What does a tennis instagram account with over 500,000 followers and a Christmas jumper website have in common? They were both founded by Irish-based Fabio Molle.
Molle is the brain behind Functional Tennis which has branched out into multiple areas within the sport. Besides having a highly successful social media account, he has created his own products without any investors supporting him. The Functional Tennis Saber has proven to be a hit with many top players trying it out, including 21-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic. On top of that, Molle also runs a well known podcast which has included guests such as Goran Ivanisevic, Robin Soderling, Casper Ruud and Alex de Minaur.
In a fascinating interview with Ubitennis, Molle speaks extensively about his work in tennis, provided some exclusive information about four special versions of his Saber rackets that will go on sale next year and goes into detail about all the work has done over the past six years.
How it all started
UBITENNIS: What drove you to create Functional Tennis?
MOLLE: In 2016 I was in my 30s and your body starts to break down a bit more when you’re in your 30s. I saw a lot of great videos on Instagram and I thought that there must be somebody who is the same as me with the same issues. So I started sharing these great videos I found online. That was how it started. It was just the right place, right time… I got traction quite quickly. It was just an Instagram account and since then we have grown.
UBITENNIS: So what was it that made you want to venture into the world of tennis?
MOLLE: I played football as a kid and then I started to play tennis a bit later than most people. I was 10 when I started to play at a local tennis club which I pestered my mother to let me join. I also grew up at the national academy, so I used to be in and out of there at times. As I got older I used it a bit more. It was good to be surrounded by tennis.
Then in my late 20s, I didn’t play again until the age of 29. I was in a good place with some good tennis players around me. So I took it more seriously again.
UBITENNIS: So you have an online store, a podcast, you do webinars and manage a successful social media account. How do you balance everything?
MOLLE: The first question people ask me is what else do I do? I have the website, customer support, I ship stuff out myself, we have the podcast and the social accounts. It is a proper full-time job. It’s great but it is tough at times.
For the social stuff, we want to stay ahead and try to find great videos. Also working with great people to make those videos. Life in social (media) is quite tough because it is always on. There is never really a rest period.
We need the web store which pays the bills for us. Then the podcast is great for marketing. I am taking a bit of a break from that until early next year. So we are going to revamp that a little bit. We have done over 170 episodes – three years in a row we published an episode every week.
With webinars, we haven’t done many – maybe 12 or 13. We are just trying to get out there as much as possible. We love a proper YouTube channel but I don’t have the bandwidth to do that. A lot is going on.
The power of Instagram
UBITENNIS: Speaking more specifically about your Instagram account, you currently have more than 500,000 followers. Did you ever expect it to be as successful as it is?
MOLLE: No. This started as a place for me to collect good videos online and it grew organically. Obviously, as it starts to do, so do your expectations. I didn’t expect to hit half a million followers by now.
We do also lose followers. Let’s say if we get 100 followers, we lose 40. That is the way it tends to go but there is a long way to go. I’m going to keep trying to grow and create great content.
UBITENNIS: One previous publication went as far as describing you as a tennis influencer. Is that how you see yourself?
MOLLE: I do and I don’t. I’m not like some accounts. It’s not my name behind the accounts, it’s more of a brand. We have gone down that route. But I definitely like to pair (my account with Functional tennis) and I have been told that I should have paired a lot more. Maybe I should have set up a separate account for myself earlier on.
I don’t think I am an influencer but we do have some influence in the tennis world. A lot of brands want to work with us. I know we find good products and put them out there. We do have influence over people but I think it is a bit different to other accounts that have a name behind them.
I am not a coach so it is not that I am putting up my own tennis training videos. Sometimes we work with coaches, do their drills and I publish videos of that. Although I am not out there every day showing my face.
I don’t like categorizing myself as an influencer but we work with brands and our job is as an influencer when we work with them. Also with the connection we have with coaches, we are more of a place for exposure. That is what we are pretty big at.
The Saber racket and exclusive details of new range
UBITENNIS: You don’t just sell rackets, you also design them. How did the idea behind the Saber come about? The product has proved to be quite a hit with Novak Djokovic seen using it at Wimbledon this year.
MOLLE: The Saber came about from issues I had with other products we used to sell. We started off selling our practice journals and then we came across the wooden spoon which we used to post videos of Jonas Forejtek who as a 12-year-old went on to become a world No.1 junior and is now making his way into the Pro Tour.
The wooden spoon tennis pointer worked well with us but the issue we found was that it was heavily copied everywhere. There is a lot of quality in the product, they last for such a long time and the other products were republicating that but people were just driven by price.
We really couldn’t compete with the price so I knew six, or seven months into selling the pointer that we were going to have issues with it. I started to think that I needed something else.
The technical side of designing the (Saber) racket was tough. In early 2021 I finally found somebody to work with and I thought I would be able to tell this person what I need and they would do everything. But no, for two weeks I measured rackets to see what I liked and then I built my prototypes with cardboard. When I was happy with all of my measurements I went to the technical guy. He put it together, added some stuff and we used his contacts to build a model.
When we had the final prototype, I had the job of getting a designer. Then we had some challenges along the way with the manufacturer not wanting to string our rackets. We knew the product wouldn’t be viable to sell to people if it wasn’t strung. We eventually got over the line, then had some paintwork issues before getting that over the line. It was an interesting project that took longer than I thought.
It started in January 2021 and they arrived for practice week during Wimbledon that year. We then got the first batch out (to the public) five months ago and ever since then, the feedback has been incredible. We have seen top 10 players use it from both the WTA and ATP Tours. It is used at academies by players of all ages. We are probably going to sell out of the item again this weekend.
(Editor’s note: In an exclusive comment Molle goes on to say) We are going to have four limited edition products next year which are based around each slam. There will be four new colors coming out but there will only be 50 of each which will be numbered. The first is probably going to launch in early January. They are all designed and ready to go.
One man, big ambitions
UBITENNIS: Just to clarify, has the entire process of creating the Saber been funded by yourself?
MOLLE: It has all been financed by myself – the product cost, research and development and prototype. We don’t have any investors. It’s a one-man team. To employ somebody else costs a lot of money, plus as we are covering so many areas I would need to be careful of thinking who I would need to employ for what area.
UBITENNIS: That is a lot of work. So how do you stay motivated to keep going?
MOLLE: I love e-commerce and I love tennis. My background is that I have a degree in software engineering and I worked in my family business. Then in 2008, I set up an e-commerce business selling Christmas jumpers.
My experience is in e-commerce and I love tennis so it is a dream combination. My challenge is to grow and that is what keeps me motivated. It’s great to be so tightly connected with the tennis world and that has always been a dream for me. It is not always easy but there are some great parts to enjoy.
UBITENNIS: We are now at the end of the season, what are your plans for 2023?
MOLLE: One goal is to keep growing our social accounts and another is to revamp our podcast. I think there is a lot of room for growth there. I’m going to work with a production company for the podcast and I am going to change up the questions I ask to make it more interesting. I hope to have a live podcasting event later in the year. Growing sales is another target.
Ideally, we need to launch more versions of the saber. There is a lighter version coming out next year for younger children to use.
We don’t have an advertising budget. So I’m going to have to try and get more write-ups (to help promote the brand). I always think about how I can be of more value to the tennis community.
UBITENNIS: You have half a million Instagram followers even though you don’t advertise?
MOLLE: I have spent 10, 20, 50 euros messing around with stuff but I have to manage everything.
Lorenzo Musetti: “A Year with Few Peaks, but I’ve Improved as a Tennis Player and Physically” [Exclusive]
Our correspondent in Sofia interviewed Italian talent Lorenzo Musetti, who is taking on Jack Draper this afternoon
Lorenzo Musetti is the top seed in the ATP 250 that together with Metz closes the season of “regular” tournaments, just before the ATP Finals in Turin. Exempted from the first round, he’s waiting to make his debut in the Bulgarian capital where last year at the beginning of October he was halted in the semifinals by Marc-Andrea Huesler, the future winner of the tournament. With our correspondent in Sofia, Ivan Mrankov, he compared this season with 2022, but also about the Davis Cup, and Jannik Sinner.
“Greetings from Ubaldo. It’s the last tournament, how do you rate your season? Was it maybe less positive than last year when you won two tournaments? But there are improvements in all areas of your game and it’s also normal for younger players to have a less rewarding year after their first breakthrough. Do you feel improved, do you think it was a positive season?”
“It’s not been an easy season, but as you said, it’s also been a season in which I have been settling in. In the middle part I was able to find a very good continuity in terms of results. Of course, it started off a bit badly. As I had played so much at the end of last season, it was perhaps more complicated to start the new year in high gear. So it took me a while to get going, I played very well from Monte Carlo. Let’s say it was a season with few peaks. Last year, the weeks in Hamburg, Naples, Paris-Bercy were very high in terms of level.”
