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Excited to speak to Facundo Lugones this week on episode 157 of the Functional Tennis podcast.
Facundo first met Cam at Texas Christian University and has been working with him since 2017. Facundo tells us about his tennis and coaching journey insights into Cam and challenges along the way.
Make sure to check out our other episodes with ATP/WTA coaches.
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In episode 157 of the Functional Tennis podcast we speak to Cam Norrie’s long term coach, Facundo Lungones. Facundo first met Cam at Texas Christian University where the pair were playing college tennis. Since 2017, they’ve been working together on the pro tour and have seen Cam work his way into the top 10 players in the world and, most recently, a Wimbledon semi-final for the first time.
In this interview, Facundo tells us about his tennis and coaching journey, insights into Cam and his game, as well as the challenges they’ve faced along the way.
Facundo: Hi, I'm Facundo Lugones and you're listening to the Functional Tennis podcast.
Fabio: Welcome to the Functional Tennis podcast. I'm your host, Fabio Molle and every week I speak to people working at the highest level of tennis, from players to coaches, to trainers and more. Today I speak to Facundo Lugones, the long term coach of Cameron Norrie. Facundo first met Cam while he attended university in Texas. When Cam left university, Facundo started to work full time with him as a coach. He tells us all about his own tennis career and then quickly moving into coaching with Cam.
We chat about life on the road, what makes Cam special, the semifinal match at Wimbledon this year against Novak [Djokovic] and more. If you do enjoy this episode, make sure to check out our other great episodes with ATP and WTA tour coaches, such as Marian Vajda, Goran Ivanisevic, Diego Moyano, Louis Cayer, Piotr Sierzputowski, Gary Cahill and last week's guest, Dave O'Hare.
And there's plenty more also. You'll find these at our podcast homepage at https://www.functionaltennis.com/pages/the-functional-tennis-podcast. Finally, before we get started, a shout out to our podcast sponsors, Slinger who make the awesome portable ball machine: the Slinger bag. You won't find a better portable ball machine on the market. If you have any questions about it, feel free to reach out to me as I'm an avid user, or you can head over to Slingerbag.com to get all the info.
Okay. Here's Facundo. Hi Facundo, welcome to the Functional Tennis podcast. How are you?
Facundo: All good, all good. Thanks for having me Fabio.
Fabio: Ah, it’s awesome to have you on. Now you've had a busy few weeks, which we'll talk about in a while, but right now, where are you?
Facundo: I'm home in Barcelona. After a long four weeks in the UK, I’ve got some time off, but yeah, really, really happy with the way things went.
Fabio: Yeah, I can't wait to hear about the past few weeks and, obviously, the past few years, because Cam's rise has been pretty epic, like to get where he is. And first of all, are you from Argentina?
Facundo: Yeah. I'm from Argentina. I went to college a couple years ago, and then I kind of moved to Europe. So it's yeah, I left Argentina 10 years ago.
Fabio: So 10 years was when you would've started at college, would that be right?
Facundo: Exactly, yeah.
Fabio: And you were a good junior… like top five, top six in Argentina?
Facundo: Uh, well, my age in Argentina, it was… they were pretty good players. The top five guys were like top 10 ITF, and then behind those guys, you had Schwarzman and Kicker and Mena who are now… Well, obviously the first two, you know them and Mena is like 120-130 [ATP Ranking]. So it was a pretty good age group and I was probably like 9 or 10 [Rank] in that age group.
Fabio: Ok, and specifically from your age group, do we know anybody? Anybody still on the tour?
Facundo: Yeah, Diego Schwartzman, Nicolas Kicker, Facundo Mena, Renzo Olivo, who also was a top 100. Yeah, a lot of good players. Actually the best of them when we were young didn't make it into the top 100 and from kind of the second group some then made it. So it was pretty interesting.
Fabio: It always happens, doesn’t it? Some of the top juniors don't make it. Renzo is a great guy. My first trip to Wimbledon with Functional Tennis a few years ago. I was with him just as I think he broke the top 100 and then it sort of spiralled the other way for him, but he seems to be back now, back on it.
Facundo: Yeah. He's right on track again, playing really well.
Fabio: Great. So you were in Argentina and then you went to Texas Christian University.You got a good scholarship there?
Facundo: Yeah, that's right. The coach at the time, and still today, recruited me. And yeah, I went there, the program wasn't very good. When I got there the first two, three years, they were just rebuilding it. And then obviously Cam and other players like Guillermo Nunez and Alex Rybakov came and it became a top program.
