Tom Hill on the Functional Tennis Podcast

Tom Hill

Coach of Maria Sakkari

Episode 50

Tour Coach, Tom Hill joins us for a milestone episode of the Functional Tennis Podcast this week.

Tom has coached some of the world’s top players, but currently works with Maria Sakkari. He has an interesting story and shares some insightful knowledge with us.

He talks about everything from moving to the IMG academy in Florida as a child to transitioning from a hitting partner to a full time professional tennis coach.

Tom has a great attitude and is a pleasure to talk to. You won't want to miss this episode!

 

If you find it interesting please share with your tennis friends and family.

Thanks to our sponsors HEAD who allow us to have a producer and a better sounding podcast 🙏


Follow Tom Hill on Instagram

https://www.instagram.com/tomhill95

Episode 50 Transcription

Tom Hill

Hi, I'm Tom Hill, and you are listening to the Functional Tennis Podcast.

 

Fabio Molle

Welcome to a milestone Episode 50 of the Functional Tennis Podcast. I'm Fabio Molle, your host and this week we are speaking to one of the youngest coaches if not the youngest coach on the professional tour, Tom Hill. Tom is the current coach of the Greek, Maria Sakkari who is currently 20 in the world. Tom tells us all about his early days of tennis with his family relocating to IMG in Florida from the UK, about training at IMG and then onto his college scholarship at Pepperdine and eventually moving into the coaching world and how we got into the coaching world. It's a fascinating, fun story and it's great to get inside the head of pro tour coaches. Before we get started, a special thanks to our podcast sponsors Head who make our favorite rackets here at Functional Tennis. Okay, here we go. Let's hear Tom's story.

 

Fabio Molle

Hi, Tom, welcome to the Functional Tennis Podcast.

 

Tom Hill

Thank you for having me.

 

Fabio Molle

Great to have you on board and can't wait to speak to you and learn a bit more about you and how you're such a young coach, working with some great players. So tell me before we get started, how has lockdown been for you? And you work with Maria Sakkari, how has that been - the communication on what she's working on and all that side of things?

 

Tom Hill

Yes. So I've honestly lost track of days of what exactly I actually went into lockdown as soon as I flew back for Indian Wells, so that was a little bit before the official lockdown in the UK. And so I've been in lockdown for a while. As for Maria, I think Greece also went into lockdown at around the same time as the UK. It was only around two weeks ago where she actually started practicing again, so I'd say kind of the way I was, it was more just kind of motivation for the last eight weeks. I know everyone's kind of going through the same Maria, like let's just kind of take it one day at a time, we don't know when the tour is going to be returning, let's try and focus on fitness, home workouts, do some sort of, you know, strategic videos, things like that. But it's also it's very difficult. I think at the same time also, just having rest is good. I think players can get burned out in the season. So I honestly feel like the rest is, you know, perfectly fine. Marie has actually started training again a couple of weeks ago. So now I'm actually able to do more of a tennis coach, you know, planning the practices. I obviously I'm in the UK, I can't get out to Greece to help her. We have a hitting partner who's just kind of running through the program that I'm setting for her. And I think then, as soon as she's been able to get back home court motivation is obviously increasing. It's still difficult because I don't think anybody has any idea of when tournament's are going to return. It's a tough, tough times everyone, but I think the fact that she's on call is definitely helping. As for me, though, it's, I've just been doing some home workouts and fitness, trying to work on like a few little side projects. But to be honest, I'm enjoying the time being back with my family because I'm on the road. Last year, I was on the road for 42 weeks in the year. So just to be able to spend more than two weeks in a row of my family, and I'm really trying to like make the most of that.

 

Fabio Molle

Wow, 42 weeks is a lot and plus we're gonna just talk a bit about your younger days how you got into tennis and move to the States. You've been away from your family for a long time now.

 

Tom Hill

Yeah. So actually, I yeah, I was I went to IMG Academy when I was was 10. Actually my family moved out with me so I was with them. To be fair, like my family sacrificed a lot for me. So even though I've kind of been all around the world, they have been with me a lot of the time. It's only really kind of since university when I went to Pepperdine when I've kind of been a little bit more on my own. It's kind of been kind of the last, I'd say, six, seven, years, where I kind of maybe had a week with my parents here two weeks there, or three weeks, like for three weeks is like preseason that's like, the offseason period. That's the most I get but I'd say when I was like a junior and playing, I was lucky that my parents sacrificed a lot and they, wherever I was training, they, like relocated to that place.

 

Fabio Molle

That obviously makes it a lot easier when you relocate halfway across the world. What was it like moving as a 10 year old after IMG was like, were you just like, I just want to be a pro tennis player. And I need to be here was that decision you made? You told your parents I need to get over there or was that something that they came to you with?

 

Tom Hill

It's kind of good question because I remember when I was younger, I was always debating between football or tennis. I was a very good footballer, and I remember having a fight with my coach because I like to play up front scored the goals kind of be like you know the one everybody loves.

 

Fabio Molle

Striker

 

Tom Hill

Exactly. And then he we had some some problem in the defense and I had to play one game as a defender. And although it's a crucial position in football to a 10 year old, I'm just kind of just at the back just waiting, I was playing on a very good team. So I actually didn't have to do too much. And I wanted to be kind of in the action. So that kind of slowly lost my motivation with the football. But the other sport I was playing at the time was also tennis. And I remember I would have problems with my school that they wouldn't allow me enough time to go out to school to practice my tennis to play my football and I got to kind of a stage where I was starting to say to my parents - You know, I actually really enjoy tennis. I would love to try and become a professional. And I think my parents they, I mean they they battled hard with the schools to try and see if they could get me an extra hour out or instead of doing PE at school, I could go and do, you know, get some tennis lessons. And it just proved to be too difficult. And at the club that I was training at in the UK, Sollihull Arden, and at the time, I'd actually been on a few camps to IMG Academy in Florida was the Sollihull Arden kind of junior program. And about 10/15 years ago, there was some, you know, great junior players in the Birmingham area. And I just kind of remember that kind of saying to my parents, well, it would be amazing if I could go train at IMG, my tennis would be so much better. And, and, you know, my parents took like a massive sacrifice. And, you know, they let me they gave me an opportunity to go and do it. And honestly, it was the best decision I made for my tennis around the age at 10 years old.

