebody whoís better than them. But itís a good question. Iím really not sure why itís like that.