June 8, 2021
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Just wanted to ask you, I spoke to Maria yesterday and she was talking about the chemistry between you. Can you just tell us a bit about that and what it's like working with her? A little bit also about your background.
TOM HILL: Yeah, firstly the chemistry with Maria, we have been working together almost three years. So it's kind of something that's just kind of slowly grown over the time. We both trust each other, and we're both very loyal. I mean, three years together, that's a long time I feel on the WTA and ATP Tour.
We both just get along really well on the court. I respect her feelings on the court. She trusts how I want her to play, and it seems to work. So far it's going really well.
As for my background with tennis, obviously I didn't play at this top level, but I have played Division 1 college, played futures and challengers. That's pretty much it.
Q. I would like to ask you, what has changed since the day you started working together? How has Maria changed as a player?
TOM HILL: I would say the biggest thing that I have noticed with Maria is more the understanding of her game. Just what shots she needs to hit in what moments. That sounds really simple, but it really is simple. Just understanding what she does well, trying to focus more on how she can play to her strengths, less than what she can do to make her opponent feel uncomfortable, which sounds a little bit crazy, but if you focus too much on what your opponent doesn't like, and then you end up not playing the shots that you like, it can cause problems.
I think Maria, just using her weapons and then trying to find ways to play to the opponent's weakness, it's working. She's growing in confidence. Her serve has improved a lot. Obviously physically she's amazing.
I'm really liking the way she's playing, but we are just taking it step by step. I believe she can improve a lot more.
Q. I read that you kind of got into coaching a little bit by accident. Is that true? You were going to go to law school and then Danielle Collins rang you up. Is that right?
TOM HILL: That's 100% true, yeah. The way it kind of worked was I was at Pepperdine in California, taking my final exam, and Max Eisenbud sent me a message for me to go to IMG to hit with Sharapova. I did that. I hit with her.
I never got -- Maria Sharapova never told me that it was great, but I'm guessing that they kept me at IMG, that she must have liked it (smiling). So I stayed there. They asked me to hit with lots of other players. Danielle saw me. This was kind of in the time where I was -- like, I don't think being a hitting partner is a long-term job or a career, so I was looking at law school, figuring out ways how I could do that, and then Danielle messaged me completely out of the blue. I was 21, 22 maybe, asking me to be her coach. It all started from there.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the break Maria took after Rome. Were you worried when she said she doesn't feel like playing?
TOM HILL: A little bit (smiling). A little bit. It's tough. It's tough, because I see everything from the outside, and I feel like there is a way you should do it. But the last couple years, especially with the COVID and the bubbles and everything like that, you have to be flexible. You have to adapt.
Look, we are very fortunate that we can actually play, but I'm also going to be honest, you see a lot of players burnt out, and it's not easy.
So I made the decision -- maybe now, looking back, it was the right decision. At the time I wasn't sure. I just told her, You need to just go and take some rest.
She wasn't enjoying being on the court. For me, I was, like, well, the only way we're going to have a successful tournament here is if she wants to be on the court. She took about a week off, maybe eight days, and then she called me saying that she was ready to be back on the court.
That, for me, was the sign, okay, if she wants to be back on the court, let's play. I guess we were lucky that Roland Garros got pushed back a week, that we had the time. We still had a week's training. I knew one week off, she would be fine. At the end of the season she has about four or five weeks off, and after two days of hitting she's hitting the ball amazing again. I was, like, one week, she'll be okay.
Q. Just curious what you think about when you look at the landscape of women's tennis, about the progress or the arc of maturity and sort of what expectations are for how quickly women are supposed to be good and what allows women to sort of get better and make a leap in their mid or even late 20s?
TOM HILL: That's a very interesting question, because when I was younger, maybe like eight years ago, there was this kind of thing where the women had to be good at 16, 17, and if they weren't already on the tour at that age that they were kind of too late.
Now you're seeing, for example with Maria, she's turning 26 I think in a couple weeks, that it's later on in their career.
Look, I'm going to be honest, I wasn't on the tour coaching eight, nine years ago, to be able to see exactly what the levels were like. I have been told and obviously I have watched a lot of it that the top players back then were exceptionally good but there wasn't as much depth. And you can see here in this tournament, I think is it six or seven of the quarterfinalists have never been in a quarterfinal before? There is so much depth. Now it's first round, second round, you're playing against top players that can play.
I think if these girls keep pushing each other, women's tennis is only going to get stronger and stronger.
For me, I'm really encouraged. I'm also watching the juniors now just to see, you know, which ones are coming through, because, I don't know, I think women's tennis is definitely going to get better and it's already very strong.
Q. Your story you told us sounds quite amazing, being a college student and becoming a coach of top player. I was wondering, how does your experience of being like a college student and studying law, that experience helps you as a coach? Can you analyze yourself a little bit, what kind of coach you are? You are good at analyzing your opponent or you are good at understanding your player? Can you talk a little bit about that?
TOM HILL: Yeah. The first part, I would say I know I'm young, but there are also now a couple other young coaches on the tour, and I was the only one and now there is a few more. I feel like with college and everything like that, one thing that I feel like helps me with Maria, because we are similar age, we can relate to lots of different problems both on the court and off the court.
