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Tennis.com Podcast featuring Manny Diaz: Building a legacy with the Georgia Bulldogs
The Georgia men's tennis coach has spent over three decades at the helm. He dives into his philosophies, his experiences, and why developing young players remains his lifeblood.
Published Jun 17, 2023
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There’s never been a men’s college tennis coach in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) that’s won more than Manny Diaz.
The Georgia Bulldogs' leader has been at the helm for 35 seasons, guiding his squad to several national championships at both the team and individual level. And yet for the all the accolades and recognition he’s received, Diaz is still a tennis purist at heart: He loves getting out of bed in the morning to attack the day’s challenges on the court. He lives for developing young men into greater versions of themselves, and he revels in the journey of good to great, and from great to exceptional.
Diaz recently joined the Tennis.com Podcast to discuss some of his fondest memories as a coach, and why the process is just as rewarding as the results.
College tennis has exploded in terms of popularity in recent years, and a large part of that has been the quality of the players. It’s become a viable path to not just a pro career, but a successful run financially on the top circuit, and Diaz takes pride in developing players for the next step of their tennis journey. The team comes first, and culture is the foundation for the Bulldogs, but there is opportunity for those work hard. In many cases, those who stay do become champions.
“You’re going to have opportunities to move up, at least in our program,” Diaz professed. “We keep harping on this every day at practice. 'Are you making the guy across the net from you better today?' 'Are you just improving that 1 percent on a given day?' And I think that if we commit to pushing each other, everybody’s level is going to rise and you’re going to fulfill your potential.”
Nobody stands out figuratively or literally like John Isner, who Diaz got to witness first-hand when he coached the tennis giant in college. Isner didn’t dominate the game early, and frankly, there were few signs that he would have such a lengthy pro career after his university years. But Diaz identified several key ingredients in Isner’s DNA, he explained to Murray, starting with the player’s ability to listen and be coached.
Most tennis fans would be surprised to hear that Isner did not come to Athens, Ga., as a natural serve-and-volleyer.
“You’re not Michael Chang out there, you need to serve-and-volley a lot,” Diaz remembers fondly instructing Isner. “That was something that, from the get-go just struck me, how coachable he was. If you asked him to do something for a particular purpose, and you could sell that to me, he could actually compute it. And his ego didn’t get in the way.”
Georgia’s success hasn’t slowed down under Diaz, with freshman sensation Ethan Quinn winning the NCAA singles national title last month. Quinn has had all the tools to succeed for quite some time, prompting Murray to ask how Diaz was even able to convince him to forego turning pro early. Diaz revealed that it was Quinn took the college route of his own volition, even going so far as to proclaim his intention to be there for four seasons.
He wanted to redshirt his first year in Athens to work on his game, electing to improve areas of weakness and focus on getting stronger and more well-rounded. And so it was that in his first official collegiate season, Quinn went on a run for the ages that culminated in a national title.
“Everybody is on their own timetable, it’s hard to forget," he said. "But did I know that he could’ve helped us last year? Absolutely. But I was having to consider his wishes number one.”
Other topics in this wonderful podcast include managing the transfer portal, players that got away on the recruiting trail (such as future Hall of Famer Andy Roddick), and what a full day in the life of a current Georgia player actually entails.
Diaz has been a part of college tennis' lifeblood for decades, and yet the passion and energy in his voice as he converses with Murray is similar to that of a newly-hired coach who's excited to attack their dream job.
In a way, that’s true: Diaz is still living his dream. Every day, he gets out of bed and leads the Bulldogs on the path to progress.