And it's been in the top 10 for the last seven years. I would say something like that!
Fabio: Wow. And so you were there a few years before Cam arrived?
Facundo: Yeah. I was there three years before Cam got there. So my last year was Cam’s first year.
Fabio: And what was your impression of Cam when he arrived?
Facundo: Just a normal guy, really nice to everyone, very social but extremely competitive. Like next level competitive at everything, not just tennis.
He wanted to, needed to be competing all day at everything, different games and whatever it is. And he's like that, or even more, today. So, yeah, that was the main thing, just super competitive.
Fabio: And would you have ever thought back then that he'd get to where he is right now? Looking at his game?
Fabio: It's just so hard to predict that, but when you, obviously at the time, when you’ve just met him, you don't know that he's that competitive and that mentally tough and smart and everything. So it's tough to make a call like that, but after his first year, you knew he had a chance of being a really good tennis player, top 100.
And then from there you don't know how well it can go. To say he would’ve been top 10, maybe it’s too much. I never thought he was gonna be in the top 10 when I first met him. Then after the years went on. Yeah, why not? But at the time? No.
Fabio: And so, you did a year with him and what did you decide to do then after you finished in Texas?
Facundo: Well, yeah, so I finished tennis and I still had to finish my degree. So I had another year left in school, but I couldn't play anymore on the team. So they basically asked me ,since I had a big scholarship to help the team, to help the coaches. So I did one year as a volunteer coach. I finished my degree and then I stayed another year around the area, working in tennis and helping the team kind of part time. And yeah, when I was going back to Argentina, Cam was turning pro and he offered me to start travelling with him for the summer first and then we stayed together till today.
Fabio: Wow, yeah. So you just, you guys got on well. You're quite young for a male coach.
Facundo: Yeah. Yeah. We always have a great relationship.
We were really, really good friends when we were playing and then he started on tour. I felt like he needed someone that knew him very well, but also he could spend a lot of time with. Travelling at that level is not easy. You know, you have to go to a lot of different places. It's not like you can come back home all the time.
It was gonna be a tough couple of months for him and he needed someone that he could trust and someone that he could get along with great so the transition from living an unreal life in college to the grind of the Challengers [events] and all that… make that transition a little bit easier for him. Luckily, it was super quick. He went through Challengers in like six months.
Fabio: Wow. Did you ever think about going pro yourself and giving it a go?
Facundo: No. When I was young, I thought about it. I didn't really have a clue what that actually meant, but I soon realised that my level wasn't that great. My physicality, my body wouldn't really handle playing a lot of weeks in a row. I would get hurt a lot, but mainly my level… my level wasn't there. And yeah, I just went to college and I realised, okay, if I'm not dominating college tennis, I'm not gonna have a shot at professional tennis. So I knew early on that I wasn't gonna be a pro tennis player.
Fabio: And have there been any college lads who've actually surprised on the tour by not being successful in college, but doing well on the tour? I don't know of any.
Facundo: Yeah. Dominik Kopfer and Maxime Cressy, both of them. I was in college at the same time as Koepfer and he was good obviously, among the top 20, but he was never someone that I thought he's going to be unbelievable and he's having a wonderful career. And same with Cressy. I think Cressy barely made a lineup at UCLA and now he's a Top 50 player and he's gonna keep going up. So yeah, those two guys.
Fabio: You definitely don't want to see Cressy on a fast court in your draw.
Facundo: Yeah, you don't wanna see that guy on fast courts that's for sure.
Fabio: So you started working with Cam, where did you pick up your coaching tips from you? Obviously you learned on the fly.
Facundo: Yeah, I guess I always had really good coaches my whole life. So that shows you, I was not a great tennis player but my coach, my uncle, played tennis and he was top 50 and he coached me when I was young and he teaches tennis really well.
My parents were tennis coaches. And then before going to college, I was in a really good academy in Argentina where both coaches were on the tour with top players and they taught me a lot. And then at TCU with David Roditi and Devin Bowen, also great coaches. So I have always been around really, really good coaches and I’ve always liked that side of it. I always look up to my coaches as role models or people that were really important in my life. So I always looked up to people that coached and then I kind of started trying to learn and enjoyed it and it kind of became my passion. But it's not something that when I was young, I was thinking I was gonna be a coach. It’s something that kind of happened.
