Gunter Bresnik: Planning A Practice Session
The veteran Austrian coach, 55, gives an insight into his methods
If there were a tennis tee-shirt proclaiming ‘Been There, Done That’, Gunter Bresnik would surely wear it. Having spent three decades working as a coach, the Austrian has trained close to 30 players – including a nine-month stint with Boris Becker – in the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings. As coach to Dominic Thiem for the past 11 years, Bresnik talks to ATPWorldTour.com about the keys to planning a practice session in the first of a new Coaches' Corner series.
What are the main differences between planning the structure of a practice session before a tournament or during a tournament?
Mainly, the practice sessions are before or after a match. Before a match you oversee a warm-up, ensure your player feels all of his shots and maybe draw his attention to a few pointers for the match. After the match, you basically need to pay most attention to the shots he hasn’t done so well, with focus on the next player and what is necessary for the match.
The intensity differs depending on whether you have a match the next day, whether it’s a three or five-setter or an indoors or outdoor tournament. It makes the difference in the physicality of the practice. The intensity in the off-season, when you’re not at tournaments, is much, much higher. Then, you target the shots he’s not doing so well immediately. I pay most attention to the shots he does best and does worst – nothing in between.
How quickly after a match do you get your player back onto a practice court?
Sometimes immediately, in order to get certain things out of the system. If a player loses a match, I never get them on a practice court afterwards. If he won a match, it is possible to practice, but they may need to eat something first or have a little rest. It won’t be intense, only 45 to 60 minutes in total.
If they have another match the next day, how long is the post-match practice session?
I am a bad example, because Dominic was practising very intensely in Nice last year after each of his matches for 90 minutes to two hours. The Tournament Director asked me, ‘Do you want him to lose early?’ He ended up winning the tournament. It’s not always stupid, but it depends on the player’s physicality and mental toughness. How much someone can take. There are a lot of players who worry about 15 minutes of training. I think if someone cannot handle half an hour or one hour of practice after a 90-minute match, then they are not ready for the Tour.
Do you have set times for each drill in practice, or do you adjust the drills based on things you’ve seen from a player?
Both answers are yes. I will set the time, then I will always adjust it depending on how well someone does it. If you conduct a passing shot drill, and someone hits a lot of passing shots in a row then I will stop early. If he isn’t able to do it technically, then I will adjust the drill. You cannot force the players to do things, as they are the people that employ me. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t do it. But it’s a question of how fast you can convince them to do it, because they need to do it to improve.
Do you focus on one main goal per practice or a variety of different areas?
I like to focus on a certain purpose, otherwise I do adjust if something is working really well or it doesn’t make sense. This is common sense.
How much of a say does a player have in planning a practice session?
It depends on the age of the player and also their intelligence and mental capacity. Usually, I have worked with players that have a big say.
When you were coaching Boris, what would he say – I want to do this, that?
It’s a big difference to work with a guy like Boris, particularly as I was a young and inexperienced coach at the time, and now. You had to approach things differently than I do today. In general, all the players who are Grand Slam winners know what to do and understand their needs better than the players who haven’t done that well. This is where you give the player more of a decision.
Tennis has changed in recent decades. Has that meant a change in the structure of the practice session?
I’ve been coaching for 30 years and never knowing how the game is going to change, you do a good job as a coach if you give the player a lot of opportunities. If you say today, we’re going to spin the ball two metres over the net as Mats Wilander did to win Roland Garros, then John McEnroe won Wimbledon and everyone started to take the ball earlier and chip and charge, it won’t work.
First of all you need to think about the needs of the game in general, then look at the abilities of the player. If you work with a 25 year old, then you don’t need to compromise as regards the needs of his tennis, as opposed to a 12 year old, who I would like to hit everything. The ideal player is Roger Federer, who understands the serve and volley game almost as much as the baseline game. It helped him this year winning the Australian Open, playing Mischa Zverev – who beat Andy Murray, and not as used to serve and volley play. Federer understood the serve and volley game, because he played against them early in his career.
The job of a coach is to give a player all the tools possible, if they are able to assimilate the information.
How have you stayed relevant, improved as a coach for 30 years?
Every single player improved me as a coach. Sometimes I benefitted more than the player, regarding my professional development. I’ve work with 27 Top 100 players – left-handers, right-handers, serve and volleyers, baseliners, quiet, charismatic guys.
With this knowledge and experience, it usually helps me to coach any player – when to talk to them, when not to say something, what tournaments to play, where they ought to be in their careers, where they should peak or be in one or two years’ time.
What advice are you offering Dominic right now?
I only want him to improve as a player. There are a lot of areas of his game that are far from his potential, which we are working on. We are not focusing on his [Emirates ATP] Rankings. I say it all the time, it doesn’t matter if he is No. 20 or No. 30, or still Top 10 at the end of the year, if he gets all the components of his game together, then he will play really well.
I can see his potential. If he puts everything together he has the potential to be a Grand Slam champion.