In this second blog post with veteran tennis tour coach Craig Boynton, he discusses why this is one of the most exciting times in men’s tennis and talks about the various “freak factors” that make certain players so special.
“There’s no argument that men’s tennis is in the midst of an extraordinary era–with the greatest three players that will probably ever play at the same time,” he said, referring to the trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Boynton noted that there is much gratitude for their impact on the game.
“People talk about the Tiger Woods syndrome for golf, and how much more money and exposure he got for the sport. Well, these three are doing it for tennis, exponentially. They’ve come in–and just by being the people and the players that they are–they’ve ramped it up tenfold,” he said.
“And of course, nobody wants Roger Federer to retire, nobody wants Rafa or Novak to retire. It’s as if we need them all to be together playing because that’s just kind of how we’ve come to see the sport.” Boynton pointed out that if one of them doesn’t attend a match, their presence is noticeably missed. “Four or five years ago, Roger skipped the Indian Wells tournament in California and I really felt his absence. I felt it in the buzz of the crowd and in the expectation of the fans. From my standpoint, coaching somebody that could possibly play Roger, it’s a benefit to me if he isn’t there, but it’s amazing how much, not only Roger, but Rafa and Novak had done for the sport of tennis. And so the long-term effect, when they do decide to retire, is that they’ve left the game far better than when they entered it.”
Elite players like the Rafas and Hubis of the game have an edge that even others in the top ranks just can’t quite attain. Boynton calls it the “freak factor.” He says a freak factor is a quality or skill a player possesses that’s better than the others, and that everybody has their own specific freak factor skillset.
Boynton says Hubi has a stellar freak factor combination. “Hubi’s got a very lethal backhand. He takes the ball very early, so the ball is on his opponent quickly. He’s got a very good serve and he is overall amazingly athletic. The big thing about Hubi is his mental side of competition; he fights to the absolute end. He hates to lose. Hubi is switched on for every single practice and for every single match. He always shows up to play. Hubi’s got power and control. He can beat you from the inside out, and he can get in your face and beat you toe to toe. So from that standpoint, that’s his freak factor.”
Boynton says Rafa Nadal was nicknamed “The Bull” for a reason. “His freak factor is his competitive spirit,” he said. “He’s another player that’s never had an off moment. No matter what happens with Rafa, he truly shows up for the next point. He is incredibly resilient and doesn’t let anything cloud his vision. Plus, his rotation on the ball, the spin of the ball is so heavy. And what Rafa does so perfectly is that when his opponent misses the ball or puts it in an area where he can grab control of the point, he just squeezes them to no end. He runs them all over the court in only a short period of time. For people at home that haven’t seen Rafa play live, his ball just absolutely explodes off the forehand side and there’s so much rotation; when it hits the court, it just jumps out of the strike zone so quickly. To beat Rafa, players have to develop a certain set of skills because if they are lacking, it doesn’t matter. Eventually the ball will find his forehand and he’ll be playing front foot tennis with his competitive spirit and become his opponent’s worst nightmare.”
Weighing in on 16-year-old women’s tennis prodigy Coco Gauff, Boynton says her freak factors are unparalleled. “She is extremely talented. Coco is the type of athlete that could play whatever sport she wanted to play and excel. She’s got incredible hand-eye skills, takes balls early, and plays a fierce game.”
Boynton says the real upside with Coco is her youth. “She’s so young and already so good that once she really learns the ins and outs of tennis–managing not only herself, but her game, her schedule, etc.–there’s obviously a very high upside. I’m a big fan of hers.”
For Coco’s future, he referenced winning advice from renowned football coach Nick Saban who said, “not getting ahead of yourself is key.” It’s important to drown out the noise and expectations that others have; just focus on improving a little each day. Boynton noted that “maximizing her insane talent” will also depend on her inner strength plus the people and coaches around her.”
If there were a professional player outside the world of tennis that Boynton would love to see play the sport, it’s Golden State Warriors point guard, Steph Curry. “First of all, how athletic do you have to be? Not only be in the NBA, but be a point guard in the NBA? You’ve got to have incredible hands. You’ve got to be able to see the floor, and you have to be able to manage multiple things going on at one time. The amount of touch and hand-eye coordination and athleticism that he has is remarkable And I would just love to see him get the tennis racket in his hand and see what he could do!”
In next week’s post, we’ll learn what Boynton has been doing in this stay-at-home period, what he sees happening when it ends, and more about being an elite coach.