Fabio: I think most tennis players, when they're young, think I'm never gonna be a coach…
Fabio: So how's the journey been? So you've been with Cam five years on the road now, what's been the secret to your success? Obviously, long term relationships are always great to see when you see a player and a coach and a fitness trainer and having a team like that. What's been the secret to your first of all, long term relationship and two, success?
Facundo: Thing for long term relationship with him. Uh, a lot of good communication, a lot of respect for each other, always knowing our goals and trying to push each other to get there. And I think we also build a really good team together.
We picked the right people to join the team like Julian, the physio and our fitness trainer. Then also, we had great people kind of helping us like Devin Bowen and James Trotman from the LTA kind of guiding us and also enjoying it, you know, and making sacrifices on each side for the greater good of his career and obviously my career. But yeah, kinda leaving everything else aside and just going all in, but also kind of enjoying that journey and with a lot of respect and a lot of fun and a lot of professionalism as well.
So I feel all those are really important to keep a good long term relationship and also be successful.
Fabio: Like you talk about sacrifice. We always hear about sacrifice for players and they have to be fully committed. And I think you mentioned somewhere that that's where certain changed for Cam where he became more fully committed. Is that true?
Facundo: Yeah. I mean, he's been making sacrifices since he was 16 when he moved from New Zealand to the UK and then went to college and then, you know, he has always made really good decisions to make it in tennis. And then a lot of them have a price, you know? Not seeing your family, living away from home.
I took him to Argentina once for like five weeks to train. At the time it was the best for him, but obviously it's not easy for him to say, okay, let's go there. He was so uncomfortable and then look, this preseason we have to make it in Spain because there's really good players there and we need to get better. Always started making decisions just for his tennis, you know? Not for his own comfort or for his own happiness.
So I think when that started changing and he realised that to get to the top or to keep getting better, there was no balance in his life and he needed to do more and just put tennis as a priority. And I think he always did that in his life, but the last two, three years was to another level, like really, really making all decisions based on his tennis.
So yeah, I think that's one of the keys as to why he started going up.
Fabio: I think a lot of players, and you probably see this a lot more than me, forget that it has to be your life and it has to be more than your nine to five. You gotta show up every day. There's too many… I dunno what the word is, but too many people think it's a bit of a vacation and then they wonder why they don't make it.
Facundo: Exactly, yeah. It's way more than nine to five. It's just, it's just all day, every day. Cam, I don't know, I think he's taking his first holiday in probably two years and it's like a four day holiday. That's kinda the price you pay to do well, or to at least try to be better or see how far you can go. It doesn't mean you're gonna get results, but at least you’re putting everything on the table and just going for it.
Fabio: And what abou… so we jumped onto Cam, but sacrifices… we talk about all the players, but as a coach, like for you to invest, you're invested in Cam. You're investing your time, your energy, and you're putting a lot of things aside.
Facundo: Yeah. It's pretty similar, you know? You kind of put everything else aside. You never get to go home and you see your family once a year, especially because they live in Argentina. For European players maybe it's easier, but all the South American players go through the same. They have to lose three, four month trips and there's no going home after you lose. You have to stay on the road and you kinda get more tired than other players quicker. But it's the way it is and you have to make those sacrifices to see how far you can go. But at the end of the day, it’s your own decision. No one is forcing you to do it, but if you wanna do well, you just kinda have to be really invested and you're gonna have to miss a lot of things just to be able to do what's best for your tennis or your career. I think that's with a lot of jobs, if you wanna do really well, you’re gonna have to pass on a lot of things that normal people do.
Fabio: You're right. No matter what you do to sacrifice, if you wanna be successful and you gotta say no to the things you may wanna do. What do you miss most from back home in Argentina? I know you've been away for 10 years. What's the one thing that you wish you could have?
Facundo: Uh, it's just playing football with my friends on the weekends. Have that time to play on with my friends' team and go to dinner with them or seeing my family more often. It's like I said, I'm choosing this is, no one forced me to do it. I also really enjoy what I do, so it's not like I'm complaining, but yeah, if I could play football more often with my friends It would be great.
Fabio: Where do you see yourself in the long term? I dunno, many years away moving back to Argentina, or would you base yourself in Europe? Say 15 years from now?
Facundo: I would love to move back at some point and maybe even coach there, but I'm not thinking too far ahead. But yeah, I'm open to move back. I would love to spend more time there for sure.
Fabio: And apart from missing home, what challenges are there for coaches, top coaches like yourself working with players?
Facundo: Well, yeah, it's also, if you were with top, usually top players, they're very demanding. They want you there almost all the time and travelling.
