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.