 

Fabio Molle

And do you remember was there any other players who made it true when you were down there?

 

Tom Hill

It's funny you say that because obviously when I was 10 I don't think at the beginning stages too many of the guy's went through but what I found at the academy was the moment I was able to kind of make tennis kind of my primary focus. I was still studying and doing school but I was able to spend four or five, six hours whatever I wanted on tennis and my tennis quickly began to improve. I went up the ranks in the academy. Once you get to the higher ranks, then then yeah, you start to recognize a few faces. I was about three or four years younger than the likes of Gastão Elias, Filip Krajinović, who else was there - Christian Harrison, Ryan Harrison, Jazzy. There was a bunch of kind of, at the time, they were kind of playing the ITF juniors, I was three or four years younger, just kind of getting ready to maybe start playing ITF's but yeah the same kind of the journey that they made was great, obviously, at the time, when I was young, I'd see players like Taylor Dent, Tommy Haas, Sharapova even Kei Nishikori was nothing at the time. He was maybe 17 years old and just before he had his breakthrough, so it was inspiring to see these players at the academy trying to pursue the same dream that I had.

 

Fabio Molle

How much, just a side question does it make a difference to a player having in a club or be it you're at an academy. But even in the local club, if there's top players training there that must make such a difference, the motivation of 'I want to be like him'. So you feel it is tough for players to train in clubs where they don't have they don't see these players.

 

Tom Hill

It works two ways. One is it's it's so motivational, inspiring, like you can watch any of the players I listed practicing and seeing how they do it. And then you go two courts down and practice and you're like, oh, wow, like I'm doing the same things as Kei, let's say. That's one that was one way. The other way is also, sometimes it's a wake up call. And while these guys are so good, I really need to improve my game. And I think that can also happen sometimes if you play at clubs where let's say, what's the expresion, like big fish in a small pond or something like that where you can be the best player and you think you're fantastic but you're not testing yourself against players that are also top top players you believe that you're this top dog but the moment you go out internationally, you suddenly realize oh, I'm not actually as good as I thought I was.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, that's why it's really important that you are playing tournaments as you get out of your comfort zone you go to different countries be it if you're in the States you're going to different states or if you're in Europe, you go to different countries and be it Tennis Europe level or ITF level, you're getting out there and seeing how good the competition is, and realizing, God, I got to work a lot harder. I'm not good enough yet. So yes, that is a key point. And tell me what would you tell parents who have a kid either they want to go to an academy or the kid wants to go and they have to relocate, they have to make commitments like your parents did? What's your advice to somebody who, let's say wants to go to IMG or wants to go to Mouratoglou?

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, I think it's it could be a little bit different now. Obviously, 10 years ago, when I was there, it was kind of like, you have academies that weren't too many of them. It was Bollettieri you think you had Chris Evert down in Boca Raton but it wasn't like it was now, where I feel like there's academies everywhere I feel the worry of going to academies now, if you're not careful the training is too generic. It's not specific enough, you're just doing just practices that are just kind of good for everybody, but it's not really specific enough to you. If I was telling a parent now, I would say, yes, academies could be an option, as long as you kind of are doing a training program that your kid is the focus, and your kid is not just kind of one of 20/30 players in the focus. So maybe going to a smaller academy could be better. It's tough to say because I've been kind of out of the, the bigger kind of - I I've never been to Mouratoglou so I'm not sure how their training is. IMG Academy, obviously, I've been there a few times, but it's I know, it's very different to when I was there. I just believe it's so important as a junior and if I could kind of look back and and kind of if I was, you know, let's say 10, 11, 12 and what I know now telling myself then I'd be saying, one, make sure I'm doing a training plan where, like I said, the practice is so focused on you and you're not one of many. And two, is always test yourself against the better players. And the moment you can beat them, don't be happy about it, find it better play and play the better player. Always look to play up, play up, play up, play up, and and you're going to lose, but it's I feel like it's the only way to truly get better.

 

Fabio Molle

I agree. And what do you say about playing down the odd time for the confidence and just to you know, you're working on different things you play down as well.

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, I think playing down is is also it's important. It's a different pressure. When you play down and you have that kind of expectation to win. I think it's very important to do that. I think for example, if I look back at myself when I was playing, like the ITF juniors, I would play a lot of kind of the grade ones grade A's, grade twos, and I'm thinking maybe if I'd done it again, it would have been better for me to kind of maybe play those every now and again, that perhaps play more Futures and then actually play more grade fours and grade five ITF's. Because I'd get more of the pressure of having to win. And if I play the grades for grade five, it's like if you don't win the tournament, it's a failure. And then you also play yourself in the Futures where chances are like, if you can even qualify to the main floor, you've done incredibly well at that age. I feel sometimes what happens is you get too comfortable playing the grade ones, grade twos, grade A's, you win a few matches here and there, but you plateau very quickly.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, no, I, there's probably loads of ways you can look at it. We have talked to various coaches about juniors who do well, underage like their winning grade ones grade twos, and they're not really playing Futures. So they're 19, they play the Futures tour and every week is the loss then and they can't handle it. And it takes you know, could take years for them to overcome that. So you're right. If you can open up the mind to those games early on in your career, it makes a big difference. And also going back to academies,I feel like you just don't want to be like an Excel number at an academy where you're just there to pay the bills.

 

Tom Hill

Exactly. I mean, what I can say is the way academies also kind of make more money as they charge for private lessons on top. If you're just doing kind of the general academy program that if you use it the right way, that can be fine. But you're just going to have to know ahead of time that you're going to have to put more expense into private individual lessons. And if you do that, then maybe you can find a good balance of getting your general training but also getting specific training.

 

Fabio Molle

True. Yeah. Or the other thing is you just get a local coach and they're with you full time as many as you want the day probably cost you a lot less, you have the comfort of your family and hopefully there's good enough players around you that can jump in from time to time.

