Coaching in the Bigs: Emilio Sanchez on Spain's tennis mentality

Coaching in the Bigs: Emilio Sanchez on Spain's tennis mentality

“We try to promote effort, discipline, hard work and respect” Sanchez said. “It’s kind of like a way of living.”

Since the beginning of this century, no country can match Spain’s overall body of work in the tennis world. While Rafael Nadal hogs the majority of the nation’s Grand Slam hardware, players like Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro, Fernando Verdasco, Roberto Bautista-Agut, and Tommy Robredo— all who have enjoyed stays in the Top 10— have solidified Spain’s position as men's tennis' leading nation.

As of 2017, Spain owned the highest combined UTR of each nation’s ten best players. 

Top 15 Countries in Men’s Tennis (graphic is based on average UTR of Top 10 players from listed countries- June 2017)

On Coaching in the Bigs, Paul Annacone discussed this dominance with one of the country's most accomplished players, Emilio Sanchez. Sanchez, who has 50 doubles and 15 singles titles to his name, peaked at No. 7 in singles and reached No. 1 in doubles. As Spain’s Davis Cup captain in 2008, Sanchez saw firsthand what separates the Spanish competitors from the rest of the world. 

“You talk about the point for point mentality, about not going away,” Annacone said. “For so long and still today, in Spain, it seems to me there is a predisposition for the players being generally good at playing every single point.”

“The first point is that the clay helps a lot in developing that survival thing about looking for any point,” Sanchez responded.

Emilio Sanchez coaches David Ferrer during Spain's 2008 Davis Cup title run. (Getty Images)

It’s no secret that clay-court experience at a young age is imperative for both mental toughness and point construction, but Sanchez also believes the stiffness of Spain’s internal competition allowed the players to excel. Any coach will tell you the secret to improving your game is to compete against better players. 

“There was this incredible generation with like 30 players competing there, (Alex) Corretja, (Carlos) Moya, (Albert) Costa and so many more in the Top 100," Sanchez said. "Each generation was tougher than the other, and then arrived the generation of Rafa, who is the emperor of tough tennis.”

Sanchez, who owns one of the world’s premier training operations, the Sanchez-Casal Academy, has tried to instill this mentality into his young pupils. 

“We put together a philosophy of values and habits,” Sanchez said. “We try to promote effort, discipline, hard work and respect. It’s kind of like a way of living.”