If you don't live in the same place as the players, it becomes tough to have a normal life outside of tennis. But like I said before, it comes with the job. You either move where the player lives or have a more normal life and don't travel so much. But yeah, I would say the availability and like having a normal life outside of tennis… that's the toughest challenge, but I'm sure most coaches love what they do and that's why they do it.
Otherwise they could be teaching tennis and in a country club in the city and not travel and just have a normal life there.
Fabio: I know you're based outta Spain now, in Barcelona you said. Did you convince Cam to move to Barcelona or was he there already?
Facundo: No, no. Cam was living in London and Monaco now. Before we spent a lot of time in Texas… we never really had an official base. We were always the first couple years we were in Texas, then he moved to London, spending some time there. It's not like you spend a lot of time there because you play so much and then we do the pre seasons in IMG in the United States. Then we did some in Spain, but not in Barcelona. So it felt like we were both kind of moving a lot. No, I never offered him to come live in Barcelona.
Fabio: For some reason I thought Cam was a bit based out of Spain. I don’t know why I thought that.
Facundo: No he moved places way too many times. I couldn't do that to him again.
Fabio: As a coach, I think I was saying this to you earlier, I had an interview with a coach yesterday, Dave O'Hare and I wanted to bring this up but I forgot. But how do you guys, obviously the player, Cam is fit as hell and I wanted to bring that up as well, but how do you as a coach keep healthy and fit?
Facundo: Not tough at all. I mean, you go to the tournaments and you have the best gyms in the world, the best locker rooms. If you're a little hurt there's physios that can help you. There's definitely time. Obviously, there's no routine. You don't know when you're gonna have free time during the day, but you can wake up early and get it done or at the end of the day. But you're at really nice hotels, really nice clubs, and everything is there for you to do it. There's no excuses there to stay fit.
Fabio: Really nice hotels and the nicer tournaments have nice food as well.
Facundo: Yeah, good food. The tough part sometimes is that the food is that good and you have so many options that it's tough to make good choices, but it’s not an excuse.
Fabio: If your player's making good choices, that will help you make good choices as well.
Facundo: Yeah, I know. Yeah and like the coach should be helping the player make good choices by making good choices.
Fabio: And speaking of fitness, there was an article in the paper there a while ago about Cam Norrie's heart rate. He trains for like 5, 6, 7 minutes at 200 beats per minute, which is pretty crazy. Like that would put a lot of people into cardiac arrest, those sort of figures. But is he just a physical beast?
Facundo: Yeah. Growing up, he used to do a lot of long distance running with his mom, so he always had an unbelievable engine. And yeah, that thing with the heart rate was like two years ago during the Battle of the Brits and they were using the Catapult devices and it was showing that he stayed in that red zone for like six, six or seven minutes.
And yeah, it's something that he’s always had. He still works on it a little bit, but not that much because naturally he has an unbelievable engine and yeah, when you can do that, then you can improve the rest and, and take people like us to the trenches.
Fabio: Yeah, nobody wants to go to the trenches with him because the guy doesn't stop.
What's the hardest drill you do in practice? One that if you wanna put pain into Cam's lungs and legs, what's the killer drill?
Facundo: A lot of movement, not nothing too complicated. Very simple, just a lot of repetitions, two on ones or one on ones. We do a lot of fitness and tennis combined on the court. We try to do it once a week, where there's like a lot of cardio and during the rest he's trying to execute and keep shots. When he's tired, those are tough. Like, so basically tennis and fitness combined. There's a lot of suffering there.
Fabio: Do you ever hit in with him?
Facundo: No. No. I'm just feeding the balls. No, my heart rate stays the same there. No, no.
Fabio: Yeah, I thought you might take him in the odd tie break.
Facundo: No, not anymore. Before we used to play a lot of baseline games and it was pretty even, but the last two years, it's just, no, no, not even close anymore.
Fabio: You don't bother. I love it. And what's the plan there? We're just after Wimbledon. You're on your little few day vacation. What's the plan moving forward?
Facundo: We're gonna be training in Montecarlo for like two weeks. There's a lot of players there, so we're gonna go do a training block there and then we go straight to Los Cabos, Montreal, Cincinnati, we take a week off and then the US Open. So that's kinda the plan for the next couple of weeks.
Fabio: And the plan is to win the US Open?
