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Pointers from a legend
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 09 - 04 - 2009

Steffi Graf's former coach came to Egypt to help propel our tennis players to higher world rankings, reports Ghada Abdel-Kader
Heinz Gènthardt, who coached former world No 1 tennis superstar Steffi Graf, conducted a training course and workshop for Egyptian coaches aimed at Egyptian players reaching from 100 to 50 in the world.
Gènthardt's observations will be added to training programmes in Egypt.
The 10-day workshop took place at El-Gezira Sporting Club from 23 March to 2 April. It was sponsored by El-Gezira in cooperation with the Egyptian Tennis Federation.
Gènthardt gave a three-hour lecture on the difference between style and technique "because tennis is based on biomechanics and physics. It has certain laws you have to obey. Somebody can obey these laws but he doesn't play that good but it is his way of playing. So, you shouldn't correct it in order to be able to decide what is unique in his style.
"It is necessary to have a profound understanding in biomechanics and physics otherwise you may correct something that is sound but does not look good to your eye. The important thing is actually motivation. People are usually motivated when they are successful. You need to challenge someone that gets them excited but you have to make sure they have a good chance to succeed."
Gènthardt added, "First of all, I like different cultures. It is a unique challenge but it is not something you can achieve tomorrow but may be lay the groundwork to produce international players in three or four years time. It is most exciting to be involved in a new project especially something like this.
Gènthardt is currently coaching Russian tennis player Dinara Safina whose world ranking has risen from No 15 to World No 2.
"I find Egyptian players technically very good but they lack athletic ability because they haven't trained enough. It is difficult to judge in 10 but what is obvious is that hitting the ball is far superior that the foot work," Gènthardt said.
"Most sports are really similar but what is unique in tennis it is balance between athletic ability, and technical ability to strike a ball. Also, the mental ability is to deliver your best performance when it counts. I think the combination of the three makes sport difficult."
Marina Albert, 13, who took second place at the Kenya Junior International Championship in February, said she had problems with her serve. "Mr Gènthardt gave me some tips on how to improve my performance."
Karim Hossam, who started playing tennis from the age of eight, won the African Junior Championship in 2008. "The Egyptian coach has limited knowledge. He needs to travel abroad and attending ITF conferences and seminars in order to obtain new experiences."
"In Egypt, there are not enough coaches or enough court time for players," Gènthardt stated. "There are some basic things that have to be put in place. Here very often, practice is done in groups but from a certain level on, the player needs individual training to work on weaknesses and strengthen what is unique in him."
"Egypt does not exist on the tennis map even though Gènthardt drew our attention that we have the best climate throughout the year. The federation will try to attract more international players to come to Egypt," added El-Sanhouri.
Gènthardt told Al-Ahram Weekly, "Egyptian players are talented enough but to be a professional and among the top 100 of the world a few things must follow. Talent alone can't get you there. You need an environment that infuses high performance. In Egypt grassroots organisations produces a certain number of club players but not professional players. The reason I was brought here is to start discussing how this could be changed.
"The very best I have seen is Sherif Sabri, 21 years old. He doesn't have much time to really reach that level. He is really talented but what he really needs is to go abroad to bigger competitions. It is a decision that the federation has to make and it is also a question of financing because things like that need money. A dozen players have the potential to be able to make it."
Technical director of El-Gezira Karim Zaher said he had learnt many things from Gènthardt. "He has great experience. He has a critical eye to observe the mistakes of the players very quickly to improve their performances. For example, one player under 18, Karim Maamon, was told he has to control his psychology ad his nerves."
"The ETF will have a foreign fitness tennis expert full-time for senior and junior men and women players. Also, we are going to activate the national league in districts but the approval of the ministry hasn't come yet," added El-Sanhouri.
"We will do our best to apply what Gènthardt said whether for players or coaches. May be next year, he'll come back to see what we have achieved and what is the next step.
"We are preparing for the International Egypt Championship in 2010 but the federation's budget can't cover the expenses of the championship. It needs support from media sponsors and governmental institutions," added El-Sanhouri who hoped Egypt's players will be among the top 100 in the world. Egypt is also readying for the African Junior Championship starting from 6 to 16 April.
Meanwhile, the website of the Egyptian Tennis Federation has been launched after being updated. President of ETF Israa El-Sanhouri said the website now has two versions, Arabic and English, "so anyone who is interested in tennis can follow the latest news."


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