Dissecting Serena Williams' rivalry with Maria Sharapova, learning from Andy Roddick, coaching Emma Raducanu in future & more: Rick Macci Exclusive

Rick Macci discussed Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Emma Raducanu, among others, in a recent interview with Sportskeeda
Rick Macci discussed Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Emma Raducanu, among others, in a recent interview with Sportskeeda

For more than four decades, Rick Macci has been an ever-present part of the tennis tour, coaching multiple Grand Slam champions to glory one after the other. From Jennifer Capriati, Venus Williams and Serena Williams to Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick and Sofia Kenin, the tennis world has a lot to thank Macci for.

For his contributions to the game as a coach, he was inducted into the USPTA Florida (United States Professional Tennis Association) Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2017, he was inducted into the USPTA Hall of Fame, becoming the youngest ever to get the honor.

We, at Sportskeeda, got the opportunity to interview the man who charmed thousands of tennis players on the court and continues to do so till this day. Here's the Exclusive interview in full:

Sportskeeda: Can Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and Iga Swiatek form the new Big-3 of women's tennis?

Rick Macci: "Absolutely. I think those three are the leaders of the clubhouse, no doubt about it. They've kind of all proven themselves, so at the end of the day, those would be the three that could have a rivalry.

"But all that being said, I can see, because women's tennis, other than Iga, is a little more fluid you know. I think you can't count out [Naomi] Osaka when she comes back, because she's proven herself. And there's other players on any given day that can beat anybody. Even though Iga is a little bit, in my opinion, a cut above.

"Little bit of this depends on the surface but they definitely can form a rivalry, there's no doubt about it. But with women's tennis it's kind of fluid, you know Serena retired, [Ashleigh] Barty exited stage left, Osaka you know, she's had a kid, so you know at the end of the day a lot of people that had the pedigree are no longer there so it's wide open.

"But absolutely Sabalenka, Rybakina and Iga, they can definitely have a Big-3 rivalry for a long time."

Sportskeeda: Which American tennis player has the best chance of ending the drought of singles GS win in men's?

Rick Macci: "If I had to bet, which I don't really do, the most talented of all the Americans is Sebastian Korda. The problem there is, he’s been injured a lot. So, he’s kinda on the outside - looking in.

"Obviously, [Taylor] Fritz is stable. Mentally, he’s locked in. Forehand, backhand, serve – he’s always gonna be there. Any one of the them can win a slam or two, no doubt about it.

"But I think the one with the most potential is Sebastian Korda. If I had to bet, I think the most talented of all the Americans is Sebastian Korda. Tremendous pedigree. Both his mom and dad played on the pro tour."

“I love his backhand. His serve’s only gonna get better. Mentally, he is calm. He hits a clean forehand, like [Roger] Federer. He can hit short on purpose and bring you in. And, he volleys better than any of them. So, at the end of the day, he’s more complete."

"His game might take a little longer to develop, but if I had to bet, I would bet on Sebastian Korda. But he has to stay healthy. And when you’re healthy, you can play a lot. Then you’re gonna get a lot more confidence."

Sportskeeda: Your thoughts on the growing pickleball popularity in US? Do you see it is a rival to tennis, or do you think the two sports can co-exist?

Rick Macci: "[Pickleball can absolutely coexist with tennis]. I think they can, I think pickleball is gonna have its niche and I think it is here to stay. I think for people in country clubs and older players, they can find a lot of enjoyment and a lot of physical fitness in that. So they are attracting that audience.

"But now that it is attracting sponsors and there's money involved, and there's tennis players that are crossing over, it is really gonna raise the awareness of pickleball. It is only gonna grow and grow and grow. But they definitely can co-exist.

"The reviews I've gotten, everybody loves it. We have it here at the park, at the Rick Macci Tennis Centre in Florida, everybody loves it. In my opinion, they are two very very different sports but because there's a padel, they're always going to go hand in hand.

"We're going to see tennis players, once they stop playing tennis, because they already have the touch, the hand-eye co-ordination, the feel, you're gonna see more and more players, when they retire from tennis, they're gonna play pickleball."

Sportskeeda: We heard you say in a recent interview that you are still as active as ever in your coaching work and that you plan to keep working till your last day. Where do you get such intense passion and work ethic from? Is that something you like to see in your students?

