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Coach Carlos Rodriguez’s Hong Kong visit


Coach Carlos Rodriguez’s Hong Kong visit

Carlos Rodriguez is one of the most respected tennis coaches in the world. His long-time collaboration with Justine Henin brought seven majors and three times the year-end world No. 1. Under his guidance, Li Na won her second major at the Australian Open 2014 and reached her highest ranking of No. 2 in the world. Last week, he was in Hong Kong where he held a number of training sessions and workshops for our ETG and NTS players and coaches, in addition to a sharing and Q & A session with parents.

Other notable players he coached included Daniela Hantuchova, Zheng Qinwen, Jerry Shang, Oliver Rochus, and took 6-foot-8 Dick Norman all the way to the last 16 at Wimbledon.

During the sharing session with parents, he touched upon his philosophy and some of the things he sees as crucial to a player’s development. On the subject of developing a professional player, Coach Rodriguez pointed out that high-level tennis today is played at an incredible speed and therefore the development of this facet of the game has become a determining element that must be taken into account from the start of learning. It is for this reason that the physical aspect has become, over the years, the key element in the tennis and mental development of young players.

Building a good self-esteem in a young player

According to Coach Rodriguez, the source of self-esteem is external to the player and therefore extrinsic (any person important to them: parents-coaches, etc.). The young player internalizes good self-esteem, which will be nourished intrinsically by his inner monologue (conversation with himself). Thanks to the importance and the value that those around him give him, he will gradually integrate a positive self-image and he will esteem himself more and be proud of himself.

The mental qualities of a player

Although the acquisition of certain mental qualities – respect, self-control, self confidence, independence, motivation, determination, lucidity, rigor, combativeness, concentration – is important, they must be individualised. He stressed that each human being is unique, which is why it is necessary to proceed with caution and modesty, avoiding hasty and categorical judgments on a player’s “potential” because each player’s mental maturity and pace of physical growth are different. He explained that at the academy, they start to introduce routines for players from the ages of 12 to 14 and then consolidated between the ages of 14 to 18.

Success with Justine

“When we were preparing one of Justine’s matches, it was almost like a game of chess. We didn’t have the power some of her rivals had, like Serena, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo, so we had to find other weapons to win. We were looking for the weakness in the opponent’s game, where no one could see it. Even if it was small, we managed to find it, and we tried to exploit it again and again. That was the best part of our job,” he reflected.

Justine Henin posted on her academy’s LinkedIn page regarding the hiring of Carlos Rodriguez as Sports Director: “Carlos and I have always favoured a simple, pragmatic and close player approach. Moreover, we believe that it is also developing on the human and personal level that a player is given the best chance to achieve his athletic goals. This approach has been instrumental in our success. Our goal is for it to be adopted and implemented by the entire Academy team.”

His philosophy is based on sports pedagogy,which focuses on understanding how individuals learn and develop physical skills, as well as the effective methods and strategies used to facilitate learning about the game of tennis. Therefore, developing and maintaining a routine is paramount to having success on the court. Defined as a repetition of habits and often perceived as boring, routine, according to Coach Rodriguez, makes our daily lives easier by adding rhythm, consistency, and planning.

Routine is reassuring and helps players combat stress and anxiety. It develops self-confidence in a player and helps anchor him in the present moment. It not only reinforces the player’s ability to do what he does best but at the same time, it gives the player a structure that allows him to improve. To him, a champion is, ultimately, made on the training grounds and practice courts.

Under Rodriguez, Henin captured 50 career singles titles (43 Tour level and 7 Futures). She won an Olympic gold medal in Athens 2004 when, at one point, she trailed Anastasia Myskina 5-1 in the third set in the semifinals before coming through 7-5 5-7 8-6. She captured seven majors – Australian Open (2004), French Open (2003, 2005-07), US Open (2003, 2007) – and the year-end world No. 1 ranking three times.

Reviving Li Na’s career

After Li Na captured her historic French Open title in 2011, her form started to dip and she was unable to find the consistency she needed. She went without a title in the next 12 months, culminating with a first round loss at the 2012 Olympic Games. She started working with Rodriguez after the London loss and their partnership paid immediate dividends with Li reaching the final of the Canadian Open followed by a title run in Cincinnati. In 2013, Li won Shenzhen, reached the Australian Open final, and got her best results at Wimbledon (quarterfinal) and the US Open (semifinals), and a finals appearance at the WTA Championships. She began 2014 with another win in Shenzhen and then captured her first Australian Open to reach her career-high ranking of No. 2 before she retired later that year.

Carlos Rodriguez has been the Sports Director at the Justine Henin Academy in Belgium since June 2021.

A farewell message from Carlos:

Dear Players, Parents, and Coaches,

I hope you are all doing very well. With this message, I wanted to tell you how much I love the week I spent with you all. First of all, thank you to the parents for trusting me by sending their children to train with me. Thanks to the coaches for their sharing and their commitment. And thank you especially to the players for their investment, their determination, and their desire to become better. It was a real pleasure for me and that it’s something I really want to repeat in the future.

Finally I want to thank the HKCTA, Michael, and his team, without whom all this would have been impossible to achieve. I wish you the best.

THANK YOU and see you soon 👍