Bob Carmichael. Every Aussie is dubbed with a nickname from an early age, and Bob’s was one of the most appropriate and fitting—we all knew him as ‘Nails’. Through sheer hard work and perseverance he made a career in tennis at a late age, leaving Australia and his job as a carpenter for his first trip overseas in his mid-20s.

Bob took a punt on me when I was 17. He was one of the head coaches at the Australian Institute of Sport where they invited the best 10 male and female juniors to train. My tennis was pretty average, as I was also late to the sport. I played Aussie Rules Football, but Bob pushed hard to have me invited.

Bob was my only coach. He was a great man who unfortunately passed away about 10 years ago. His coaching techniques, discipline, life rules and passion are qualities that I still call on everyday. Most times when I’m faced with a situation or decision to make, I think to myself. ‘What would Nails do?’

I think it’s nearly impossible to play that type of tennis in today’s game and be consistently successful. The equipment has made it that much more difficult, as the spin a player can impart on the ball now is enormous. That means more returns coming back into play, more shoestring volleys, more passing shots made, more successful topspin lobs—all equating to making it incredibly demanding to play a net-rushing style.

That said, it is still a valuable tool to have. Not enough coaching is done at an early age to make sure the new generation are comfortable up at net and are transitioning forward when it’s called for. Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have all added it to their games at a later age as they saw an important need to finish points.

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He was already a legend before I stepped in to coach him in 2002. At the time, I was considering an approach from Marat Safin when Andre called to ask if I’d coach him. My wife was quite excited about the prospect of going on the road with Marat, as she constantly referred to him as the “Big Sexy Russian” with a smile. So when Andre called, she was shattered when I quickly accepted.

But that all changed after the first day with Andre and Stefanie [Graf]. Andre personally met us at the San Francisco airport to drive us to his house in Tiburon. He and Stefanie could not have been nicer and we had a great evening of cooking a BBQ, drinking a few beers and telling stories. He walked us to the room where we were staying and it was like a five-star suite. My wife said, “Good call taking this job, Killer. Don’t stuff it up!”

He was a student of the game. He wanted a coach to look at tennis through his eyes to understand what he was feeling during the good and bad times, so communication was something he relied on enormously. He was precise and clear with his questions about his opponents. He wanted to know how he could hurt them, how his strengths matched up and how his opponents might possibly make him uncomfortable. He wasn’t lightning-fast like today’s athletes, but he was efficient with his movement and could strangle opponents for time. Similar to Roger Federer, he could make one set of tennis feel like three.

I think as he got older he learned there were many different ways to win a match, and bringing your A-game wasn’t always the best strategy. He became more prepared to scrap, and he took a lot of joy in doing things in his 30s that not many people believed were possible.

He’s a special person. What he’s done outside the lines with his commitment to education has paled his results inside the tennis lines, in my opinion. He’s made a difference to many people’s lives, including ours.

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There’s not much difference in the life of a player compared to yesteryear, if we are talking about courts and hotels. What has changed is the professionalism of the athletes. The off-court training and body maintenance is just as important as hitting tennis balls, and eats into many hours of the day. As the money continues to grow, so do the entourages. Many camps consist of two coaches, a physical trainer, a mental trainer, a physiotherapist, a massage therapist, a dietitian, a PR agent and managers—and then you also have friends and family that attend many of the events. It’s a mini-bus full of people that can sometimes be a handful for the players to manage.

But the players are now earning enough money to invest back into their careers for more longevity, which is why we’re seeing more players playing career-best tennis in their 30s.

Coaches have also become better informed, making the athletes smarter away from the court. I would argue that older generations of players actually worked harder on the court than today’s players, but that’s not necessarily smarter.

I think all of us older players believe our eras were more fun. We traveled in groups and quite often shared a coach. We practiced together and supported each other while still keeping that competitive rivalry. I’m not hanging out in the locker room these days, but we all miss the feel, the smell and the times walking into the courts preparing to play the big tournaments, no matter what level you play at. There’s no replacing that.

Better coaching education is always important, but also empowering the grassroots coaches with more responsibility and opportunities to follow a protege through the ranks. I believe too many are stopped in their tracks when a player reaches a certain level and a national association believes it is better equipped to transition that player to the pros.

Clay-court access has always been important for kids in the U.S. and Australia, and that seems to be improving with more red clay being laid down in both countries. It’s impossible to hide your weaknesses on clay. It also builds better leg and core strength, which will protect your body in the long run. If you look at all of the European players dominating the men’s game at the moment, they’re all incredibly strong in those areas. There is no downside to clay-court training.

Also, it’s important that we remove a sense of entitlement that the last couple of generations seem to have grown up in. Everything in sport is earned, and nothing should be taken for granted. We are all partly responsible for this. The coaches, entourages, media, national associations, increased money and parents have all contributed to rewarding average.

Making future generations desperate and hungry for success is just as important as providing pathways. It’s not easy to strike that balance, but the best place to start is at the grassroots. The more committed and passionate they are, the more kids that will stay in tennis, the more athletes we’ll attract to the game. A champion player with that X-factor doesn’t need the best coach in the world. That type of player will always find a way with a coach that he or she believes in and trusts.