“For sure I feel improved in terms of tennis and physically, I’m working hard, even if people sometimes only see the results but not what’s behind them. It was a season of firsts. Even if we consider the example of Jannik, last year he had a season of adaptation, different from the standards he has displayed on court this year. And I also hope next year to be more focused, more concrete in terms of results, attitude and everything.”
“You’re part of the Davis Cup team again this year, so your season will end pretty late. Do you think you’ll be able to prepare better than last year as you have the same amount of time to rest and train? And last question, what do you think your chances for Davis are? Since the USA, Russia, Spain are missing… Our editor wrote that Italy is the favourite along with Djokovic’s Serbia.”
“I think other teams as well, like Australia and Canada who won last year. The Davis Cup is a unique event, not always the team with the best ranked players comes out the winner. And the doubles rubber is fundamental. Having Jannik in our team gives us a great hand. I think he’s playing his best tennis right now. I wish him all the best in Turin and that he can join us as late as possible. It’s a huge boost for us.
“In terms of preparation, almost all the players have a month, December, to prepare for Australia. Unfortunately, when we all play so much, we have to adapt. We could do with more days off and obviously more weeks to load, work and prepare for the season. But you have to be good at making do with what we’ve got. And also, during the year, we have to specially focus on maintaining injury prevention.”
EXCLUSIVE: Coach Gilles Cervara On Medvedev’s Vienna Defeat, Sinner’s Rise And The Future
By Federico Bertelli
At the end of the final, once the confetti had settled and the staff began to dismantle the court, Ubitennis exchanged a few words with Gilles Cervara, the coach of Daniil Medvedev, following the conclusion of the Vienna Open. Medvedev was ousted 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-3, by Jannik Sinner in a thrilling final.
QUESTION: It was an incredible match, one of the best of the year, what are your immediate feelings?
CERVARA: I’m really disappointed and somewhat angry. However, Sinner played an incredible match. I mean, to score a point against him today was very difficult because at any moment he could hit a winner with one of his “laser shots” as I call them; and even when Daniil managed to hit well and make him run, you got the feeling that he could send the ball back; he managed to defend very quickly and deeply and then turn the momentum of the exchange. And even when Daniil managed to serve good first serves, Sinner responded very well. Daniil was very brave to come back into the match and he also had his chances to win and he really pushed Jannik to the limit; unfortunately, though, in the end, the match went in Jannik’s direction.
QUESTION: It could have really ended with either Jannik or Daniil’s victory; if you had to say, were you more impressed by Jannik’s improvement in the offensive phase or the defensive phase?
CERVARA: I would say that there have been improvements in every aspect of his game. I’m really happy for him and his team. It’s always a nice thing when you see someone who manages to improve so much and works so seriously. I see them every week for many months and to see the level they are reaching is remarkable. In general, it is rewarding and significant to see the results when one has worked so hard. Then in general, Jannik is good both in defense and in attack. He manages to put so much speed to his shots effortlessly and now he is playing without making the mistakes he did before (the same observation was also made by Medvedev in the press conference). Playing against him now is really a great challenge and even his first serve now is faster. He’s playing better and better in every aspect and winning finals gives great confidence for the future. And in general, it’s good for tennis that there are so many players capable of reaching such a high level.
QUESTION: Can we say then that Jannik has now reached the same level as Daniil, Novak, and Carlos?
CERVARA: Yes, definitely, he’s just started to reach these levels and to win consistently, in big events against top players; the challenge for him will be to confirm himself at this level and in the Grand Slam tournaments; I just hope it doesn’t happen against us (smiling).
QUESTION: This year has been excellent for Daniil, even though there have been some difficulties at the beginning; for example, in Australia, he lost to Korda and for a few weeks even dropped out of the top ten; but then what changed? Was there something that clicked?
CERVARA: That period was difficult; after the Australian Open, it was complicated as a coach; I told Daniil at the time that it was not a disgrace to lose to Korda, who was playing well and perhaps Daniil at the same time was not at 100% and was not able to beat that day’s version of Korda; but in any case, there was nothing to be ashamed of, the important thing was to remain calm and analyze why we had lost against that type of player, what had put Daniil in difficulty and work on it to rebuild confidence. But it’s not automatic, otherwise, it would be easy. At those times the challenge for a coach is precisely to rebuild the player’s confidence; this is something you do day by day, and every day was a challenge and it was not easy. You need to maintain a fighting spirit, look for solutions, and accept the moments of difficulty. I am happy to have remained strong, to have maintained trust and inner calm to try to be the best version of myself and the best possible coach at that time. Daniil is someone who wants to fight, find solutions and win, even when he goes crazy on the court. We both tried to do our best and since he has great talent and has the ability to reach a high level, so in the end he found the way back to winning and to being “on fire,” a bit like Sinner now who is putting together a series of victories.
