Ten years ago Bobby Banck was the 204th ranked men's tennis professional in the world. At age 23 he had practically traveled and played non-stop for almost five years. He was tired of traveling and was totally burned out. He retired from competitive play shortly afterward.
Once retired, he became interested in coaching and working with other tennis professionals. Over the past 10 years he has worked with former top-10 players such as Aaron Krickstein and Jimmy Arias.
He recently completed working and coaching a year with Justin Gimelstob, one of the rising young American stars. When Banck started coaching Gimelstob, Gimelstob was ranked 325th in the world. He is presently ranked 82nd.
Banck's reputation as a tennis coach is well known throughout tennis circles in the United States. A few months ago, Mary Joe Fernandez, 26, the world's 12th-ranked women's player, talked to Banck about the possibility of coaching her in the near future.
When Banck's contract with Gimelstob was over he and Fernandez had a few hitting and strategy sessions. Fernandez was very impressed with Banck's knowledge of the game, his picture-perfect strokes and his engaging personality. Banck signed a contract with Fernandez to coach and train her for one year.
"Mary Joe and I have been working together since early August," said Banck during a recent visit back home to Buffalo. "She is a class act. You'd never know that she is a world-class tennis player. She treats everyone with respect and always takes the time to sign autographs. She's also one of the most coachable players that I have ever worked with."
Banck's playing and teaching schedule with Fernandez is a grueling one. When she's getting ready for a tournament, they practice from 9:30-11 a.m. They work on specific strokes and strategies. Banck said, "We're really working hard to make Mary Joe more aggressive and stronger."
When the morning session is over, Banck works with Fernandez on flexibility and stretching exercises for 20 minutes. They then discuss what they worked on earlier.
After lunch and a rest they're back on the court from 2-3:30 p.m. He said, "I'll work her extra hard in the afternoon or I'll have a match set up for her. However, I'd rather do the hitting myself as I find it more beneficial in helping her with her game."
After the afternoon workout Banck works with Fernandez in the gym with weights and conditioning exercises for almost an hour. They then work on stretching and flexibility for 20 minutes.
Banck and Fernandez follow this procedure Monday through Friday. If a tournament is starting the following Monday, they will usually leave for the tournament site from Sarasota, Fla., where they are based, late Friday. On Saturday, they will hit an hour in the morning and again in the afternoon for the same time. They do this to get Fernandez acclimated to the courts and the surroundings. On Sunday, they'll hit and play mostly points for about an hour and a half.
Banck says, "If Mary Joe has her first match at 1:30 or so on Monday, we'll hit for about 45 minutes at 11 a.m." After hitting, Banck and Fernandez discuss what she should do during the match. They discuss how to play her opponent and what to focus on. Banck said, "I never give her her more than two things to try during the match. Any more and it would be a burden."
Banck also checks to make sure that she has the proper string tension on her rackets and that her grips are in top shape.
As for the actual match, if Fernandez wins easily, it's back to the courts later in the day for an hour. However, if Fernandez has played a grueling three-set match or is also playing doubles later in the day, they won't have a later practice session.
Banck also tries to scout Fernandez's future opponents as time allows.
Banck says, "If Mary Joe reaches the finals, we'll hit for 40 minutes two hours before she plays. We'll then discuss what she should be trying to do against her opponent."
When the tournament is over, win or lose, Banck and Fernandez will discuss each match that she had played. In practice the following week or weeks they address the areas that they feel Fernandez should work on.
Banck recently turned 33. When asked what qualities are needed to be a good tennis coach, he says, "They must have played at a top level for a long period of time. They have to know what it takes to make it in the game and stay at a top level. They have to be able to communicate with the players, have a lot of patience, and be positive at all times. They'll also find that you're not just a coach. You're also an adviser."