 

Tom Hill

Well, that's actually what happened to me when I when I got to, I think it's about 13/14 years old. I was actually told by one of the kind of like the head coaches from IMG. He's like he said to me, like Tom, I think he's kind have outgrown the academy now. And you need to start kind of also what were you just said I needed to start traveling more and competing against kind of players on an international circuit. So that was when I started working just with just one coach. We train on just, you know, Park courts club courts that they let us play, but my main focus was just kind of travel and to compete against the best players out there to push myself and that was when I saw a real kind of jump in my game, because it was a wake up call. And I was able to focus solely just on getting myself better.

 

Fabio Molle

And you can't hide in the groups. Its all you.

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, exactly.

 

Fabio Molle

One of the big advantages of going to an academy be it, IMG, Saviano, Muratoglou, Piatti, any of these guys is they've good access to US colleges, which is I think a great route for tennis players to take because let's be honest, most tennis players aren't good enough to hit the men's game after a junior career. So, that is really good. And you went to a great college in Pepperdine. Was that your number one choice?

 

Tom Hill

I was lucky that obviously, because I was playing a lot of juniors, I was in a position where I would say 95% of the schools had an interest in me so I could kind of go wherever I wanted. I was actually planning on going to the University of Texas in Austin. It kind of fell through at the last moment because they wanted me to come in in January redshirt for that semester, which was basically I was on the team, I could practice with the team, but I couldn't compete, and then start kind of the following August as my freshman year but I didn't want to do that because I still had the mindset of, I'm only going to college for maybe a year or two to compete, and then get matches under my belt and then play professional afterwards. So in my mind, I was thinking, I don't want to just train for six months, I want to go and compete and that was when Pepperdine then came in afterwards and was like we heard what happened with Texas. We'll have you come in right now. You can play in January. And I was like, Okay, let's do it.

 

Fabio Molle

Great. And was Brett Masi to coach in Texas at the time.

 

Tom Hill

No, Brett Massey - he may have been the coach at Texas Tech.

 

Fabio Molle

Oh Texas Tech. Sorry. Okay. My bad.

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, the University of Texas. I'm trying to think I know the assistant coaches Ricardio, Michael Center was the head coach at the time.

 

Fabio Molle

We had Brett on here, 15 episodes ago. Nice man. And they just taught I remember he said Texas and then yeah, there was another Irish guy, Bjorn Thompson ended up at Texas as well. But it was Texas Tech.

 

Tom Hill

Yeah. And I know Bjorn really well because he's obviously I don't know if he still lives in Birmingham, but he spent a long time living in Birmingham.

 

Fabio Molle

Great. I'm not sure where he is at the moment, but he's probably still in the States. I'd say.

 

Tom Hill

He could be. I've kind of lost touch with him.

 

Fabio Molle

So how did Pepperdine go for you? So your plan was, I'm going to go here. I'm going to like, train, get some matches in. And then we're going to give it a year and see try and make the breakthrough to the pro tour. What happened once you hit Pepperdine?

 

Tom Hill

Yes. So, like I said, like, when I was 17, I was just outside the top 100 in the juniors. If you would have asked me then if I was going to college, I would have said absolutely no chance. And the problem was, right at the beginning of my final year of juniors, I got a stress fracture in my lower back and it it took out that entire year of tennis. And it was at that point when I was like, okay, maybe I should go to college just for a year or two, kind of slowly get my tennis back into it. I can play some matches. I didn't respect the level of college tennis enough at the time. I was probably thinking, yeah, I'll just go in and just play a few matches, get it back and then and then go pro but it's a difficult one because part of like, like I said, why I went to Pepperdine was the immediate matches that I could play. If I look back I probably should have gone to Texas use the first semester to to learn about college, learn about how, how to actually study and play tennis because I'd spent the last kind of four or five years doing homeschool online school. So that was a difficult transition of knowing, you know, thinking and in touch lectures taking classes. Really. I was a little bit like Geez, how do I study for this?

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, I can imagine it could be tough.

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, my tennis then was taking a hit because I was so stressed with the schoolwork. And you know, that was when if I look back, I'm not saying because I don't regret going to Pepperdine to me like if I do it again, Pepperdine, I loved every second of it. But maybe the actual if I'd sat out for six months, just trained and learned how to do college tennis could have helped me more. I was very naive going into college and what the level was like I kind of assumed I would go in and even though I'd been injured for a while that I would immediately come in, make an impact and then I'd play for a year or two and then get back on the Futures tour because still, in my mind, I was thinking, if you want to make it, you can't make it by going to college.

 

Fabio Molle

And that opinions obviously changed now for you?

 

Tom Hill

It's changed, but it also hasn't changed. It's, I believe college is a great place if you're kind of I think you have to be very real with yourself when you're 17/18 years old and what your level is like. So I was playing the same year group as Nick Kyrgios, Kyle Edmund, Borna Coric, Chung Hyeon like I had a very strong year group and like I said, when I was playing the grade ones, grade A's, I was maybe making quarterfinals but they were winning it. I think you have to be very true to yourself and what level are you really at because for those guys, it made total sense to go and play pro. They were the best players in the juniors, they were they were the top dogs. I think if you're a little bit behind that kind of where I was, you're still top player that you're just not quite the elite, then college is a great place to go to. Now the problems that I see with college is picking where you go to and you can't pick a program based on what rank the score was. The location, how good the degrees are, because then ultimately, your tennis is not your main focus. It's very difficult that I believe that if you truly want to come out of college tennis with any chance of playing on the professional tour, I said it before, but the most important thing is you go to a program where you believe that the coach is a top tennis coach. And if I was kind of saying to let's say 17/18 year old boys and girls that wanted to play professional tennis after college, the two most important things you can find out is one, kind of like the coaching style of the coach to do this, you may have to ask players on the team. You know, nowadays social media is easy to send an Instagram DM or Facebook message you have to find out how, in a nicer thing how good is the coach? Is he a coach who's just more like a manager? Or is he a coach who say you know, on the cause really investing time into improving the player. And the second thing I would want the player to find out is what is the actual program like? Because like I said, with academies, you can go to colleges where the program is you've got 10 to 12 guys on a team and it's just general okay guys just hit for the middle of hit forehand cross, hit back across let's take some volleys, let's play some points like it's so it's so general. That's just going through the motions there's no purpose for practice. And I believe the players that have, for example, Cameron Norrie also my group - Im good friends with Cameron and he went to TCU. And from what I've been told, the coaching at TCU I believe it may have been the assistant coach who Cameron was telling me I can't remember, but obviously both the coaches were top coaches, but Cameron was like getting proper specific training to improve his tennis. And I believe if I believe college can be a great route, if you have this kind of focus going into college, if that makes sense.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, no, it totally does. And I'm sure that is more than half the battle is finding a place that is for you that you connect with the coaches and that the coaches will, you know, can get the most out of you. And you can learn the most on the court and off the court as well. That's from what I heard if some of my friends who've gone to the States is the coaches have been great. And as well as being great on the court. They also help them so much off the court.

