Roger Federer, who just won his seventh Wimbledon title, has as his hitting partner Jonathan Eysseric, a younger player who is left-handed and mirrors the same power-based game as Rafael Nadal, one of the Swiss champion’s major rivals.
Jakarta has its own ‘Eysseric.’ Sutrisno, 38, has helped players for the past 14 years. Today he tells My Jakarta about his time offering up and returning shots across the net, a seemingly simple task but one that even some tennis coaches often find difficult.
Can you tell us what exactly is the difference between a hitting partner and a coach?
The main concern of a coach is to teach the right technique and strategy to a player, while a hitting partner is there to give and return the ball in certain ways to help players experience what works and what doesn’t.
Besides, coaches are mostly pro players who have taken part in national or international tournaments, while a hitting partner doesn’t have to be one, as long as he has the skills. Coaches can handle the return of the ball, yet they are not specialized in feeding a player shots as varied and precise as training partners do. It might seem easy to just hit a ball to a player, but it takes years of practice to discern all the different styles that players might have.
That’s why coaches don’t usually get directly involved in the daily practice. Like I said, we have a different focus.
Which one is easier — handling an adult beginner or a child beginner?
I think it’s pretty much the same, because you’re teaching the basics. Children tend to get distracted easily and are easily bored, so they keep making the same mistakes. All they want is to play with their friends rather than to practice.
In contrast, adults are usually more motivated to not make the same mistakes, especially when they have to play with other players.
How do you handle repeated mistakes?
Usually by standing beside them and showing them the correct hand and body position to hit the ball, along with offering advice and reminders. But there are times when I get upset and even angry with their ignorance and stubbornness. I reprimand them and tell them to take those mistakes more seriously, otherwise they’ll get stuck with that terrible play later on. I think that’s how everyone should teach — not rebuking your students means you don’t actually care about them.
How do you find clients?
Sports clubs make me known to members who want to play tennis, and they usually contact me a day or two before a hit. Then we make an appointment and book a court for one to three hours of play, depending on whether they want to have a single or group session. Then I invite a ball boy, but if none is available, I will play and collect the balls myself.
How much do you charge per hour?
I charge Rp 35,000 [$3.70] per hour while the ball boy usually gets a separate Rp 10,000 per appointment.
Do you share it with the club?
No. In fact, they ask me and other trainers to play here. However, the only resource they provide is the tennis court, so we have to bring our own balls and racket. Fortunately, established sports clubs usually have an official tennis school and we can borrow their balls.
Is this your full-time job?
Yes, I began working as a full-time training partner in 1998, when I played at the Meruya and Prisma sports clubs for a few years. I also played in apartment complexes including Puri Indah Apartment and Pacific Place Apartment, but now I take up daily offers to play at the Tangkas Sport Club at Greenville and the Puri Bugar Sport Club, since they are close to my home.
What motivated you to play tennis?
Well, I began playing tennis when I was in junior high school in Magelang [Central Java]. My friends and I saved up and raised money to build a tennis court at the school. From that day on, I played tennis almost daily, either with my friends or my brother. My brother also loves tennis and earns money as a hitting partner, too.
Did you learn tennis professionally?
Not really. I was a ball boy for about six years. I spent the first three of those years watching and learning how hitting worked before spending the next three years as both a ball boy and hitting partner. I watch both live matches and matches on TV in my spare time, and even today I still learn a lot from my partners’ play.
Tennis matches can last for hours. Do you think stamina is as big a factor in success as skill?
Both stamina and skills are important and should be maintained in balance. Don’t bother finding out which is more important. The key factor is to play routinely. Tennis is one of the toughest sports and needs continual practice. Skip a week and you will struggle.
Have you ever thought of opening your own tennis school?
So far, no. There are already lots of tennis schools. Furthermore, successful ones are usually run by famous former players. Maybe some day I will open a school, but not in Jakarta.
Sutrisno was talking to Elisa Effendy.