Tony Roche had just agreed to coach Roger Federer. Only the tennis world did not know it yet. So when ‘Rochey’ called me and asked if I would like to be a training partner for Federer, I was shocked and then confused. Why me? And why are you asking? Then Tony told me in his humble and low key demeanor that he had agreed to work with Roger Federer.
Now, looking back on all the practice sessions we shared together, including a preseason in Dubai, I cannot begin to calculate how much value those experiences are worth. To have the opportunity to work and learn with two of the game’s greatest legends (coach and player) on the court and on a daily basis was simply incredible. Today, I continue to feel the impact when I coach. From them, I learned what true excellence is all about.
I grew up in the same neighborhood in Sydney that Tony lives in. In fact, we even go to the same church. Though Tony is recognized all over the world as one of the great tennis coaches, you would not know that he won the French Open singles championship and has coached some of the best players of all time. Tony is the most down to earth, modest man I have ever met. With Tony, it was always about you, the moment, and never about him. In fact, Tony never talked about his playing or coaching career unless you asked him. And even then you might have to pull it out of him.
I have learned so much about tennis and life under Tony. He was a true leader in every sense of the word. He has these old-fashioned values which, when mixed with his love of hard work, made the training educational also a lot of fun. I will always remember Tony getting in the trenches with us players and sweating it out as we did. And then after a session he might jump on a stationary bike for an hour or more and grind out another workout.
Anybody who has spent time with Tony knows how unique his laugh is. And how Tony always sees the bright side of every situation. Just thinking of his laugh makes me smile. Now, I have my own tennis academy and players. Not a session goes by that I don’t think how Tony might do this particular drill or what he would think of the extra effort of my players. Tony Roche was much more than a coach and mentor to me. He was a good bloke and great friend. Knowing Tony, I think he would prefer the last two more.