 

Tom Hill

Exactly. And it's a time in your life when you have just as much to learn off the court as you have to do on the court. As another thing, you could also do, you should also ask the players on the team. How good is the coach during matches, kind of giving you strategic game plans? That's another thing because sometimes in college tennis, you can go to places where where the coach is kind of like, go play a match, if you if you win, I love you, if you lose, you might not play the next week. You want a coach where the kind of the outcome is secondary, but the primary thing is okay, you're playing this person, okay? Their backhand is the weaker side. So let's look to play at height to the backhand stretching to the left and then create openings to the right or lets be serving to his body to then open up the first one through his back on you, you want that sort of coaching, instead of if you win, I love you if you lose, go and start looking for another university.

 

Fabio Molle

Or start doing laps for the next week.

 

Tom Hill

Exactly, exactly. There's a whole i different kind of approach to it.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, tell me so. What do you tell a parent also? Now I know before we asked about the academy, but do you tell them the kid has to be true to himself. And I know for young kids, teenagers, it can be hard to admit I'm not good enough. Everybody believes they're good enough. And only the mature ones would kind of say, okay, well, look, I'm not good enough here. I'm going to go to college. And obviously the ones that aren't ones that are not great, you know, the bottom of the pile, I think it's an automatic college route. But it's probably the ones that, you know, should go to college have to be told to go to college. What's your angle there?

 

Tom Hill

Yeah. So it's kind of like, like I said, if you're like elite elite, if you're like top 20, top 25 junior - 25 is even borderline in the world and you're winning the top tournaments then I believe he's earned the right to go out and give it give it a shot and take the gamble. I think other than that, I really think you should go to college just because the level of college tennis is incredibly high. It's growing every year. Every year I see more and more top players going is just making sure like I said, if you do go and you still have aspirations to play professional tennis afterwards that you ask the right questions because it's so easy to go to a place andnd, you know, I see all the time where it's like, when we were at university, and we'd have recruit. I was at Pepperdine University and then they recruits becoming on visits and the questions they'd be asking were like, what are the party's like?, you know, how, what's the ratio of girls to guys? And it's like, okay, yeah, these are questions that you should ask yourself but if you still if you have you have true goals to play professional tennis. There are different questions that you should be asking.

 

Fabio Molle

Ture, they are going for the wrong reason. So before we move on from this college tennis, do you remember a guy at San Diego called Ciaran Fitzgerald?

 

Tom Hill

I do. I played him.

 

Fabio Molle

He's a good friend of mine.

 

Tom Hill

I think I played him twice. I think I won one, lost one. But he was a good player. He was fiery, he was like energetic. I remember because San Diego was like Pepperdines biggest like rival, enemy. I always remembered him because like, you know, he, I mean one he was he was he was a good player but two, like I kind of I saw his kind of energy and passion and he was kind of like the leader of that San Diego team. Yeah, I don't know him too well, but I definitely remember him.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, he says he remembers playing you, but we didn't talk too much now, but I'll get the full lowdown from him during the week. But he's a good guy. And yeah, you're right. He's really fiery. But you need people like that on your team. So moving on, you didn't go pro. Did you go straight into coaching, what happened after university? Did you make a decision to go the coaching route?

 

Tom Hill

Looking back, I was lucky that I had a few ATP points when I was 17, right before my injury. So I'd already played a few futures. I kind of had an idea of what the level was like and also, after my freshman year, I also played some futures in that summer, just because I still had goals of playing professionally, I wanted to still kind of test myself and see my progress. And that that helps me because once I did graduate, I knew I knew deep down to be fair, it was it was a year before I graduated, probably my junior year when I kind of came to terms with the fact that once I graduate, I'm not going to be trying to pursue playing futures and everything like that, because I knew deep down that my level wasn't wasn't good enough. I believe, if I had an unlimited bank account, I could go and travel and collect points I could maybe get anywhere from like 400 in that range, but like you said, that doesn't make any money. You're not even good enough to go play to play doubles with that money. You literally lose money at that ranking. So I told myself, okay, as soon as I graduate, tennis is over, and I had no plans of coaching. You could you could ask anyone that knows me up until I graduated I'd never once said I want to, I want to be a tennis coach. It's something that literally came up out of the blue. I was taking some summer classes to finish my my marketing course. And the tennis season had finished, so I was kind of trying to have a couple months just experiencing what it was like as a normal student. So I put my rackets away in the wardrobe. They were done. They weren't ever coming back out. And I was just partying every night and I was at a bar in Santa Monica one night, pretty late. Its like 1/2 in the morning and I'm with a teammate and we bump into an ex teammate from a few years before and he was kind of like, you know, asking me, what are your plans? What are you going to be doing? And I was kind of, in the mindset of you know, I'm probably going go to law school like I took my although I had a difficult first semester, kind of reteaching myself how to study, I ended up graduating with honours. So like I took my studying seriously. So I was saying, you know, probably go to law school, but looking back that was probably more of I have no idea what I'm going do with my life. So I just keep studying. And he goes to me, have you ever considered being a hitting partner? And I said, not really. And I said, to be honest, there's probably not too many hitting partner roles out there anymore because obviously Sharapova has a hitting partner and Serena Williams, but apart from that, there's not too many anymore. And he said, well, this agent keeps keeps texting me asking me to do some stuff that I don't want to do it. Do you want me to give him your number. I said, yeah, sure, give him my number. I wasn't expecting anything from it. A few weeks later, I'm just going into my final exam. And I get a text from Max Eisenbud,Sharapova's agent asking if I could come hit with Sharapova. And it kind of all started from there. So then I ended up going out to IMG, I practiced with Sharapova. The hits when well, Max then had me stay at IMG hitting with all of the IMG players and before I knew it, I was less than 48 hours from finishing my last exam, I'm suddenly IMG Academy where I was as a kid at 10 and practicing with 15 different top 50 WTA players.

 

Fabio Molle

You've come full circle., Did you finish your exams then and then you go straight back to IMG working full time as a hidden partner?

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, so like I said, I was doing the hitting partner actually wasn't wasn't getting paid. It wasn't a job. It was more just, I was kind of still I think once you graduate, your f1 visa still allows you maybe like 30 days or 60 days in the United States. So I was like, I might as well just use up these days, have a bit of fun before I go back to the UK. So it was more, just keep myself in shape just have a bit of fun like you can't turn down hitting with Sharapova that's like to any kind of junior, even pro tennis player if you've got a chance to hit with Maria Sharapova, you don't turn it down you do it. So for me it was just a lot of fun. Although I didn't get paid like I wasn't even looking to get paid. I just enjoyed doing it. It was tough. I was it was if you think about it was Florida summers, the humidity was ridiculous. I remember one time I was hitting serves to Laura Robson and it was probably like, my fifth hour on court and I remember one of the serves, I threw the ball toss up and I completely like blacked out for like a second. And as I oh geez, I need to like, stop. Luckily, we only did a couple more serves and that was it. But you know, it was it was working hard, but I wasn't doing it to look for a coaching job. It was more just like I said, use the days that my visa was allowing me and then I'll go back home and figure out the next step.

 

Fabio Molle

Did you learn anything from hitting with Maria for example?

 

Tom Hill

One of the things I learned from Sharapova was like her professionalism to practice. And it was one of the things that stood out so much compared to, let's say college because college it was so much, we were just all hitting and messing around though still having good practices. But it wasn't like the same focus as let's say, with Sharapova. I was told by the head of IMG at the time, look, she's going to come, she's not even going to say hello or anything. She's just going to be in her own zone. So, you're going to practice but I promise you once the practice is over, she'll, she'll be really nice to you. And I was I was thinking, okay, that's fine. Like, whatever. I'm just coming to, to hit at the time. I was thinking, just let's hope I don't miss too many balls. That's kind of what I was thinking.

 

Tom Hill

And that's exactly what happened. She came she you know, there's a lot of people watching but they were kind of like, behind ropes quite far away and she could tell that I was hitting with her but it was just she put her rackets down, she organized her stuff, she started warming up with a fitness coach. I was just kind of there just chatting with Sven because her coach was Sven Groeneveld at the time. Sven was telling me what how the practice was going to work. And then before you know it, she's on the baseline and we're hitting and it's just total focus, the practices like I think we played for about an hour and a half, but it was just no words just total focus, this intense hitting, and I was just like, wow, like I understand how she's been at the top of the game for so long if this is how her like attention to detail, her focus, her preparation is just on point. And then as soon as the practice finished, she was the nicest person ever. She sat down and chatted with me for 10/15 minutes just about my life before she let fans come and sign autographs and for me, I was like okay, this is kind of the difference between her on the court training and then once training finished you kind of like almost like press the button and she just became like relaxed Maria and it was it was interesting to learn from that when I was only 21/22 years old.

 

Fabio Molle

It's great for them to have that switch where they can see focus mode and then chill out rather than being super focused all the time where it gets a bit worrying then they come across as obnoxius and rude which you see from time to time with some players

 

Tom Hill

The thing was I'd never seen it before because even when I was 17/18, I'd hit with Fognin, I'd practice a lot the Fognini, I'd practice with Juan Monaco, Brzezicki, Federico Delbonis, a lot of top players that none of it compared to the practice with Sharaova for like the intensity to the practice.

 

Fabio Molle

I can imagine Fognini practice now. He just slags everybody from what I've seen.

 

Tom Hill

Now the thing the thing was Fognini it was always there always had to be some sort of point situation in play and something on the line and you know, it he didn't want to ever do drilling. So it was like if we did do a drilling, he'd find a way to turn it into a tiebreaker and put like a Coke or a Fanta on the line it was that he was always like that.

 

Fabio Molle

At least he knows he knows what gets him motivated. And that's important. So, moving from my bit of research, Danielle Collins was the first girl you worked with in the coaching role?

 

Tom Hill

Yes. So it all kind of started once I was the hitting partner at IMG. I actually wasn't allowed to hit with with Danielle or I was allowed but she was kind of I was allowed to hit with her after I'd hit with the IMG girls. So I was told by IMG that they wanted me to hit with all of their IMG clients. Danielle was allowed to practice at IMG, but at the time, she wasn't signed. She just recently graduated. She was around 200-220 in the world. And because she was from St. Petersburg, and that's only like half an hour from IMG, they let her use the facility and Danielle would see me practicing with these other girls and she'd always ask me like, can I practice with you and can we do stuff and it was then that kind of I'd hit with like Sabine Lisiki, Sharapova, Laura Robson, and then I'd find time then to hit with Danielle as well for what I enjoyed hitting with Danielle was all those other players that I mentioned I was just like a hitting partner and I was pretty much treated as someone who is there can't miss a bull run side to side for as long as they wanted. If I was serving slice wide on the duece side, they expected me to make every single service if I was some machine and when I hit with Danielle there was a lot more kind of she wanted my input on her game. She wanted to know how her ball felt when I was hitting if there's anything I felt from feeling this ball what she'd recommend if we played some points that was if she did something and I felt it wasn't really hurting me - how could she make it better and she she gave me a lot more input into her game. D

 

Fabio Molle

Did she have a coach at the time?