Coach on the tour is, yes, I am her tennis coach, but I'm with her almost every day every day of the year, so I think just having someone that she can talk to about boyfriends or family or anything, I think that helps because what she's going through I'm also going through, so, I mean, that's definitely a factor.
Going back to the question about the chemistry, we have great chemistry, that definitely helps. I also feel like I'm pretty fresh out of the game. It's been about five years now, but I still, okay, now we have Giannis Stergiou, our hitting partner, but I still can hit with Maria, and just being still pretty new out of the game, I still can relate to the feelings because I still remember how it was, and I definitely think that's a strong factor.
As for what I think I bring to Maria, I would say probably my biggest strength is tactical, strategical. That's one thing that I -- I mean, and you can ask Maria, that's one thing I obsess about. For me, I'm studying the players too much. I woke up at 2:00 a.m. the other night in like a sweat, panicking about where Maria should stand on the return position against Kenin, so I'm watching videos at 3:00 a.m. trying to figure it out.
But for me I know that maybe she's going to get one or two little things that will help her on that side. I still believe I can help her on technical and all these other things. I feel at this level they can all serve, they can all hit forehands, can all hit backhands. The strategical tactical side is extremely important.
Q. You talked there about being a similar age to Maria and being able to have that relationship because of that. Has that helped over the last year when obviously I guess all kind of coaching relationships have become more intense because you haven't been allowed out of the hotel and haven't been able to do other things?
TOM HILL: Yeah. This last year, year and a half, has definitely been tougher. I mean, okay, where I think Maria and I have been fortunate, this happened when we were also kind of 18 months to two years together, so we already had that strong chemistry.
It's tough. In the past Maria would go for dinners with like some of her friends on tour, Ila (phonetic) and Donna, and I would go and see some of my friends and other coaches on tour that I'm friendly with. Now it's a lot more together breakfast, lunch, dinner, all day, which probably for other teams it can cause problems, but luckily for Maria and I, we enjoy being together and it's not like, Oh, seeing you again.
No, we get along great. We don't have any problems. It's also been great that we have also two other members of our team. Giannis, he's our hitting partner. He's just recently started with us. He's also 25. I'm 26. He's 25. We have Daniel Pohl, our physio, he's also 25. We are all kind of young. I think we play Monopoly cards together. We just have fun.
Q. She obviously brings a lot of power to the court. Where do you come down as a coach in terms of, you know, accentuating and just trying to make people's strengths as strong as they can be or spend a lot of time working on their weaknesses?
TOM HILL: Yeah, it's tough to find the balance sometimes. I feel like with Maria I'm, in off-seasons, working on certain parts of her game that I feel are her weaknesses that need to improve. During the year I'm trying to work those a little bit, but the main focus I find during tournaments is just drilling patterns and patterns and repeating it thousands of times of combinations that are Maria's strengths, what she likes to do, and just almost creating it, is it like muscle memory or something like that, where she just does it without thinking. She knows this ball, this is what I like to do.
I don't really want to be working on weaknesses during tournaments because it can create doubt and things like that. But in off-seasons, we will work on a few things that are needed.
Q. Wondering your thoughts on British coaches in general, if you think there is a strength there? Your thoughts on British tennis overall.
TOM HILL: Yeah, and I definitely think on the coaching side there are some great, especially young coaches. There is obviously Nigel Sears. Maybe not one of the young coaches, but he's a fantastic coach, and he's not on the tour right now, but he obviously would kind of talk to me and Andy Bettles. Andy Bettles is obviously I think a very good young British coach. Dan Smethurst with Konta. Alex Ward was also with Heather Watson.
I think we've got a lot of good British coaches on the race. I don't know the ATP side as well. There could be a few there. I don't know. British tennis, I mean, we have lots of very good players, but I'm going to be completely honest, like I'm not really in the British tennis loop. Don't really know too many of the people there. I'm kind of just on the outside. I have been more the America route and Greece.
I know all the people. I have good things to say about them, but it's tough for me to talk about how British tennis coaching is because I'm just outside of it. Although I live in the UK, I'm outside of the know. I wouldn't be able to give you a good answer on how they train, because I just don't know.
Q. You like puzzles, and one of the toughest puzzles to solve right now is Swiatek on clay. So you get that. Can you talk about what you make of her as a player? I know you guys practiced together before the tournament as well. Any thoughts you had on her as a player, what makes her great and a challenge on this surface, and then also a little bit on her team. Piotr is another young coach on the tour as well who is doing pretty well.
TOM HILL: Piotr is one of my closest friends on the tour. He texted me last night at 2:00 a.m., It's going to be a fun match. I was, like, Yeah.
Iga, she's a fantastic player, honestly. She's phenomenal. On clay especially where it's slower, she has time to use her forehand, great shape. Very physical, very fit player. Strategically plays very smart, as well. So it's definitely going to be a challenge.
I just believe Maria can play her game, play loose, play free. Maria has nothing to lose, and I tell her that every day. She has nothing to lose. Against Kenin in the last match, Kenin was the finalist last year. Had nothing to lose. Iga is defending champion. She has the pressure. She's the one who is expected to win, expected to make the final, expected to win the tournament.
So Maria can just go out there and play loose, play free. I believe Maria can win. I know she can win. Doesn't mean she is going to win. I just want Maria just to enjoy it, playing on Chatrier, just show what she can really do and we'll see what happens.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports