Carlos Rodriguez, seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin's coach, talks with the media during his visit to Beijing last weekend to renew his partnership with the Potter's Wheel International Tennis Center. Provided to China Daily
With modern coaching, Rodriguez says nation can make the grade
BEIJING - After former world No 1 and seven-time Grand Slam winner, Justine Henin, ended her career this January, her renowned coach, Carlos Rodriguez, turned his attention to cultivating both China's talented youngsters and its coaches with his "advanced methods".
"I see a huge potential here. You almost have everything to succeed in tennis, including the talented teenagers, the financial and social support," Rodriguez said.
"The only thing you lack is experienced coaching. That's why I am here and what I've brought."
Rodriguez spoke to China Daily about his ambitions at a conference to renew his partnership with the Potter's Wheel International Tennis Center at the Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel on April 9.
According to the new deal, Rodriguez will be involved in the tennis center's business operations as a shareholder, while still instructing the student players as a coach on the court.
Last February, Henin opened the China branch of her 6th Sense Tennis Academy at Potter's Wheel tennis center and came to Beijing with Rodriguez in December to run a clinic for students.
No longer following Henin on her busy WTA tournament calendar after the Belgian veteran retired due to an elbow injury, Rodriguez triggered his China plan.
"It's another challenge for me to touch a lot of people. It will be a new chapter in my coaching career," said the 44-year-old Rodriguez, who coached Henin for 15 years from 1996, helping to develop her iconic one-handed backhand.
The Argentine coach believes the smart footwork and mental toughness which the petite Henin, only 167 cm tall and weighing only 57 kg, was known for could also benefit the smaller Chinese players in today's power-laden women's game.
After working in the typical Western one-on-one professional way for years, Rodriguez came to China fully aware of the differences here.
He regarded China's state-supported system, which assembles and trains the players together and which works at grassroots level as "a way of sharing experience", but said it did not suit the best players.
The governing body's bold move to allow several top players, including Li Na, Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai, to arrange their training and match schedules individually with a personal crew has brought success, highlighted by Li's history-making appearance in this year's Australian Open final.
However, the large base of the pyramid still needs more professional exploration, Rodriguez said.
"Our efforts also have to be directed at the local coaches. More professional coaches will increase the chances for the long-term growth of tennis in China," he said.
The CTA hailed the cooperation between Rodriguez and Ding Ding, president of Potter's Wheel, for boosting tennis education and paving a path for more young talented players to progress to the professional stage, said Wan Boao, vice-chairman of the Chinese Tennis Association.
"We are excited to witness more enterprises investing in tennis. These will be a complement to our work," said Wan.
According to Rodriguez, the 29-year-old Henin, who is now enjoying a different life managing her restaurant and clubs in Belgium, will visit Beijing in the near future to see the student players.
(China Daily 04/13/2011 page23)