Rick Macci: "I have to back the truck up, I've always had a lot of energy and passion. If you love what you do, it's not hard work. You feel like you're hardly working.

"I've always been that way, I've been more of a life coach than a tennis coach and if you love what you do and you have that passion, it's not like work. I get up every day at 3'o clock, run a half mile, do what I have to do in my office, and I open up the park. Every day at 5'o clock. At 68 years old, I'm a park ranger, I still teach seven days a week, 50 hours.

"Lot of people on the pro tour, I teach adults, a lot of juniors, I teach anybody, anywhere, whoever is on the other side of the net that minute, that second, that's my favorite student. I just love being on the tennis court, I've probably been on there more than anybody in the world since age 22.

"I just love helping others, I've just been wired that way and I've always had this ability to analyse and work things out.

"About 15 years ago, with my partner Dr. Brian Gordon, we really revolutionized stroke mechanics. Just that alone, trying to give back to the game, I just love sharing all the knowledge and wisdom that I have and make a difference in the game.

"Obviously a lot of people might look at me and they might think of Venus, Serena, Roddick, Capriati, Sharapova, Kenin and all the good things that have come my way but I get just as much enjoyment from whoever is on the other side of the net that second. not just superstars.

"If you can lead by example, that's how you can extract greatness from other people. Sometimes that's a lot more powerful than talking about it or just saying it."

Sportskeeda: Similar to Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi, Federer-Nadal-Djokovic, is there a rivalry which you're excited about in the coming years?

Rick Macci: "I said this three years ago. He's [Carlos Alcaraz] not only going to transcend the game, he's going to change the way people teach the game.

"People are teaching the drop shot more. Earlier, if you did the drop shot and missed, it's like, 'What are you doing that for'? Alcaraz has changed the whole landscape with the drop shot. People sprinkled it in before but now he does it anytime, anywhere, against anybody.

"But let me tell everybody who reads this that it started long ago. The guy missed more drop shots probably at 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. It's baked in, extra crispy, there's a big confidence there, he believes in it. It's like his right arm, and that's a big part of his game and I give a tremendous amount of credit to Juan Carlos Ferrero, who is his coach, for encouraging that because there are a lot of misses along the way.

"Remember it's junior development, not junior final destination, and that's why he has extreme confidence. But he's going to change the way the game is not only played but the way it is taught."

"I think you're going to have a big rivalry with Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner. Those two are going to be right there battling. I can see Rune going in there battling. [Daniil] Medvedev is not going anywhere, the Djoker [Novak Djokovic] is not going anywhere. Korda is injury-free, I look for him to make a big push in the next few years.

"There's a lot of players who think, 'Now Federer, [Rafael] Nadal, [Andy] Murray, and who knows what's going to happen with the Djoker. So why not me?' You're not playing a great Grand Slam champion in the Round of 16 anymore. Now you might have someone in the quarters or even the semis. So everybody thinks, 'Why not me?'

"But if I was going to pick three people, it would definitely be Carlos Alcaraz, I think he has the ability not only to change the game, he could go on to be one of the greatest players we've ever seen, barring injury. He just brings a whole different package to the game of tennis. But in men's tennis, because of the power and the serve, anybody can beat anybody on any given day."

Sportskeeda: Maria Sharapova has mentioned a few times about her rivalry with Serena Williams. What, in your opinion, made that rivalry so special? The final H2H was 20-2 in favor of Williams -- why do you think Serena was so dominant against Sharapova?

Rick Macci: "Yeah you're, right. A rivalry should be a back and forth thing, and I know it was 20-2 with Serena leading the way. I think Maria, when she came to me at 11, her and Yuri, they had their sights on Venus and Serena, and they talked about it, we talked about it a lot, that was always her goal. But listen, at the end of the day it was a rivalry simply because maybe it was more like a catfight. Who knows, maybe they didn't like each other for other reasons.

"But whenever Serena played her, it was a bad matchup for Sharapova because Serena knew she had to be aggressive, she had to bring the Compton streetfight. She had to bring the firepower because Maria would control the points against 95% people on the tour. But against Serena, she couldn't and then Maria had to play more defense, and that was a bad matchup.

"Plus Serena had the serve that could pull out of a jam. So that became a rivalry not because it was competitive. Maybe they just didn't like each other that much on the pro tour for whatever reason. So, that was kind of interesting."

