As the 39th season of Mylan World TeamTennis approaches this July, Springfield Lasers’ head coach John-Laffnie de Jager looks to add the one thing missing from his impressive coaching resume – leading the Lasers to their first Mylan WTT title.
De Jager enters his eighth season as head coach for the Lasers this July and the South African hopes to push his team one step further after losing in the Mylan WTT finals last year to the Washington Kastles 25-12. The Lasers have been rocked by the recent injury withdrawals of 2013 Mylan WTT Male MVP Jean-Julien Rojer and 2013 Mylan WTT Female Rookie Alisa Kleybanova. The Lasers were able to fill their spots with Ross Hutchins and Olga Govortsova. With the additions of Americans James Blake and Michael Russell, and the threat of 2014 French Open mixed doubles champion Anna-Lena Groenefeld, De Jager believes his team is poised for success.
WTT.com caught up with De Jager who shared his thoughts on his influences, coaching, memories and excitement for the season.
Who was your biggest influence to start playing tennis?
My dad played a huge role. He was a keen tennis player and would always take me with him when he played recreational tennis with his friends. I just fell in love with the sport. He built a tennis court for us on our farm and I spent most of my time on the court. My dad wanted to put lights on the court but my mother refused because she said I would never sleep.
Why did you decide to begin coaching after you retired from playing tennis professionally?
I was very fortunate to have great coaches with Craig Tiley and Christo van Rensburg playing huge roles in my development as a player. They were great coaches and helped me to have a great career and live my dream. I wanted to help other people achieve the same. Tennis was something that I played for 15 years at the highest level and had a lot of experience in. I love the game, and helping people coach was a no brainer for me.
What do you love most about coaching?
The process of helping someone get better and achieve something. The end product is a smile on their face!!!
What do you think is the key to success in a team format of tennis?
There is no "I" in TEAM and you have to get the players to play and care for each other. Creating a fun and supporting environment is key. You have to make sure that the team comes first, but that every player still gets to work on what they need to so they can perform at their best for game day.
You’ve had plenty of team coaching experience with coaching World TeamTennis, Davis Cup and Fed Cup for South Africa. What is your most memorable moment coaching in all three?
Winning any tie for your country is very special, but the tie in 2012 against Slovenia stands out. We were playing without our top two singles players (Washington Kastles Kevin Anderson and Boston Lobsters Rik De Voest) and Slovenia had two players inside the top 120. We planned carefully and the plan worked. It was very special. (South Africa defeated Slovenia 4-1 to advance to the World Group Playoff).
Your team (Lasers) has been in contention almost every year you have coached in World TeamTennis but have yet to win the King Trophy. Do you think your team is built for a championship run this season due to your team’s success this first half of the year? Break down the strengths of your team.
Yes, it is very frustrating that we have not won a championship, but I believe we are good enough to win one. There are very good teams in this league and most nights it comes down to a few points here and there. It’s all about who wins the three-all points.
What are your favorite hobbies when you aren’t playing tennis?
I love watching rugby. It is my favorite sport. I also enjoy golf, waterskiing, and watching movies.