Here are a couple of paragraphs from an interview The Japan Times did with Nick Bollettieri about the state of tennis in Japan.
As some of you may now, Bollettieri has coached a lot of very famous and successful players, including Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.
Top coach Bollettieri backhands rule changes
By JOHN MAYLAM
The Japan Times: In Japan we have some talented female players in Ai Sugiyama and Shinobu Asagoe but there is a definite lack of high-profile male players.
Nick Bollettieri: There are some coming. Japan has three great players coming and we think one of them could be a top 10 player in the world.
Among the boys, we have Genki Tomita and Kei Nishikori and a great young female prospect in Fumiaki Kita.
Nishikori, who is 15, could be a sensation. He hits the ball hard, has an attacking style, is mentally strong and can do anything with the ball. Recently he had a practice session with Tommy Haas (top German pro) and Kei gave him such a run around that Tommy ended up getting pissed off.
The Japan Times: What have been the problems in Japanese tennis to date?
Nick Bolletieri: Well, the Japanese players have been very stoic. Take your girls -- basically they like that baseline. Even though they play pretty good doubles, they like that baseline. Unless you are an unbelievable baseliner with a huge serve, it is tough to win just from the baseline.
I also think their whole background has been one of conservatism. Not flamboyant, afraid to take gambles.
I also think that the coaching here is starting to improve. More depth in coaching.
Further, training Japanese players just in their own country is a little limiting. They need to test themselves against different styles of play to learn to adjust their games. They need more exposure.
The president of Sony, Masaoki Morita, is doing a lot to help the game here, by sponsoring kids.
The Japan Times: Why did you choose Tachibana Tennis Academy to hold this seminar?
Nick Bollettieri: First of all, I think that Hideki Ishii, the head coach out here, is an outstanding teaching pro and is very dedicated. Also, it is a great facility right in the hub of town and made it easy to give a seminar like this.
The Japan Times: Why are you focused on kids in Japan and what do you hope to achieve here? Could you tell us a bit about your vision?
Nick Bollettieri: I had a very interesting meeting with the Professor of the Nippon Sport Science University and president of the Japan Professional Tennis Association, Isao Watanabe. I believe that this meeting will be a major step forward in the coaching of tennis in Japan.
My coaching partner, Gabe Jaramillo, and I have two objectives: Get more people to play the game with one program; and then develop champions as a second program.
The Japan Times: So do you think we could have a Japanese Wimbledon champion in the future?
Nick Bollittieri: Within five years, we believe that one of the boys at the academy right now can be a top 10 player. Anytime you have a top 10 player, you have a chance of reaching another level.
I can't say whether you will have a Wimbledon champion, but I believe that within the next five years, Japan could have some players in the top 10 in the world. Once you do that, the whole ball game changes.
But you need a big winner. We got to have a winner.
The Japan Times: Like the Russian women . . . suddenly there one or two Russian champions and now they are coming out of the woodwork. Also 15 years ago, the Swedish men started to suddenly produce champions . . .
Nick Bollittieri: Exactly!
Like (Mats) Wilander and all the guys. But we have to have some big winners to excite. In order to have those winners, we need more depth in the coaching, more sponsorship, more flexibility and we have to have more of a system like our system in the academy.
There are no guarantees, but if you put all of these things together, you have a chance.
Japan is not lacking good athletes -- this was clear in the Olympic Games. The Japanese may not be big in stature but they are good athletes and therefore need to be taught not to have any weaknesses in their game.
They need to be taught how to play a total game -- bigger forehands, bigger serves -- you can't just play from the baseline.
Finally, I would like to say that following the meeting I had tonight, I am hoping that very soon, I can make a major impact with a Japanese player and help all the coaches in the country.
For information on the Tachibana Tennis Academy, contact: 045-580-3130 or Fax: 045-580-3160
The Japan Times: Nov. 12, 2004
I think Nick was dead-on with his analysis. Japanese (and many Asian) tennis players do tend to hog the baseline and avoid the net. This is weird because usually, they're pretty solid in their doubles matches - which requires a lot of net approaches.
Here are my opinons:
- Japanese tennis players lack the physical build of their Western counterparts. This is the main reason why they do not exert as much power when they unleash their shots (forehand, backhand, etc.). Because of this lack of power, Japanese tennis players are vulnerable to big shots, and we all know that net play is the most riskiest (and harmful) approach when you're up against power guns such as Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport. In her match against Jennifer Capriati at the 2004 U.S. Open (4th round), Ai had made a few attempts to play at the net, but Capriati's booming groundstrokes always whizzed past Ai, who didn't have the physique (e.g. height) to successfully reach those shots. I do not doubt for a second that if Ai had the power Jennifer had, she could handicap Capriati at the baseline, so Jennifer's groundstroke returns will be less fast and brutal, thus allowing Ai more time to volley/net-stroke those slower balls back.
- The reason why Japanese players are more comfortable at the net when they're playing doubles is obvious: they have a partner who can share the net work with them. Instead of having to cover both ends of the court, they can share it 50-50, which makes the stretching-to-reach-those-big-shots a lot easier. Even Paola Suarez, who's won 7 GS doubles crown, has admitted that she's never approached the net in her singles matches in her entire career (Australian Tennis Magazine, October 2004). Having a two people at the net makes a huge difference - and it won't necessarily help or build up a player's confidence at the net.
- Also, the Japanese are generally not known for their great English skills (no offence). This is a huge
reason why many Japanese players have a large chunk of their coaching and match plays at home. As Bollettieri said, this will do nothing to help expose them to more variety. How can they hope to gain experience when they're playing many others back home who more or less share the same game-play style? Part of the reason why the Japanese Olympic team improved immensely
at Athens was because they had enormous financial support and
many of them had most of their training done overseas.
I think the Japanese Tennis Association (JTA) needs to make some serious modifications. I don't mean to be rude, but it is appalling that Japan, as the world's 2nd largest economy, has not even had at least 1 GS finalist. The women have done O.K., with players like Kimiko Date, Kazuko Sawamatsu and Ai Sugiyama having been ranked inside the top-end of their Pro Tour, but more needs to be done. With the rise of Chinese and Russian players, it will be a lot harder for Japanese players to start making their mark, because Japan's economy isn't growing as fast as it used to. Big improvements and progress needs to be made now, not sooner or later.