JD: It’s important to have a good hitting partner, too. I’ve 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 you’re trying to groove them and get their confidence up, and that’s tricky. For me, it was about trying to bridge the relationship between the coach and the player—seeing what he’s 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 we’re working on low balls, I’m 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 can’t 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 can’t evaluate him or her from different angles. To do his job, he needs the help of a good hitter.
JD: And if you’re not consistently perfect, then she may not get into that groove?
CM: Right, exactly. Hitting partners are ones who always give a great ball that’s consistent and true to what the rest of the field is hitting. I felt like I was always good, because I’m pretty fast, and I can get a lot of balls back. I’m 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 it’s more the women who utilize hitting partners, not the men. Why is that?
CM: It’s a tough question. The subject of a hitting partner is weird, it’s interesting. I know guys use hitting partners to practice. Growing up, I practiced at Bollettieri’s, so I was a hitting partner for Boris Becker and Petr Korda—all 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 don’t know if everyone feels like there’s a need for hitting partners. People say, like, “girls should be practicing with each other,” things like that. But for the women, I think they always travel with hitting partners just to make sure to always have somebody who’s better than them. But it’s a good question. I’m really not sure why it’s like that.