A Conversation with Patrick Mouratoglou; Coach to Serena Williams, Simona Halep & Over 40 Top 100 Tennis Players, Grand Slam Winners & Olympians.

A Conversation with Patrick Mouratoglou; Coach to Serena Williams, Simona Halep & Over 40 Top 100 Tennis Players, Grand Slam Winners & Olympians.

Patrick Mouratoglou is one of the most famous and respected tennis coaches of the 21st century. With 10 Grand Slams titles, 4 Coach of the Year awards, 33 coaching single titles, 2 Olympic medals and over 40 players who have reached the Top 100 under his instruction.

In 1999, Patrick began coaching and shaping the career of Marcos Baghdatis. In subsequent years, Baghdatis became the Junior World #1, won the Australian Open in 2003, and broke into the ATP Top 10. In the following years, between 2007–2011, Patrick was instrumental in building the abilities, titles, and future goals of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Aravane Rezaï, Yanina Wickmayer, and Laura Robson. Behind the scenes of this 1–1 coaching, the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy was rapidly growing into one of the world’s most renowned sporting academies. In these years, Patrick welcomed Jérémy Chardy to the academy and began to work with Grigor Dimitrov, bringing him to the ATP Top 50 in just 5 months. In 2012, Patrick took an opportunity and decided to start coaching a player you may have heard of, Serena Williams. At the time, she had experienced her first ever opening-round defeat in a Grand Slam tournament at age 31. Following this move, Patrick brought Serena back into the No. 1 spot and became a world-renowned force to be reckoned with. They encountered endless success together winning a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games, 10 Grand Slams, 3 WTA Tour Championships, and many more titles. The duo defined history again in 2017, when Serena surpassed Steffi Graff with her 23rd Grand Slam at the Australian Open. In 2020, amidst the Covid-19 crisis, Patrick launched the UTS league (Ultimate Tennis Showdown) — a new series of tennis matches which aims to redefine how tennis is consumed by the new generation. UTS has reshaped the rules to become shorter, more dynamic, immersive, authentic with gamification.

More recently, Patrick went from the court to the big screen, starring in Netflix’s ‘The Playbook’: A coach’s rules for life, alongside renowned coaches, Doc Rivers, José Mourinho, and Dawn Staley, directed by no other than LeBron James. Earlier this year, Patrick began coaching a former World No. 1 and Romanian star, Simona Halep. Helping her to return to the Top 10 in WTA singles ranking after a successful first season working together, he has brought her back in shape after a difficult year in 2021 regarding a serious injury. With the new decade, the Mouratoglou brand continues to expand. After 20 years in France, Patrick opened several tennis centers in some of the world’s most prestigious resorts. A Tennis Center in Dubai at the Jumeirah in December 2020, one in Greece at Costa Navarino in June 2021 and the last project was just finalized in January 2022. It’s a partnership with the famous English school EPSOM, in Malaysia, where he opened a new Tennis Academy.

In this interview I speak to Patrick Mouratoglou, one of the most successful tennis coaches in history. Patrick has worked with players including Serena Williams & Simona Halep and has coached 40 players to reach top 100 rankings, including 10 Grand Slam titles & 2 Olympic Medals. We discuss the power of tennis – together with the methods he uses to develop world-class mental and physical prowess in his players.

Q: How did tennis grow to become such an important global sport?

[Patrick Mouratoglou]: I believe that history played a significant role in the prominence of tennis during the 70s and 80s. This period saw fewer sports overall, and in Europe, tennis, alongside football, emerged as the primary sports. This historical context is the first reason for tennis’s importance. The second reason lies in tennis’s inclusivity: it’s a sport both men and women can enjoy together, whether at a leisurely level in singles or doubles. This social aspect is crucial, much like in the contemporary success of paddle and pickleball, which are also social sports. They create opportunities for people to meet, team up, and participate in competitions, fostering a community spirit.

During the 70s and 80s, tennis clubs became a weekend hub. People didn’t just play; they socialized at the club’s restaurant, making it their weekend retreat. For those without a country house, the tennis club served as a weekend getaway.

Moreover, tennis as a sport offers lifelong progression. Whether as a hobby or more, the ability to continuously improve is vital. It’s a complex and deep sport, encompassing technical, tactical, mental, and physical aspects. This multifaceted nature allows for ongoing learning and development at any age.

