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By Blair Henley / Friday, February 7, 2014

 

Tennis legend Dick Gould has claimed 17 NCAA National Championships and coached the likes of John McEnroe and Bob and Mike Bryan.

Photo credit: AP

Dick Gould is the definition of a tennis legend. During his 38-year tenure as head coach of the Stanford men’s tennis team (1961-2004), he amassed an amazing 17 NCAA National Championships, working with players like John McEnroe and Bob and Mike Bryan. Among his many accolades and honors, the ITA named him coach of the decade in the 1980s and ‘90s. Now 76 years old, Gould, a Stanford graduate himself, is the director of tennis at the school and shows no signs of slowing down. In Houston, Texas, for a speaking engagement in support of local National Junior Tennis and Learning programs, the Cardinal red-clad Gould sat down with Tennis Now to talk all things college and professional tennis.

What do you think about the new rules being tested in college tennis? Doubles matches go to six instead of eight. In women’s singles, the third set is a super tiebreak. The men are playing two out of three with no-ad scoring.

We have a great sport. You don’t go to Wimbledon and stay for a match. You stay for the day. It’s an event. There was a time where we had no-ad scoring, which I actually loved. But I don’t think changing the scoring is going to bring more people. I think you’re either a tennis fan or you’re not or you’ve got a buddy or a girlfriend on the team and that’s why you’re going to go out. I just don’t think someone who doesn’t understand tennis is going to be coming in off the street to watch it.

When [the women] play regular scoring with a tiebreak in the third set and the men are playing no-ad scoring and playing out two out of three sets – that’s not fan friendly. Our fans our going, “What is this?” We have it printed all out in their programs, but they still get confused. Is that fan friendly? I’d rather it be all the same. Secondly, if they are [shortening matches] for TV, it takes $40,000 to bring a truck and a generator, probably seven cameras on six courts. And it might rain! It’s tremendously expensive. I think the future of tennis as far as viewing goes is streaming. When I asked the USTA about the new rules, they explained TV producers said they had to do the match in 2.5 hours. So I think that’s one reason this is coming out.

I’m old school. I like regular scoring. As a coach, I loved the long matches. One time we were playing indoors with 7,000 people against UCLA and we had already played four hours. We came indoors at 6:30 p.m. and the match ended at 12:45 a.m. and no one left. The place was going wild!

Do you think the increased number of “sudden death” situations is going to leave room for lesser known schools to make a move into the elite? It’s easier to win a fluke 10-point tiebreak than it is to win a full third set.

I think the better teams are still going to win the same amount of times. We had no-ad scoring for years and it was very exciting and the fans love it. It makes a better player. The players don’t like it so much, but I think they get better because they can’t play a loose point. It makes for a lot of climaxes.

If the experimental scoring sticks and college tennis scoring differs greatly from pro tennis, do you think that will dissuade juniors from giving college tennis a try before turning pro?

First of all, players go to college to get an education, not to play tennis. If you have too much of a different system, people might look twice, but I don’t think it will ever go that far.

John McEnroe, whom you coached, had some interesting things to say about doubles last fall. Bob and Mike Bryan, who you also coached, have been two of the greatest ambassadors for the doubles game that we’ve ever seen. How do you feel about McEnroe’s thoughts that doubles, at this point, is essentially a waste of time?

The irony of all of this is that John was not a good practice player. He never missed practice, but he didn’t know how to practice. He got his practice on the tour not by hitting for two hours on his off day, but by playing doubles. When he stopped playing doubles, of course, he was getting a little older then, but that’s when his singles started going down some, too. I laughed a little when I read [his comments] because that was his way of practicing.

Ironically, in all your leagues, everyone is playing doubles and they love it. I have never figured out why they don’t enjoy pro doubles as much as they do singles. I think with Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, you get incredibly artistic matches. Their different styles are more artistic than they are exciting. Doubles is explosive, it’s fun to watch. I love it.

It’s very hard to imagine John McEnroe being coached. What was that like for you?

First of all, I didn’t coach him. He coached me (smiling). He had gotten to the semis of Wimbledon before he came to Stanford. I kind of thought he wouldn’t show up. When he called me from the airport and said, “Coach, I’m here. Can I get a ride?” I said, “Mac, I thought you turned pro, I gave your scholarship away!”

He was one of the best team players I’ve ever had. He cared about the team; he cared about his friends on the team. He’d be the first guy, when his match was done, to console someone who lost his match or go down to another court to congratulate someone on winning. It was the same all the way through Davis Cup matches. He never turned the U.S. down when he was asked to play Davis Cup. Plus, we didn’t have umpires in those days, so there was no one to get mad at (laughs).

You can claim something that very few tennis coaches can claim: You also coached football.

I learned a lot from [coaching JV high school football]. I kind of thought a football coach had to be a Vince Lombardi type. His reputation was being very, very demanding. One day we were doing a one-on-one tackling drill with the rest of the team standing around. This one kid was running to make the tackle, and he slipped and fell down on his back. I’m over this guy and the rest of the team was circled around me. I’m saying every vile swear word I could think of. I finally ran out of things to scream and yell, and then I stopped. He’s lying on his back looking up at me. After about 10 seconds, he flipped me off and said, “F-you, Mr. Gould.” My jaw dropped, and then I just cracked up. The team laughed, too. It taught me a great lesson. It taught me as a coach, you can’t try to be someone else. If you’re not John Wooden, you can’t be John Wooden. If you aren’t Coach K, you can’t be Coach K. If you’re not Lombardi, you can’t be Lombardi. You’ve got to be yourself. It was one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned.

I watched a video where you said you had to learn to alleviate the pressure to win from your players. That might seem counter-intuitive to some coaches.

It took me a while to learn that. When I started out, I was so uptight about my guys winning that I lost sight of the overall goal, which was to get better. When we finally won [a national championship], it really took the monkey off my back. I became a much better coach because I finally realized that I was putting more pressure on the players than any person can handle. It’s just not a good way to operate. You always have to focus on the now and on the improvement and on the little things. It’s hard to measure tennis. Swimming’s easy. You win your race, you improve your time, you feel good. Tennis is hard to measure.

You definitely take a more “old school” approach to the game. But does that style of play have a place in college and pro tennis today?

I earned my living preaching serve and volley, attacking and being the one making the other player react. I love that style of game. I can’t believe more people don’t attack the second serve and come in off the return. There are a lot of weak second serves in college tennis. I don’t think you’ll see a pure serve and volleyer [in the pros], but I think a player who has a good serve and who has been taught to volley should be serving and volleying three times every two games. That would be a pretty good ratio.

Sampras was a pure serve and volleyer and won his last Grand Slam in ’02, and the only other player out there serving and volleying in that year was Rafter. He and Sampras were doing it. They were serving and volleying when everyone else was playing the way they do now. And they were winning. I do think [that style] has a place today.

Roger Federer has 17 Grand Slams. You have 17 NCAA National Championships. Do you think Federer can beat your magic number?

I sure hope he does. It’s funny because we had a period at Stanford for 35 years that anyone who stayed four years in school had at least one championship ring. Maybe about 10 years before I retired, I said, “Well, I’m either going to coach for 40 years and then stop, or I’m going to stop when I go for four years and no one wins a ring.” Sure enough, after 38 years, we went for four years and no one had a ring. I made a deal with myself, and I stuck to it. Roger, I love to watch the guy. I hope he has another one in him.

 

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