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, she was working with her college coach. So once she graduated, the coach at the university, stopped working at the university and became Danielle's private coach. And he was a really nice guy. He had some problem with, I can't remember if it was a visa a problem or a house problem, but he couldn't go to Japan for two tournaments in October 2017. And so Danielle asked me if I would go with her and help her out. And I said, Absolutely. So this was kind of the timing worked out great that once my days were about to end on the f1 visa, and I had to leave, it worked out that I was then able to go and do these two tournaments with Danielle in Japan. And so I went to these two tournaments. I knew that there was no potential job after afterwards it was just let's go have some fun. I'm going to Japan they can like watching Daniel computer like at the time that says two WTA events she played she was in qualifying and we connected really well. We had a lot of fun together. After the tutorials in Japan, I had to go back to the UK. She told me, she'd love to carry on with me, but she you know, she had her current coach. And I was like, no, I completely understand, I've really enjoyed these these , two weeks, and we kind of just remained friends from that. It was around around Christmas around like December 24 maybe around that time when Danielle facetimes me and she's like, crying and saying that she's had a fallout with her coach. They stopped working. She's flying to New Zealand in the morning, and she needs somebody. And that was when I said what are you looking for and hitting partner? Or are you looking for a coach? Because I didn't Danielle but I'd actually accepted an advertising job. And she was like, no, no, I'm looking. I'm looking for a coach, I guess if you work with me, and you'll be my coach. And for me, that was a big question to ask because I knew if I was a hitting partner, I was pretty much just going to be running around hitting balls.

 

Tom Hill

I didn't want to do that. But if I was going to be given kind of her trust to, to make her a better player to have input in her game to kind of give her strategies and have a, you know, execute these and brainstorm with her, and stuff then I was willing to do it. And she said, no, I would be her coach. She really enjoyed the two tournaments in Japan. And let's give it a shot. And so we did. And, you know, I didn't. I didn't tell the job straightaway that I wasn't gonna be there, I just told them that. Could I have two weeks holiday to go to Australia?

 

Fabio Molle

Let's see how Australia goes.

 

Tom Hill

That was it. Yeah, let's see how Australia goes.

 

Fabio Molle

What a pivotal moment in your life there because you've taken a job, an office job, and I come from this tennis, mentally probably prepared. I'm gonna take this office job and all of a sudden you get this call and you're like, Oh, my God, like I'm saying, I'm sure looking back now. Do you look back at that moment and go wow?

 

Tom Hill

Yeah. I mean, I look back and think of how my life could be so different if I just told them you know, sorry, I've actually accepted a job. I just something told me deep down that I'll always get another office job. I may never get another chance to travel and coach, a top professional tennis player, even though at the time Danielle was like, 180, I was still like, you know, I'm going to the Australian Open. I'm thinking why I've never done that before. That'd be amazing.

 

Fabio Molle

So how did that go?

 

Tom Hill

Oh, you mean Australia, with Danielle?

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah

 

Tom Hill

So we've gotten lucky the first one and in New Zealand she caught something on the flight to New Zealand and she ended up being really sick and we got to put out the first tournament and thinking wow, like, I only got news. I was thinking to myself, okay, I'm going to do the tournament in Auckland, Australian Open and from those two tournaments, I'll make a decision whether I tell Danielle, look, I've accepted a job. Or I just carry on with Danielle and I tell the job sorry, I'm not coming to work. For the first tournament when she has to pull out sick, I was thinking, oh geez, like now I'm gonna have to base this just on on one, one tournament. And so she plays, she ends up losing in the last round qualies of Australian, which at the time she'd never want to WTA match you know even in qualifying, so she was at the time quite happy with that result. So I just decided you know what, I'm gonna do it I'm going to carry on with Danielle so I sent an email the night before I was supposed to be starting the the advertising job, saying that I wasn't coming in. And they never replied which was expected.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, just don't come knocking again.

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, I definitely will never be allowed to work there again. And so then I carry on with Danielle and actually the first tournament then after I sent that email was Newport Beach, the WTA 125 K. And Danielle won the tournament. And it was kind of from then that, you know, Danielle had that rise where she went from 180 in the world to 35 in the world.

 

Fabio Molle

How long did you work with Danielle for?

 

Tom Hill

We stopped at Wimbledon that year. So it was about eight months.

 

Fabio Molle

Was there any reason why you stopped working with her?

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, well, she felt that I had taken her game as far as I could being at the time, I was only 23 years old. She wanted some with more experience. So I understood her reasonings. But at the same time, I was thinking, you've only lost like five matches this year, I helped you get to the top 40 in the world, like, why are you wanting to stop this? Then I told to look it's your career. And I want you to make the decision.

 

Fabio Molle

Oh, wow, so I'm sure it still would have been tough for you. I know. You say you understand what she was saying. But you're like, come on. Trust me here. keep trusting me. We'll get up with the crawl up even more.

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, I mean, I remember when she called me telling me I remember thinking like I was so caught off guard. Because I guess sometimes if your players is losing a lot, maybe you can kind of anticipate. I think Danielle was like 35 wins and five losses for when she'd been working on me. And I was thinking like, it just didn't cross my mind at all that she was going to be getting rid of me.

 

Fabio Molle

They are the biggest shocks. And so, all of a sudden, were you thinking Im going to have to ring this advertising agencyo r were you like, there's other players out there. I've done a good job. I've built up a good reputation in a quick amount of time. What were your thoughts?

 

Tom Hill

I thought my coaching thing was over again. I was like, okay, at the end of the day, I'm like 22 or 23. I honestly didn't think any other player was would take a chance on me and I ended up telling my mom I was like, Yeah, I think I think this could be it, I probably go back to the UK and start looking for a job. And then she would say, let's just wait a little bit like I'm sure somebody will reach out and within 24 hours, I posted something on Instagram just kind of thanking Danielle for, for the experience, the journey. And within 24 hours I had about five job offers. And I was like, whoa, this is this is crazy.

 

Fabio Molle

Did you have an agent or anything or we you just flying solo?

 

Tom Hill

Everything was just done through Instagram direct message.

 

Fabio Molle

Was Maria one of those five who contacted you?

 

Tom Hill

Not Maria directly, Maria's agent, he has an assistant who I am very good friends with so he, he saw my post on Instagram. He then called me up saying, Hey, I saw that you stopped with Danielle, you know, are you still looking for a new player? And I said, Yeah, what did you have in mind? And he said, I can't tell you at the moment but Lawrence will call you. So then about half an hour later Lawrence called me. He asked me if I would be willing to to be the assistant coach for Maria Sakkari. And I said, absolutely. And that was when he said okay Thomas Johansson is going to call you then he called me like 20 minutes later and I speaking to Thomas Johannsson and the way it went that was Thomas Johannsson was Maria's, like head coach, full coach like that he was only doing around, let's say 25 to 30 weeks and Maria wanted someone for the remaining weeks. And at the time I was like, this is such a just a great a great opportunity one for me to work with, you know, Maria at the time was around just inside the top 50. And I was also thinking well, I get to learn as well like proper coaching from Thomas Johansson, I was thinking   this is a win win. And and then I found myself 48 hours after sending that Instagram post on a flight to Greece.