Q: What sets the very best players apart?

[Patrick Mouratoglou]: In my experience working with exceptional players, both in tennis and other sports, I’ve observed common traits among them. When scouting young players, I specifically look for these characteristics, aiming to identify potential Grand Slam winners and champions. I’d like to highlight three key traits I consider most important.

Firstly, competitiveness. This is an innate quality where some excel in the heat of competition, often outperforming those who may be technically or physically superior. I’ve seen players like Coco Gauff, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Holger Rune exemplify this trait, displaying remarkable ability in competitive settings. It’s not uncommon to find players who excel in practice but falter in actual matches. Champions, however, excel in both.

Secondly, focus. This trait is about maintaining 100% concentration whether in practice or matches, spanning minutes, hours, days, months, and even years. The difference in performance between someone who can sustain full focus and someone who drops to 70% is vast over time.

Lastly, the mental aspect, which underpins the first two traits. Champions possess a distinct mindset, a relentless drive for excellence that sets them apart. They’re not content with just doing okay; they strive for excellence constantly. Being second is not an option for them, they aim for the top. This mental fortitude is a key differentiator in their journey to becoming champions.

Q: How critical is the coach in the success of players?

[Patrick Mouratoglou]: … we’ve seen remarkable examples of players, even at 30 years old, who have significantly enhanced their careers with the guidance of a new coach. Take Stanislas Wawrinka’s encounter with Magnus Norman, for instance. This partnership was a turning point, elevating Wawrinka from a top 10 player to a multiple Grand Slam winner. A similar transformation occurred with Andy Murray under Ivan Lendl’s mentorship. Murray went from consistently being number 3 to winning multiple Grand Slams, an Olympic medal, and achieving the world number 1 ranking.

This phenomenon, though less visible in tennis compared to other sports, underscores the critical role of coaches. In tennis, coaches tend to be less conspicuous, mainly because they’re not allowed to coach during matches, which might give the impression that they’re less integral than in other sports. However, I believe their impact is just as significant in tennis.

The key lies in the coach-player relationship. When a coach gains the player’s confidence and establishes a strong partnership, they can effectively motivate the player, boost their confidence, and help them break through barriers. This can elevate a player’s career to new heights. Our role as coaches is essentially to help players utilise 100% of their potential. That, to me, is the essence of our job.

Q: How do tennis players maintain mindset over long periods of time when playing?

[Patrick Mouratoglou]: I often describe a Grand Slam as a marathon, not a sprint. It involves enduring extremely long matches, seven times over two weeks. In tennis, those who sprint don’t make it to the finish line. Our role, then, is to prepare players to maintain their physicality, mindset, and focus over this prolonged period.

Firstly, this preparation is something we address in practice. We conduct long sessions, emphasising focus. When a player’s concentration wavers, it’s crucial they recognise this and promptly refocus. Another practice strategy is working on key points, either by simulating key point scenarios or incorporating numerous key points into exercises.

Secondly, considering that tennis is a long effort with significant downtime, we must strategise for these intervals. The actual playtime, when the ball is in motion, constitutes only about 20% of the match. The remaining 80% is downtime, which is equally crucial. During these moments, it’s important to have strategies in place. Without them, a player’s mind might wander or succumb to negativity, which can adversely affect their game. Managing this downtime effectively is key to a player’s success in a marathon like a Grand Slam.

Q: What was the model you created for your academies?

[Patrick Mouratoglou]: When I established my academy in 1996, my guiding principle was immense respect for the players and their potential. Central to our philosophy was enabling players to utilize their full potential, a mission we hold in the highest regard. The academy was conceived as the ideal place for young, aspiring players – something I wished I had access to when I was 14 or 15 years old. At that time, such comprehensive tennis and educational programs were scarce, and I didn’t have the opportunity to experience them.

My approach to coaching mirrors this philosophy. I aim for each hour spent with a player on the court to be the most rewarding and enriching experience of their tennis career. This ethos extends to our academy’s campers, whether they join for a week or a weekend. We strive to make their time with us truly special, which necessitates a personalised approach.

