Paul Annacone has experienced nearly everything in his coaching career, during which he has worked with former World No. 1s Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. But this is the first time he has had to help guide a player through a pandemic.
“I’ll be shocked if anyone comes out of the gates playing spectacular tennis,” Annacone, who coaches American Taylor Fritz, told ATPTour.com. “It’s going to take everybody a little while to get going. It’s a new world, it’s going to be a new playing environment, there are a lot of changes.”
Tennis is set to return at the Western & Southern Open, which is being held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualifying begins on 20 August.
“It’s about managing the changes, going out there and just trying to play tennis the way you need to play it and trusting your game,” Annacone said. “But it’s a new environment and it’s going to be bumpy for everybody.”
Despite only being 22, Fritz has shown an ability to think on the fly during matches, coaching himself through tight moments. That the American already had an open dialogue with Annacone and co-coach David Nainkin about his game has only helped them during this time off.
“He hasn’t made many changes. We’re trying to focus more on the physical, off-court stuff. We’ve been able to get a lot of good work done on his game and it’s been a continuation of the foundation that we’ve laid,” Annacone said. “There hasn’t been anything startling that’s happened. He collaborates and talks a lot about it himself as we go through it. That’s good, because he participates and adds value. He’s the one out there playing, so he’s got to talk about it.”
Annacone believes that the five months off have been very different for many of the players, who have had to adjust accordingly based on their age and experience.
“For a young player, I think it’s important because I think they can do some of this work. They can do the strength and conditioning, they can try to change a few things,” Annacone said. “For the older players it’s different because they’ve got a lot more miles on them. They can rest, recover, [get] prepared to play and let their body get back to normal. For different people it means different things, and you just have to figure out how to manage that.
“It’s an extended off-season, really. It’s probably twice as long as an off-season. Nobody’s ever gone through this and so it’s really important to go through it with an open mind, because we haven’t lived it before.”
As tough as it has been for the world to deal with COVID-19, players have had an opportunity, as local rules have allowed, to work on their game on and off the court.
“You have to get some positives out of it, so that’s really the thing,” Annacone said. “You find something positive to take out of a pretty horrible situation and that’s what we’re trying to do.”