Facundo: Yeah. I think that's everyone's plan. Yeah. All 128 players that are playing are gonna try to win it…
Fabio: And it must be crazy how the goals have changed over the years. Like when you started working with Cam, what was the initial goal? Like let's get to the top 100 as quickly as possible?
Facundo: No, we never set goals like that. To be honest, we never had ranking goals. It was always, what do we need to do better to improve and to win more matches? And then if we take care of those things, I think your ranking or the tournaments are gonna come and the ranking's gonna go up. We let that take care of itself. But we always go by tennis goals like, what do you need to do better, at what level do you need to be playing, or your focus or your fitness and kinda attack those things. And then let the wins take you there, but we never had ranking goals.
Fabio: Was it last year when Cam played Schwarzman early on in the US Open. Was that two years ago? What were you like? That was an epic five setter, wasn't it?
Facundo: Yeah, two years ago. Yeah, that was a crazy match though it wasn't even that fun. They were both playing pretty badly, very nervous. It looked like Diego was gonna win that easy and then Cam turned it around. And then again, Diego had it… it was a rollercoaster match, but that's why I love the five sets format. You have time to come back.
Fabio: And what's been for you the most exciting match that you've been on the sideline, or maybe the, the proudest match for Cam to win for you as a coach?
Facundo: Well obviously, the Indian Wells title was huge. The way he handled that situation and that match, then the other day with David Goffin as well [Wimbledon Quarter Finals 2022]. That match was crazy because Goffin was the better player for the most part. But then Cam obviously played better in the big points and ended up getting a huge win for his career.
Um, I don't know. Obviously, when he gets through those finals playing good tennis, like in Delray Beach or Lyon, those were also really, really proud moments because playing your best tennis in those matches is not easy to do. And then when he gets through those big matches and can produce his best level, it's obviously the nicest thing to see for a coach.
Fabio: You seem to like the grind matches, the ones where he just finds a way and figures it out and eventually gets it over the line. And his last match, the Djokovic match at Wimbledon… What would you do differently if you had the opportunity again, tomorrow?
Facundo: I think in that match, Cam was doing everything right. Everything we were planning and Novak looked really uncomfortable at the beginning. And then I think Cam dropped his focus for one game, played one loose game that changed the whole match. It felt like the momentum shifted way too quick for the way things were going. And then I felt like if something tactically could have gone better, maybe finishing points a little bit more determined and being a little bit more committed. I felt like he started doubting there and Novak started making him play a few more shots per point. And then that was the difference that, the thing that changed the match around Novak played unbelievable stuff, really well.
And then the match went away too quickly at the end of the second and beginning or the third. But I thought it was a lot of huge linear experience for Cam, for me and for the whole team. But it was also nice to see that compared to last time he played Novak, he was way closer and did a lot of things right.
Fabio: What's it like for the players going out there playing Novak when, you know, he’s two sets down and he's only getting started? Like you still think Novak is still gonna win. Like, it must be so tough for all the guys playing against him mentally.
Facundo: Yeah. When I guess Novak earned it through the years, you know, doing that over and over again. And I think that's good though, because he's gonna force players to become smarter, work harder, and figure out ways to beat him. And obviously the players have done it in the past, so it's not impossible. It's just tougher. But I think that it's motivating knowing that you have guys like this and if you want to win a slam, you have to beat them in those matches. And I think that's really fun.
Fabio: Yeah, that's a good point. Between Djokovic, Federer and Nadal, they have helped raise everybody else's game, which is good.
Facundo: Exactly. And if you wanna win a Slam, you probably wanna do it beating one of them. So it's good that they're still around and playing like that.
Fabio: I'd say there's no better feeling for other guys to beat them, you know? It's amazing, but I'm gonna ask this one question, Facundo. What's your advice for players out there who are on their journey and want to be a top hundred player? What have you learned from your years working with Cam that could make a big difference to these players out there?
Well, like we said before, just put tennis ahead of everything else. Know that there's gonna be no balance in your life for 10, 15 years and attack the job every single day. And the other advice I would try to give them, would be try to put a good team around you, invest in yourself, invest in a good team and try to do things the most professional way you can. I know it's not easy, but I feel like the more you invest and the more attention to detail and the more… the better people around you have, the better chance you have to make it.
Fabio: Wise words, wise words. Thank you very much. Best of luck in the US swing and yeah. We'll see you out there!
Facundo: Thank you Fabio. Appreciate it, man.
Really hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you did, please share it with fellow tennis enthusiasts and be sure to check out our other episodes featuring interviews with ATP and WTA tour coaches.