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Dennis Van der Meer – The Game’s Foremost Tennis Instructor Passes Away

Dennis Van der Meer was the game’s foremost tennis instructor. He was charismatic and dynamic. Read about the life of the teaching legend who passed away on July 27th…

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Attempting to explain the impact Dennis Van der Meer had on tennis is next to impossible. He did so much for so long that his accomplishments as an instructor overwhelm definitive record keeping. Not attempting to be cliched, the “Game’s Einstein” passed away on July 27th at the age of 86, in Hilton Head, South Carolina. (He had been in ill health for a lengthy period of time.)

 

It is often said “if you can’t play really well, you should teach.” That is basically what happened with Van der Meer. He was born in Namibia to parents who were South African missionaries and raised in the Capetown area. He became good enough to be invited to try out for South Africa’s Davis Cup team. In his candid fashion, years later he admitted to “choking.”

Self-doubt stalled his high level competitive career, but at the suggestion of a coach he began teaching, in order to restore his self-esteem. Not only did he blossom, he excelled in his new profession. For those in the tennis industry who knew him, the idea that Van der Meer, at any time, lacked confidence is really difficult to grasp.

It seemed that the bigger the stage, the more dynamic he was. He could be boisterous and bossy (and this I know from personal experience). On court, he was “The Boss.” He was strict and could, on occasion, be crusty when offering an opinion regarding an instructor’s teaching skill and/or playing ability.

But, away from the court, he transformed. He became engaging and entertaining, often telling wonderful stories. He was quick witted, humorous and from time to time, self-deprecating. Actually, he was captivating wherever and whenever.

Van der Meer arrived in the US in 1961. He began teaching at the Berkeley Tennis Club in the eclectic City by the Bay. Eric van Dillen and Jeff Borowiak were among the elite juniors he guided. He also worked with Billie Jean King and Margaret Court, too. But, he was truly in his element dealing with youngsters under ten, who were just beginning to play.

He did it with off-the-charts creativity. Because of the court restrictions he often faced, he used ropes to divide a single court into play areas and involved the kids in games in which they realized success.

As a teaching professional who worked for him for ten years said, “He taught kids how to learn tennis…and they had fun doing it.”

He regularly invented methods to develop proper stroke technique. One of his all-time best was a way to help those who opened up too soon, pulling the elbow away from the body, when hitting a backhand. To correct the error, he had the player place the top from a metal tennis ball can, (yes, this was in the old days), under the arm pit. If the player opened up too soon, the top dropped, and clattered on the ground. Keeping the elbow tucked appropriately produced a clean stroke and the top would drop as the ball was struck.

In 1963, he married Linda Vail, a talented player from San Francisco, who is one of only five women to sweep the National Collegiate titles. In 1960, competing for Oakland City College, Vail claimed the singles championship and teamed with Susan Butt of University of British Columbia to take the doubles. The year before (1959), she was a Wimbledon competitor. Over time, she became better known for her relationship with the rising teaching star and the fact that they had a Cheetah named “Drop Shot” that they kept at their home. (They divorced in the 1970s.)

He teamed with King to start Tennis America. Under that banner, the organization held summer Van der Meer-King Tennis Camps at the Incline Village Tennis Club on the shores of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Always a keen observer he soon realized the instructors who were working for him didn’t use similar approaches. One taught one way, and another went about teaching in a completely different fashion.

This led Van der Meer to launch TennisUniversity. It focused on establishing a Standard Method of Teaching (SMT) the game. In 1976, he founded the US Professional Tennis Registry (USPTR) that has become the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR). It is acclaimed nationally and internationally for certifying teaching professionals who utilize the instruction format he developed.

Around this time (in the ‘70s), he moved his operation to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and opened Van der Meer Tennis University. He worked constantly to inform the tennis community about the importance of standardized teaching. During one of his presentations in 1980, a clinic attendee caught his eye. In truth, it did more than that since the individual was not only striking, but a former player who had decided to become a certified instructor. That special lady became Pat Van der Meer in 1981.

During his career, he received more accolades than a head of state. He was named Tennis Coach of the Decade in the 1994 Tennis Buyers’ Guide Readers Poll; Development Coach of the Year, US Olympic Committee in 1997; US State Department Exceptional Coaching Performance in the Middle East in 1972. He has receive countless other tributes, but the most meaningful was becoming the first PTR Hall of Fame inductee in 2013.