QUESTION: One last question, from a physical standpoint Daniil this year has had an extraordinary season and will end up playing more than 80 matches; in the coming years do you think he will reduce his commitments (curiously, this was also an aspect touched upon by Medvedev in the press conference)?
CERVARA: It’s a good question, and it’s a question that only top players when they have more experience can afford to ask themselves. A bit like Novak who now does not play all the tournaments and focuses only on the most important ones. But you can afford to make these considerations only if you win and it’s a question we will start to ask ourselves also with Daniil; he is now 27 years old, runs a lot, has a taxing tennis game. He has already won the most important tournaments and consequently, he will have to focus on those and perhaps set aside some lesser ones.
(EXCLUSIVE) Bryan Shelton, Father And Coach Of Ben: “A Break After Tokyo? He Didn’t Even Consider It”
“A win gives you confidence. A loss teaches you something more about yourself,” says the father-coach of the young American. “Sinner? A genuine and smiling person.”
by Federico Bertelli
If Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner are increasingly establishing themselves as the present of men’s tennis, there are already those who are eager to challenge them. And the name on everyone’s lips right now is Ben Shelton. The 21-year-old American, fresh from winning his first tournament in Tokyo, has risen to the world’s number 15 spot with a powerful and effervescent game, and he recently also had the satisfaction of beating the Italian number 1 Jannik Sinner (in Shanghai).
Earlier this week at the Vienna Open Ubitennis had an exclusive interview with Bryan Shelton, Ben’s father and coach.
Bryan, 57 years old and a native of Florida, has an impressive past as a professional tennis player, with two ATP singles titles under his belt (both on the grass of Newport in the two-year period 1991-92), a best ranking of world number 55, and even a mixed doubles final at the 1992 French Open, partnering with Lori McNeil. His best Grand Slam placement is the fourth round of Wimbledon in 1994, where he was defeated by the Swede Christian Bergström.
UBITENNIS: First of all, we appreciate your time and patience, Mr. Shelton. Well, I have many questions, but the first that comes to mind is this: For the first time, Ben played against a great player like Ruud on the clay in Barcelona, he showed a great attitude. He wasn’t afraid at all to face a Roland Garros finalist. What’s your perspective on his attitude? What has changed?
BRYAN: “I think he’s a great competitor; he loves to compete regardless of the level. Whether it’s a Challenger, ATP, or a Grand Slam tournament, he sees it as an opportunity to showcase his talent, his personality, and to have fun. And to challenge himself and get the chance to play against the best like Casper, Jannik, and others. He’s always excited. We left Tokyo yesterday (Monday), and we’ve just arrived here (Vienna). I must say he’s eager to play now. Many players, after a tournament, might think about taking a week off, but he never even considered a break. He wants to play again, you know? He loves the challenge. I like that he has that attitude because I think it’s special. Even when he’s not feeling 100%, he doesn’t look for excuses; he wants to compete. He wants to train; he wants to push. We just have to make sure he doesn’t push too hard”.
UBITENNIS: So, in terms of competitive spirit, you’ve never seen him be scared. For example, when he started college in the USA, did you ever see him be scared of some big player, or was he always like “Ok, go for it and let’s do our best”?
BRYAN: “I think he’s unique in that sense because he looks forward to those moments. Especially the more people watching, the better he plays. For me, it was the opposite. I’d see the big stadium and play a bit scared. One thing’s for sure; I know he’s very different from me. So my goal is not to set limits on him. To say everything is possible. And you just have to keep working hard. You need to keep learning from every experience, whether you win or lose. Both are positives. A win gives you confidence. A loss lets you learn more about yourself and your game and what you need to do to keep improving. So everything is positive, nothing is negative, I think that’s the mindset I want him to have every day; it’s like he always has something to gain. And if you think you have something to gain, then you’re not scared. For sure”.
UBITENNIS: Talking perhaps about the most important match of his career so far, the one against Djokovic at the US Open. After that game, how did he feel? Was it like, “I’m sorry I lost. I’m sorry I didn’t do this or that” or was it more like “I stuck to my plan. I did my best, and next time will be better”?