 

Fabio Molle

Well, that's no messing around there. And so what year was that now?

 

Tom Hill

This was this was the week after Wimbledon 2018.

 

Fabio Molle

Wow, so you're straight, straight over to Greece. Was Thomas in Greece at the time?

 

Tom Hill

No, so I think Maria was kind of looking for somebody. Because Thomas did a lot of the traveling to the tournaments, but then there's a lot of weeks where she was kind of in Greece and she needed extra attention during those weeks and you know, time, Thomas has his family and stuff that he could have committed to, like, what like I was doing with Danielle, like 40 plus weeks. And so originally it was I was gonna fly out to Greece, just for 10 days to help Maria practice for San Jose, which was the next tournament and it was more like a trial to see if we kind of connected well had chemistry in training. There was no guarantee of full time work afterwards. But after about four or five days of hitting, Maria asked me if I would, you know, want to go to two tournaments with her to kind of see if we connect well at tournament so the two tournaments were San Jose, and then Montreal. And the first tournament in San Jose together she ended up making the final so that was that was special. And it's actually that tournament which was the first tournament coaching any player after Danielle, I actually had Maria played Danielle in the semi final.

 

Fabio Molle

Oh nice.

 

Tom Hill

We need it was it wasn't nice at the time.

 

Tom Hill

Oh my gosh I remember looking at the draw because I knew Danielle was going to be there and I remember that when I first saw Danielle, I went and gave her a hug and I was just trying to be like, just nice. And I saw the draw and I thought okay, like if everything goes to plan, the earliest Maria could potentially meet Danielle was the semi's and I was thinking what are the chances they both make the semis as like there's like top players like Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Konta, Azarenka, there were a lot of good players in this tournament for them to both make the semies This is a long shot and it makes makes me I know like the ticking off Maria wins, Danielle wins, Maria beats Venus Williams, Danielle Azarenka and I'm like, Oh, this is going to happen, they are going to play in the semis.

 

Tom Hill

No, you're hiding in the players box

 

Tom Hill

Yeah. And then and then like, there was so much hype behind the match where it's like, you know the press getting involved and they're saying like, Oh, this is going be an interesting match because Tom was coaching Danielle and now he's coaching Maria and I was thinking I'm not going on the court, It's Maria versus Danielle, but yeah, that was I would have preferred that not to happen the first tournament back.

 

Fabio Molle

But at least you got it over and done with. And so does Maria spend much time in the gym the way, any of the videos I see, she is like chiseled, her shoulders are - guys will be jealous of her shoulders.

 

Tom Hill

She's such a hard worker. She obviously spends a lot of time in the gym but she doesn't spend like she's not like on some bodybuilder training plan, no she trains very tennis specific with her fitness coach. I mean, he's, he's like, unbelievable.

 

Fabio Molle

We've posted his videos. Especially preseason last year. He made some great videos up there really good exercises.

 

Tom Hill

I mean, he's such a great guy. They have unbelievable chemistry together. They work. They work hard like I see and even when when we do preseason in Dubai like I sometimes try to like get involved and do some stuff with them and I'm like, wow, like this. This is tough. This is really really tough. And the thing is there is like it's not she doesn't just put the hours in on the fitness she puts the hours on the tennis court and she's tennis fit and she's fitness fit and she's for her it's, it's her physique is like a byproduct of her just working hard day in day out on the court and off the court.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, no, it's it's visible, obviously, just by looking at her. And obviously she's a she's a great player. What have you learned so since working with Maria?

 

Fabio Molle

Good question, it is one of the things that I always admire about Maria is kind of her willingness to practice things and she's maybe uncomfortable practicing, if that makes sense. You see of a lot of players who they know kind of how they play they like let's say they've got a really good forehand and they just keep practicing the things that make them look good, feel good. The one thing I always kind of admire about Maria is if I tell her like, okay, we need to improve this. She does it and it's like okay, it might not work at the beginning but she does it again and again and she and then before I know it like we've been practicing three or four days of what I felt was a weakness and now she's turned it into like a strength and I'm thinking one, I respect how faster you've just kind of taken on this challenge and two, like how quickly can you learn these these new skills and I just the reason why that stands out so much to me, because I remember myself when I was playing, I'd be thinking, like, let's say, I don't want the person to pay to this side or a certain side, I would just be kind make sure that the slide that is my favorite, I just do a lot of hitting on that and I might look good on the outside but really I've got a big flaw in my game if someone actually realized

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, it's a bit like don't hit it to my backhand internal battle.

 

Tom Hill

Exactly but for argument's sake if I said, Oh, Maria, your back has not very good. She's like, Oh, really? Okay, let's let's work on it. I'll show you. And it's kind of like that sort of that mindset that she has this for me, like for a coach, it's a dream. It's an absolute dream working with her. She, she works so hard, she puts hours on the court, she's willing to practice things that need practicing and she's a perfectionist and all these things like for coaches, you can't ask for something better.

 

Fabio Molle

I think the majority of top tennis players are perfectionists, not all of them. But I'm sure most of them really are when it comes to the nitty gritty stuff and trying to get the most out of their game.

 

Tom Hill

I think that's true. But the thing is there's, I believe there's two types of perfectionists. There's the perfectionist that are the ones who like you said, they want to improve all the little aspects of the game or they get frustrated by these aspects. But the difference is that perfectionists are the ones that make it to the top, when they have this sort of imperfection, it motivates them to improve it, where there are other people who are perfectionists, they get more frustrated at not being able to do something and it drives them insane, that there's not really a drive to improve the imperfection. I've found of all the top top tennis players, they're all perfectionists that they have this drive that if they find a part of their game, that's not perfect. They work on it and work on it until it becomes a strength.

 

Fabio Molle

And yes, that's a good point. And probably they want people around them who are not afraid to, to tell them you know what's wrong or what they can improve on because I'm sure there's many coaches. It's the player who pays the bill and are probably afraid to tell them the players the real truth at times. Is that a true statement?