In 2011, at 78, he suffered a debilitating stroke at Hilton Head. In life and love, what comes around regularly goes around. Pat had been critically ill years before and Dennis nursed her back to health. For the past eight years, she has done her utmost to make his life fulfilling. (She was by his side at the PTR Hall of Fame ceremony.) Together, they worked even harder (because of his incapacities), on ways to make wheelchair tennis more rewarding to play. Until the end, they shared over thirty years of special memories…

While Dennis Van der Meer was bigger than any story that can be told about a tennis educator, Pat played a critical role in making the book a best seller. Her importance should be recognized as the deserved tributes are paid to the individual who defined innovative tennis instruction.

 

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Jannik Sinner: “Rafa Nadal is superior in his head and knows exactly what to do and when to do it”

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Jannik Sinner made a major breakthrough season in 2020 winning his maiden ATP title in Sofia becoming and reached his first Grand Slam quarter finals at Roland Garros in his debut at this tournament at the age of 19. He has become the youngest player to win an ATP Tour title. 

 

“After the final in Sofia I felt emotional. I am human, but I feel the emotions inside me. I was very happy but I know that I have to work very hard. Before the victory ceremony I was a bit angry as I was still trying to understand why I had lost the second set. It was a strange season. I would have liked to play more matches and learn more about the life on the Tour and how to train with the biggest players on the circuit. I am now feeling more comfortable than last year”, said Sinner.

The Italian player is the first debutant beat Alexander Zverev en route to reaching the Roland Garros quarter final since Rafael Nadal achieved this feat in 2005 en route to his first French Open title. 

He lost to Rafael Nadal in the quarter finals in Paris after playing at great level in the first two sets. En route to the quarter final in Paris Sinner beat David Goffin, Benjamin Bonzi, Federico Coria and Alexander Zverev. 

“Rafael Nadal is superior in his head. He pulls very hard but above all he understands the decisive moments. He knows exactly what to do and when to do it. It’s really something else a tennis player. What I am missing to get there ? Well, the blows and the body, as well as the body. Let’s say a little bit of everything. The doctor said I still have to finish growing and developing. The truth is that I have to improve myself in every aspect, both physically and mentally. It takes time to get there”, said Sinner in an interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. 

Sinner was disappointed about Zverev’s comments after their match at Roland Garros. 

“I respect Zverev a lot because he has got more experience on the circuit, and he is great player. However, I do not respect his statements after his defeat to me at Roland Garros. He contradicted himself a lot. He said he had fever, but in the third and fourth sets, he ran more than me”, commented Sinner. 

Sinner became the youngest quarter finalist at a Grand Slam tournament since Bernard Tomic at Wimbledon 2011 and at Roland Garros since Novak Djokovic in 2006. The player coached by Riccardo Piatti earned the biggest win in his career when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to his his maiden third round at Masters 1000 level in Rome.

Jannik has reached his career best ranking at world number 37. 

In the interview Sinner talked about his passions outside tennis.  

“I like to go karting and play football every now and then. I cheer on AC Milan because my first roommate was an AC Milan fan and he also and he also made me passionate as the days went by. In general I also follow the chairs on Netflix and I believe that in Australia. ”, said Sinner. 

Sinner talked about his relationship with Riccardo Piatti. 

“Riccardo is my coach, but also a good friend. We talked about tennis all the time. During the lockdown we watched a lot of past tennis matches together”. 

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ATP Finals Day 8 Preview: Championship Sunday

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Dominic Thiem earned his 300th career victory yesterday in London (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

Today either Dominic Thiem or Daniil Medvedev will win this event for the first time.

 

A year ago, Dominic Thiem was just a few points from winning this tournament, going down in defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a third set tiebreak of the championship match.  Thiem went on to reach his third Major final at January’s Australian Open, but couldn’t hold on to a two-sets-to-one-lead.  At the next Slam, he would finally win his first Major title, in a dramatic, nerve-wracking five-set final against Sascha Zverev.  For the second consecutive year, he’s reached the championship match of this event after beating two of “The Big Three.”  Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal in a high-quality affair during round-robin play, and overcame Novak Djokovic in yesterday’s semifinals despite blowing four match points in the second set tiebreak, and despite going down 0-4 in the final set tiebreak.

A year ago, Daniil Medvedev came into this event on a 29-4 run, a stretch that saw him win three titles and reach six consecutive finals.  But the fatigued Russian went 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  In this abbreviated 2020 season, he did not advance to a tournament final until just two weeks ago, when he won first title in over a year at the Paris Masters.  Now he’s on a nine-match winning streak, having gone undefeated in the round-robin stage.  And just yesterday, he earned his first victory over Rafael Nadal in comeback fashion, after Nadal served for the match in the second set.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Daniil Medvedev (4)

Thiem is 3-1 against Medvedev overall, 2-1 on hard courts, and 1-0 indoors.  Their first meeting was two years ago in Daniil’s home country, where Dominic survived 7-6 in the third.  Last summer in Canada, Medvedev easily prevailed, losing only four games.  And in this year’s US Open semifinals, Dominic was victorious in straight sets.  Neither man will be fully fresh today, coming off semifinal matches just 24 hours ago against the top two players in the world, each of which approached three hours in length.  Thiem’s encounter with Djokovic seemed slightly more draining, both physically and emotionally. 