BRYAN: “I think it was the latter. He felt really good about the tournament. He accomplished some things there. Especially after a season where he wasn’t winning many matches. Coming there and winning all those matches (five) gave him confidence. And playing against Djokovic with confidence, I think was fantastic. He lost the match against a great champion. So I think he just learned from the match, went back to watch the video, really took time after the US Open to reflect on what he needs to do to keep improving so he can someday win that kind of match. Identifying things he can do better. And then get back to work.”
UBITENNIS: What do you think of Sinner this year? Because in my opinion, he’s really improving, starting to put something different in his game. He’s not just a big hitter, but sometimes he comes to the net, varies with drop shots, and is showing various new solutions.
BRYAN: “Yes, I think he’s an extraordinary player. An extraordinary person, you know, genuine. When you see him off the court, he’s always ready to greet you, to smile at you, and you have to admire his kindness, so we appreciate that. And then the tennis, for me, he’s definitely one of the top 5 in the world. He’s serving well, playing well from the baseline, returning well, and now he’s starting to come forward and execute at the net. I love seeing this in players because I want the same for Ben. I want him to continue developing to become a complete player. He’s a good example for Ben, someone young who’s also working to become complete. It’s a great opportunity, again, to play against one of the best.”
UBITENNIS: Last question: in a sport as competitive and individualistic as tennis, it’s hard to get along with other players and have friends. Because once you step onto the court, that’s your enemy. Which players does Ben get along best with? Does he have friends here? He’s relatively new on the circuit. He’s like a freshman.
BRYAN: “Oh, it’s funny. He has friends everywhere, you know. And I think his closest friends are the ones he knows best, like Maki McDonald, Tommy Paul, Taylor Fritz. These guys have really welcomed him into the American tennis fraternity, and also Francis Tiafoe. All these guys have been very, very kind to him, welcoming him. So it’s been nice to see; then he has friends like Dan Evans, who treat him a bit like a little brother, you know. They put him in his place sometimes, but you know, in a playful and fun way. We’ve also met some nice coaches out here. For us, it’s essential to enjoy the time off the court as well as on it. It’s important to wear a smile, greet people, get to know them and learn more about them. I want him to go beyond just tennis.”
Arthur Fils beats Luca Van Assche in all-French semifinal at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah
World Tennis League: Swiatek And Medvedev Among Top Names To Play Exhibition Event
Nick Kyrgios Opens Up About His Self-Harm Battle And Murray’s Support
Hamad Medjedovic earns first place in Red Group at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah
Luca Van Assche rallies from two sets to one down to beat Alex Michelsen
Record-Breaking Novak Djokovic Hungry For More Glory
WTA Yet To Decide On Host For 2024 Tour Finals After Cancun Controversy
WTA Finals Daily Preview: Sabalenka and Swiatek Fight for the No.1 Ranking
Naomi Osaka Eager To Reclaim No.1 Spot, Says Coach
WTA Finals & ATP Paris Masters Daily Preview: Djokovic Plays Rune in a Rematch of Last Year’s Final
(VIDEO): Malaga Line-Up Set As Davis Cup Most Unpredictable Tournament In History
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Steve Flink, Ubaldo Scanagatta Review The 2023 Wimbledon Men’s Final
(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Steve Flink, Ubaldo Scanagatta Review The 2023 Wimbledon Women’s Final
(VIDEO): Novak Djokovic Faces Sinner Test, Women’s Semis Take Centre Stage
(VIDEO): Novak Djokovic Sets Rublev Quarter-Final Clash
Hot Topics3 days ago
REPORT: Rafael Nadal To Start Comeback In Australia
Hot Topics3 days ago
Andrey Rublev: ‘Everything Needs To be Improved’
Hot Topics2 days ago
Holger Rune Says New Coach Becker Helping Him Address Rough Patches
Focus23 hours ago
Nick Kyrgios Opens Up About His Self-Harm Battle And Murray’s Support
Latest news2 days ago
Hamad Medjedovic moves to 2-0 in Red Group at the Next Gen Finals in Jeddah
Hot Topics2 days ago
Carlos Alcaraz Targets Olympic Glory In 2024
Latest news3 days ago
Arthur Fils eases past Flavio Cobolli to move to 2-0 at the Next Gen Finals in Jeddah
Latest news2 days ago
Abdullah Shelbayh upsets Alex Michelsen to win his first win at the Next Gen Finals in Jeddah