During the U.S. Open, I caught up with Cecil Mamiit, former Top 100 player and Davis Cupper for the Philippines. Since retiring from international competition in 2011, Mamiit has worked as Maria Sharapova’s hitting partner, most recently at this year’s French Open, where Sharapova went on to win the title. Mamiit and I discussed, among other topics, his current pursuits, as well as how new racquet and string technologies have changed the pro game. (For part two of the interview, click here).
Justin diFeliciantonio: Since retiring from Davis Cup play last year, what have you been up to? What have your priorities been?
Cecil Mamiit: A lot. I helped Maria [Sharapova] as her hitting partner starting last year, from the Australian Open through the end of the French Open; Maria’s team also asked me to work the clay-court season with her this year, again. This year, I was also captain of the Davis Cup team for the Philippines, and I’ve recently started doing some coaching with Julia Boserup, who’s an up-and-coming player [from Orange County, CA]. I’ve also tinkered with the idea of opening a tennis academy in Southern California with a friend. It’d be tennis and fitness. Right now we’re looking for supporters.
JD: It sounds like you’ve been pretty busy.
CM: I’ve had a big spectrum of roles and opportunities. I think it’s been good to be in different situations, to kind of test the waters with what I really want to do. I’m still organizing everything and seeing where my priorities are. But I’m really excited about the idea of this academy. I grew up during my junior days in Southern California, and think I can use my experience on the pro tour to help out with junior tennis down here.
JD: Let’s talk about gear. You told me earlier that you were one of the first guys on tour to use Solinco string. What have you strung with the past few years?
CM: When Solinco was starting to come up into the scene, I gave it a try for a couple of years. Then I switched over to Babolat. It was a toss up between RPM [Blast] and Solinco Tour Bite [in the 16L]. I went back and forth my last few years on tour, playing around with the string.
JD: Did you feel a difference between how the two strings performed?
CM: Definitely. There’s a lot of grab on the Tour Bite, because of the way it’s shaped. And the RPM’s very consistent. I definitely had a lot of pop with both, using the [Babolat] Pure Drive racquet. In the end, though, I wanted a stiffer string, which the RPM gave me. The Solinco was good, but I felt the combination between the Pure Drive and the RPM worked best for me. I felt like I got too much spin with the Solinco, actually.
JD: Oh, really? You felt it was hanging the ball up a little high in the air?
CM: A little high, yeah. It was landing a little shorter. I wanted to get it to move through the court a little bit more.
JD: As for racquets, have you always been with Babolat?
CM: No, I had a strong relationship with Wilson during my junior career—all the way up until about ’04 and ’05, when I played around with Head and Wilson, and then later Babolat. But I was with Wilson 80 percent of my career.
JD: What were you using with Wilson?
CM: The Pro Staff 6.1. I loved that racquet. The game changed so much in 2001 and 2002, when Roddick was having success with the Pure Drive, and people were beginning to switch over to Luxilon and play with those spins and angles. Guys were hitting so much spin. I thought I’d hit a great ball. But with all that spin and mass, I just couldn’t control it with the Pro Staff. I was getting beat and overpowered. People were hitting it high on me, and it became more difficult to hit balls on the rise. But in the beginning of my career, I felt the Wilson was great. The racquet was so true; I could hit the ball through the court. But when Luxilon came around, guys were simply hitting a better ball.
JD: So you really started noticing these trends, when?
CM: It became pretty obvious in 2003, 2004. But I tried to stick with my Wilson. It was so hard for me to buy into that and change. At the time, I thought it was just me, that I needed to get bigger or stronger. But looking back, I think changing [my racquet and string] would have made me a bigger player. Look at players like Paradorn Srichaphan and James Blake. In the beginning [of their careers], they would make so many errors, hitting almost to the back fence, just missing by quite a bit. But when Luxilon came along, they started finding the court a lot easier. They were creating power and opening up the court—just loosely going for it, and the ball would drop down and land on the baseline. So it opened up a different dimension of the game. It was hard for me to get used to that, being so long with the Pro Staff and synthetic gut.
JD: Hold on a moment: You weren’t using natural gut?
CM: No, I was using synthetic gut at the time. Wilson Synthetic Gut 16g. I think it was 1.27, 1.28mm.
JD: And you weren’t breaking it during matches?
CM: No, because I was using the 18 by 20 pattern. So it took me some time. Early in my career, I liked it dead. I wasn’t into using gut. I tried gut on the faster surfaces, but I couldn’t get used to it.
JD: While all this change was happening around you, in the early oughties: Did you ever try out a Pure Drive, or string up a set of Luxilon?
CM: Yeah, I remember my experience seeing the Pure Drive. Andy [Roddick] had the racquet at a challenger. I picked it up, and asked him if I could hit with it. The next thing I knew, the shape of the ball was really high and spinny. And I was, like, “Shoot. I’m not a spinny kind of guy. How can I play with this racquet?” I felt like all that spin slowed down the ball. I knew that to play my best, I needed to take the ball on the rise and use my speed. I thought, “I can’t hit the ball with spin, because it’ll sit up, and these guys are going to crush me.” So I went two or three years doubting the racquet’s future. Little did I know, everybody’s playing with it now! [Laughing] I wonder sometimes if I had really given it a try, maybe I could have reached 50 in the world. But at the time, when I tried it, I was around 100 [in the world]. I was like, “I’m still around 100, I’m still there, and I don’t want to risk it with this big change.” You just can’t predict.