When they met two months ago in New York, Medvedev got off to a terrible start, losing the first set 6-2.  He struck almost twice as many errors as winners, winning only 65% of first serve points and a dismal 25% on his second serve.  But this week he’s served excellently, averaging 79% of first serve points won.  And some easy service games have enabled Daniil to apply more pressure to his opponents’ serve.  The result has been an average of over three breaks per match, Comparatively, Thiem has broken his opponent’s serve only once per match.  But an underrated aspect of the Austrian’s game is his ability to protect his own serve.  Outside of his dead rubber against Andrey Rublev, Dominic has only been broken two times in three matches.  And that includes clashes with two of the sport’s all-time great returners: Nadal and Djokovic. 

Thiem should be slightly favored based on their head-to-head, as well as his considerable edge in experience.  Regardless of the winner, let’s hope these two men provide us with an extended, enthralling encounter.  With the Australian tennis summer in doubt, it may be quite awhile before we see professional tennis of this caliber.

Doubles on Day 8:

In the doubles championship, it’s Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic (5) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  Yesterday in the semifinals, Melzer and Roger-Vasselin came back from 1-7 down in the match tiebreak and saved a match point to advance.  Koolhof and Mektic prevailed on Saturday in straight sets.

Full order of play is here.

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ATP Finals Day 6 Preview: Novak Djokovic and Sascha Zverev Play for the Final Qualifying Spot

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Novak Djokovic hasn't won this event since 2015 (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

The winner will join Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, and Daniil Medvedev in Saturday’s semifinals.

 

Djokovic is a five-time champion of this event, yet is looking to avoid failing to advance out of the round-robin stage for the second straight year.  Zverev was the champion here two years ago, and is vying for his third consecutive semifinal.  Friday’s other singles match has no implications on the semifinals, as Daniil Medvedev has already advanced, while Diego Schwartzman cannot.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Sascha Zverev (5)

Zverev has a chance today to achieve what very few top players have: an even or better head-to-head record against Novak Djokovic.  Sascha is currently 2-3 against Novak, and 1-2 on hard courts.  They played twice at this event in 2018, with Djokovic easily prevailing in the round-robin stage, and Zverev avenging that loss a few days later in the final to win the biggest title of his career.  Their most recent encounter came last year at Roland Garros, with Novak winning in straight sets.  Notably, all five of their matches have been straight-set encounters, with none of the 11 sets even reaching a tiebreak.  So based on their history, grabbing the first set today will be extremely crucial.  Djokovic appeared unwilling to play long rallies on Wednesday against Medvedev, and admitted during his post-match press conference that he wasn’t feeling 100%.  Zverev hasn’t played his best this week either, but was able to tough out a three-set victory over Schwartzman two days ago to keep his advancement hopes alive.  If Djokovic is feeling fresher today, his 40-4 record on the year makes him a clear favorite.  If not, and if Zverev can limit his double faults, Sascha’s indoor hard court prowess makes him fully capable of eliminating the world No.1 from this tournament.

Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Diego Schwartzman (8)

On Thursday, having already qualified for the semifinals, Dominic Thiem seemed rather uninterested in supplying resistance to Andrey Rublev.  In today’s dead rubber, which comes just 24 hours prior to the semifinals, will Medvedev fight to defeat Schwartzman?  Daniil knows he has an appointment on Saturday with Rafael Nadal, which he can safely assume will be a grueling task.  So I’m sure he’ll be looking to avoid an extended battle today.  And Schwartzman will be keen to not go 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  Medvedev is 4-0 against the Argentine, having won eight of nine sets played, which includes a straight-set win just two weeks ago at the Paris Masters.  Under normal circumstances, Daniil would be a strong favorite. But we’ll see how motivated the Russian is today, especially if Diego gains an early advantage.  These two men have a contentious history, going back to their intense battle in January at the ATP Cup where Schwartzman felt Medvedev was taunting him.  Diego would surely enjoy gaining his first win against Daniil.  And despite their lopsided head-to-head, that’s entirely plausible.

Doubles Matches on Day 6:

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares (1) vs. John Peers and Michael Venus (6).  The winning team will secure the last remaining semifinal birth.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (4) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  This is a dead rubber, as Granollers and Zeballos have already advanced, while Melzer and Roger-Vasselin have been eliminated.

Full order of play is here.

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