Sportskeeda: What are your thoughts on trash talk? Does the Federer-Nadal type of gentlemanly rivalry not excite the audience anymore? Does tennis need Medvedev-Tsitsipas, Rune-Wawrinka kind of heated matches?

Rick Macci: "With a lot of new young players, you have someone like Alcaraz, who is a broadway performer, he smiles on the court, he kind of hops and skips on the court, he is a shotmaker. You have other characters, there is this new blood where they are more brash, they are more vocal, they wear their emotions on their sleeve. Before, you had Federer, who was the silent assassin, Djokovic was pretty stoic out there, Rafa was like a machine.

"So, whether it is better or worse, I think everyone should express themselves the way they want to. But I think the fans like it. That's why everybody liked John McEnroe back in the day, because he just laid it out there and people do like that for entertainment value.

"It is good but a lot of the younger players are a little more animated. I think it's good for the sport, the more personalities you get out there, I think it's good for the game. But at the end of the day, every player has to be true to themselves and they gotta be who they are. Once you start trying to be something other than what you are, that doesn't really work."

Sportskeeda: If you could chose one active player to coach, who would it be?

Rick Macci: "Maybe Coco Gauff, because I know her dad and I know that I can fix that forehand and make it one of her biggest assets.

"Right now, there is a hole there and under pressure it bubbles up. She needs to take some time off and in a couple of months, I have to put that whole thing together and reverse engineer it and reprogram her reflexes. Because there are 10-12 years of muscle memory, it's not bad but it is a liability when she is under pressure. She's a good kid with great foot speed, she is an Olympic sprinter with a racquet in her hand, she has a tremendous serve, I would tweak the serve a bit.

"The other one is Emma Raducanu, from Great Britain. I love her game, she has a lot of potential. Whenever you get injuries, people jump off the bandwagon. I know she has lost a lot of confidence. But as I tell everybody, you don't lose the talent, you lose the fitness and the confidence.

"Just like one of my favorite students of all-time, Jennifer Capriati. She disappeared off the face of the earth, and everybody thought she was done. Only three people believed in her: Denise Capriati, Stefano Capriati and Rick Macci.

"And Jennifer, she not only came back, because she had the firepower and the fundamentals, she came all the way back to World No. 1 and won three Grand Slams and an Olympic gold. So it's not where you start, it's where you finish. Those would be the two players that I could help big time.

"But the problem is, I run a business and I'm here all the time. To help them, maybe, with their existing coach or whenever they are in Florida, I think that would be great. I feel like they need help and I know that biomechanically or mentally or strategically, I could help them in a big time way."

Sportskeeda: Brad Gilbert often talks about learning from the players he coached, like Andre Agassi or Lleyton Hewitt. Similarly, can you recall any lessons your students have taught you over the years?

Rick Macci: "That's a good question, because back in the day, Andy Roddick, he was one of the first of the Mohicans, with the ATP forehand, where you keep the racquet on the hitting side, the pull and the flip, the racquet goes down and back.

"I looked at it, it looked kind of wristy and a little different and so he actually taught me. I saw that it was shorter and faster and so yes, any coach who doesn't learn from their student, they're looking at the wrong picture. I learn from my students every day, you learn every day from everybody in every situation.

"If you are pigeon-holed, that there's only one way to do this, then you're not a coach, you're more of a dictator. Then it's interesting, because I really wanted to change Venus' backhand, I wanted her to keep the racquet head above the wrist when hitting and she wanted to keep it down. But the thing about it is, it worked.

"So these were the two students who I really just said, you know what, maybe the best coaching is to keep your mouth shut and leave it alone."

Sportskeeda: You've worked with some of the biggest men's and women's tennis players of all-time. Women's tennis seems just as exciting to the average fan as men's, so have you ever wondered there is such a huge pay gap between the two sports outside of the Slams?

Rick Macci: "Regarding men's and women's tennis, yes, absolutely. In every tournament, prize money should be the same. I don't get it, it should be the same. It's pro tennis, it's not men's tennis and women's tennis. It's the same.

"I understand best-of-3 vs best-of-5, but you can't look at it like that. There are a lot of amazing personalities in women's tennis. Lot of people like watching women's tennis more than the men."

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Edited by Shyam Kamal
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