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Tennis Channel Inside-In Podcast Featuring Eric Riley: Lessons From A Coach Who's Earned His Recognition
Eric Riley's game took him all the way to the Ivy League and professional circuit. His abilities as a coach took him even further.
Published Feb 10, 2024
All it takes is a spark to ignite a flame. Life is all about timing and preparation, and very few in the tennis world are better examples of that than Eric Riley. As a child in Philadelphia, he stumbled into tennis through a legendary figure in his town. He found his passion, took his game to the top of the collegiate level, and gave it a go as a pro player.
As fate would have it, his true calling beckoned in the form of coaching. Riley has coached titans of the sport such as Pam Shriver and Lisa Raymond, guiding both to major titles and leading countless others to tangible improvements. He joined the Tennis Channel Inside-In Podcast to explain how his life's journey became intertwined with tennis, and why he is as locked in as ever on the current landscape of the pro game.
Riley's love affair with tennis began with a singular event ingrained in his mind for eternity. His mother took him to the old Philadelphia Spectrum Arena, to see a particular man perform his athletic craft.
"Arthur Ashe in his all whites played an exhibition, and afterwards he signed autographs, and I get goose pimples thinking about it. I fell in love with the game, Arthur Ashe became my idol," Riley reminisced.
"I read a book called, I Always Wanted To Be Somebody in eighth grade by Althea Gibson. I wrote a book report on it which I still have. Arthur Ashe and Althea are the reason I'm playing tennis. And I'm just so grateful."
Riley became more than just a standout player, as he put the necessary work in as a student to open many pathways. He atttended the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an all Ivy-League tennis player at one of the best collegiate instutions in America. Riley spent seven years playing pro tennis, a time that he cherishes as the most joyous of his life, during which he lived out his childhood dreams.
From there he transitioned seemlessly into coaching, going from Kathy Jordan to Pam Shriver, who was putting the finishing touches on a Hall of Fame career and was in need of that final jolt to the finish line. Riley was that jolt, and it led him to his most successful pupil, Lisa Raymond.
Under Riley's guidance she won several majors and reached No. 1 in doubles, which Riley explains was a credit Raymond's committment to their working relationship and continuity as a team.
"We worked on patterns, we worked on consistency and we worked on body language. But the core of that was our chemistry together," the coached explained. "We turned Lisa Raymond into one of the best all-court players in the world."
Riley continues to work with the current generation of tennis players, having spent some valuable time with college standout Angelica Blake. He has poignant and precise advice for players of all levels, including rising superstars Coco Gauff and Ben Shelton. Both young players had tremendous seasons in 2023, but Riley points out that it only gets harder from here. He credits both for having great results immediately following last fall's US Open, an event that Gauff won and Shelton improbable made the semis. For Shelton to win a tournament in Japan and Gauff to reach the semifinal of the very next major is no small feat, as the coach pointed out emphatically.
"He's (Shelton) got a chance to be the best player in the world because he is ready to go to work," Riley professed. "It's much easier to climb the ranks when you're an underdog than when you're expected to win," he stated before offering stern advice for what Gauff will need to do to continue to collect major titles. "She's going to have to improve. Which means you've got to work on weaknesses, you've got to build confidence, you have to have purposeful practice and you've got to work your tail off because you've got a target on your back. It doesn't get easier now, it gets harder."
Eric Riley has kept his finger on the pulse of the tennis world, and has insight that very few in his profession can match. On this podcast he offers up his thoughts on why Jessica Pegula's next coaching hire is crucial, the prospects of American players on the clay, and why Angelica Blake is one of the special prospects in all of tennis. This episode of Tennis Channel Inside-In covers the entire court. Just how Eric Riley prefers it.