 

Tom Hill

Absolutely if you're like, they call it yes man or something. Yeah, if you're a yes, man, you're not going to last very long in this industry. You have to always know when to compliment your player. But you've also got to know when to tell be firm with them. And, you know, I always Maria joke surrounded me that it's very difficult on the practice court for me to give her a compliment, and maybe I should do it more. Like if I say to her, like, wow, that was that was really good. She goes, Oh, okay, that was good. Okay, nice to hear something positive. Like, you know, obviously, on the match court, it's positive, positive, positive, positive. But in the practice court, it's, I have a different approach. Like, it has to be really good for me to, to real show some love as in like, that was really, really good.

 

Fabio Molle

I think the goal is to make the really good ordinary. So you start really, really good to be extraordinary. And then you transfer that really good onto the match court. And hopefully your level should be rising and rising then. And then I'm not sure if that made any sense.

 

Tom Hill

You're exactly right. Because I want to have that kind of that that's, I want Maria to get the feeling that if he does something that's good, and she's thinking, Oh, that was really good. I want her to look at me and have me expect that to be normal. For it to be really, really good for me to actually be like, wow, that was really good. I'm expecting like, elite elite elite, but it's that kind of pushing her which it works for Maria. It motivates her to keep getting better and better and better.

 

Fabio Molle

Yes, yes. Very true. And tell me, Tom, is Thomas Johansson still involved?

 

Tom Hill

Well, he's not involved in our team anymore. But for me, he's, I mean, I call him my mentor because when we work together he's such an unbelievably great coach such an unbelievably great guy. Even now, like I text him almost every day even now, just I see him this is a really close friend, but he's there for me. Like if I if I want to ask him any question like, you know, Tom, I'm kind of work on this with Maria, what do you think? Or if I'm trying to do this, what do you think? And he's, he's always giving me advice, his opinion, and I'm so lucky to have that and, and someone like him because there's not many people like him around and in this industry, but he's not he's not actually like an official part of the team. He's, he's obviously Goffin, David Goffin's coach, okay, he's in Goffin's fans team, but for me, he's just kind of like I see him as as my mentor.

 

Fabio Molle

It's great. It's great to have such a talented player and obviously somebody with so much experience in your corner and somebody grabs the ring. It's unbelievable. So you are you are the head coach with Maria?

 

Tom Hill

Yes. Maria's team is, is just tennis would be myself, I'm her coach, her only coach. That's the only person on her team for tennis. We've got the fitness coach, and we've got Daniel who started this year, who is the physio.

 

Fabio Molle

And he's traveled with you week on week when you're on the road?

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, well, he started. His first tournament was obviously Brisbane this year. And we share. We share him with Jennifer Brady. So yeah, he's he's pretty much every week on the road with us.

 

Fabio Molle

Great. We'll look hopefully we can get back on the tennis court soon. When in your opinion, by the way, do you think will be the next WTA tournament with the current information that you have?

 

Tom Hill

And yeah, I feel like I think I've been given like kind of information that I'm not allowed to be telling anyone.

 

Fabio Molle

I saw some WTA information last week from the coaches. It was sent to me anonymously. It's already out of date information that was sent last week.

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, we get. That's one of the positives of the WTA, they keep us updated quite a lot. I also have Maria, speak with Maria every day. So she's also telling me what's being told to the players. I think a lot of it is up in the air right now. And I, all I'm going to say is I'm, I really hope that we're going to get some tournaments soon. I think there is going to be a way to do it. And I hope I hope we can. I think all we can hope is just that we get some kind of idea of a date, at least when we have a date of when something is likely to happen. So you can start planning, okay, if travel opens up, I can get to you by this date, and we can make it work on our side.

 

Fabio Molle

You'll be getting in a car Tom and driving down to Greece.

 

Tom Hill

You joke about it, but it may happen.

 

Fabio Molle

No, I'm not joking. I'm serious. I have to go to Italy and I taught the same thing like I'm just going to get in the car, drive to to Italy, you know, get out of petrol stations. Be careful. I'll be down in Italy in whenever this summertime, but I'm not I'm not sure if I'm actually going to do it, my wife will kill me. But before we let you go here, I have two questions left for you. One. How old are you today?

 

Tom Hill

I'm 25.

 

Fabio Molle

So are you one of the youngest coaches on probably the ATP & WTA tour?

 

Fabio Molle

I mean, this would need to be fact checked, but I'm pretty sure I'm the youngest.

 

Fabio Molle

Great. Well, that's, that must be like a dream. I don't know if any coaches, very few that are like closer to 30 who are working full time gigs. Obviously there's hitting partners out there, plenty of them, but I don't know if any coaches your age. So congratulations on getting yourself into great position. I'm working with some great players. Is there a young Coach of the Year award?

 

Tom Hill

I don't think there is that. I I want to put myself in the not the young coach. Just the coach award.

 

Fabio Molle

True true. Sorry, sorry. That's that's good, great attitude to have. And secondly, your dad was a pro golfer. Do you play golf?

 

Tom Hill

Yeah, golf. I'm obsessed with it. And I'm counting down the days until I can actually like start playing. I know golf courses are open but they've opened only some members are not a member of the club. So I'm just like, Come on. Let me just come in.

 

Fabio Molle

To just sneak in and what's your handicap?

 

Tom Hill

I actually, because I'm not a member. I don't have an official handicap. I always used to like to say 18 just because I get one shot a hole when I played my dad because obviously he's professional plays off scratch but, I believe. I believe if I'm fair, I'm a 12 handicap but 18 I like to say because I'm a bit of a bandit.

 

Fabio Molle

Okay, yeah, you're trying to rob all our money. Tom, thank you very much for jumping on the call, I appreciate it and it great to get your story and the great work you've done.

 

Tom Hill

Thank you for having me. I enjoyed chatting with you.

 

Fabio Molle

I hope you enjoyed that episode with Tom. I thought it was great and was great to get his advice and feedback on the different areas of tennis, be it from academies, college or bits of info he's learned from working with such great players. Don't forget to give our Functional Tennis Podcast Instagram account a follow and until next week, goodbye.

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