Back in 1996, most academies and federations believed in a one-size-fits-all training method, where many players were funnelled into a uniform system, and only a few emerged successfully. I saw this approach as fundamentally flawed. I believed that making players conform to a rigid system would lead to the loss of many potentially great talents, with only a handful thriving. Out of respect for the players, I opted for a different approach – selecting fewer players but offering highly personalized training.

This system, which we pioneered, has now become a model for many federations. It’s gratifying to see this approach being adopted more widely. I believe we excel in this personalised method because it’s embedded in our DNA, a core part of our academy’s identity.

Q: What do students take with them from the academies, above and beyond tennis?

[Patrick Mouratoglou]: I’m really passionate about this topic. At Mouratoglou Academy, we offer not just tennis training but also academic education. Annually, we have exactly 250 students in our tennis and school program, and we can’t accommodate more. I firmly believe this program offers the best possible education one can receive. The blend of high-level academic learning with top-tier sports training and competition is extraordinary.

Why is this combination so impactful? The key lies in the values it imparts. While theoretical discussions about values are important, sports provide a unique, practical arena for kids to live and learn these values daily. This experiential learning embeds the values deep within them, becoming a lifelong foundation. Many alumni, years later, reflect on how pivotal this program was in their lives, how it became a cornerstone of their development.

During our graduation ceremonies, I’m consistently impressed by our 18-year-old graduates. Their public speaking skills, charisma, and maturity far exceed what I possessed at their age, or what is typically seen in individuals who have only had a traditional school education. Though there are always exceptions, the maturity and life-readiness these students exhibit at 18 is remarkable. This program doesn’t just educate; it prepares them exceptionally well for life.

Q: What was the entrepreneurial spark that led to the creation of your new tennis league?

[Patrick Mouratoglou]: The main goal of the tennis league is to attract younger people to the sport. Currently, the tennis fanbase is aging, with an average age of 61 years, similar to golf’s average of 65 years. These are the oldest fan demographics in sports. Moreover, the average age increases by one year annually, indicating a failure to engage new, younger fans. Additionally, tennis faces competition from sports like paddle and pickleball, posing a real threat to its future.

I see numerous challenges today, primarily stemming from the drastic change in people’s consumption habits over the past 20 years. This shift is largely due to social media, streaming platforms, and video games, all of which offer content that is fast-paced, easily consumable, dynamic, and has minimal downtime. These formats are authentic and resonate with the younger generation. Tennis, in contrast, is lengthy, slower, and filled with downtime. It also lacks authenticity, as players are often restricted from expressing themselves fully.

To counter this, we envisioned showcasing tennis in a new light, believing it could attract new fans to this incredible sport. It’s crucial for fans to connect with the players’ personalities, which requires allowing players to express a range of emotions, not just positive ones. Authenticity is key.

In our format, a UTS tennis match lasts only 45 minutes, with minimal or very short downtimes. We’ve reduced the time between points and limited serves to avoid lengthy waits following aces or serve winners. We ensure that something engaging happens during downtimes and changeovers, making even these moments exciting.

We’ve created a completely new concept for showcasing tennis, featuring top players known for their strong personalities. We also emphasise diversity. The atmosphere is further enhanced with a DJ, offering a unique experience. This approach has proven successful, as evidenced by sell-out events in LA and Frankfurt. Players are eager to participate in UTS, and our fanbase’s average age is 40 – significantly younger than the traditional tennis fanbase.

While not everything is perfect, UTS is on the right track and I believe it has a bright future ahead. This initiative is making tennis more appealing to the younger generation, which is precisely our goal.

Q: What does legacy mean to you?

[Patrick Mouratoglou]: I’ll share my honest perspective. To me, once you’re gone, you’re gone. I’m not concerned about being remembered. What does matter to me, however, is leaving a lasting, positive impact. Take UTS, for instance. My goal isn’t to change tennis but to enhance its future. If UTS can positively transform the face of tennis, I’d be immensely proud and satisfied. It’s important to me that this positive influence endures even after I’m no longer around.

The same goes for my academies, which are now expanding globally. I believe we’re making a significant positive impact on young people’s lives, helping them forge their futures and nurturing champions. My legacy, as I see it, would be ensuring that this system continues to thrive and impart the same positive influence long after my time. That, to me, would be a truly remarkable legacy.

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.