New Beginnings: Jelena Jankovic and Chip Brooks
Tennessee native Chip Brooks has been working with Nick Bollettieri at the world famous Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy since 1977. He is currently in his second stint as the director of tennis there, and he has worked with such tennis legends as Boris Becker, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Mary Pierce, Anna Kournikova, Jim Courier and many others.Most recently, he helped guide Jelena Jankovic to the most prestigious title of her career last week at Indian Wells.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with him on the telephone just a day after Jankovic’s straight set win over Caroline Wozniacki in the final – here are some of the highlights of that interview.
Chris Oddo: You know Jelena pretty well because she’s spent so much time at IMG. Has that helped you get up to speed so quickly as her coach?
Chip Brooks: She kind of grew up here (at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy), but I haven’t really worked a lot with her since she’s been on the circuit. Most of the time she’s had a private traveling coach, but when she was here in December getting ready for Australia, I spent more time with her than I normally do.
I’ve always gotten along with her real well, and I think she feels comfortable with me because I try to keep things real simple with her. I do try to address weaknesses, but mainly I try to get her to focus on her strengths when she plays.
Chris Oddo: Sounds like you’ve got a good rapport with her now.
Chip Brooks: She had a parting of the ways with Ricardo Sanchez and I started working with her because she didn’t have a coach. I worked with her before Fed Cup, then she came back after Dubai for another week of work, then she went to Monterrey. She’s been struggling a bit since the Australian Open, so she asked if I would go to Indian Wells with her and I talked to Nick and he encouraged me to go.
Chris Oddo: How was that experience for you?
Chip Brooks: It was kind of funny because I hadn’t been on the road in quite a few years – I’ve got a wife and four kids and I’ve kind of just been tending shop here at the Academy – but it was good to go on the road. A lot of players and coaches – Maria Sharapova, Max Myrni, even Sven Groeneveld – were like “What the heck are you doing out here?”
Chris Oddo: Can you talk a bit about what has transpired between you and Jelena during the week?
Chip Brooks: The first thing I encouraged her to do was play doubles. She’s not really a doubles player, and she was kind of questioning why I wanted her to do it… When I was with Becker, he always wanted to play a few rounds of doubles at the beginning of a tournament. It made him be aggressive with a kick serve and make a high percentage of first serves. He had to hit targets on both his serves and his returns, and he constantly had to be moving forward, and all of that really helped his singles. So I encouraged Jelena to do the same thing and I really think that that helped her.
Chris Oddo: It seems like Jelena was bent on getting that first strike in many of the points at Indian Wells. Is that something you guys discussed?
Chip Brooks: Yeah, she’s not sitting back and waiting. Jelena is at her best when she is moving well and she is cutting the angles off.
Chris Oddo: Do you feel that a passive posture was making things harder for her during her struggles?
Chip Brooks: She was just getting a little tentative and getting back on her heels and moving parallel to the baseline and moving back instead of forward. But she wasn’t making adjustments with her shot selection when she was moving back. She was still trying to hit shots from 10 feet behind the baseline that were too aggressive. But she’s really starting to figure things out. That last match against Wozniacki was very similar to how she played in 2008 in terms of dictating play.
Chris Oddo: I also noticed that she served really well. I saw you spending a lot of time on the practice courts with her with the serve – were there any revelations out there?
Chip Brooks: No, just getting her to be more aggressive with her legs and her lower body going up through the serve. Just making sure that she gets off the ground where she’s getting more upward thrust instead of just getting all arm.
Chris Oddo: She did a great job of getting through a really tense 2nd set against Wozniacki and she didn’t face a break point.
Chip Brooks: We had worked a lot on her serving out wide to Caroline to try and open up the court a little bit. Her toss started drifting too far in the court when she served on the deuce side. That was why I wanted to get out there (the coaching visit just prior to the decisive 10th game of the final set) and get her to make sure that she brought her toss back a bit and made sure she made first serves. And she did it.
Chris Oddo: Tremendous win, you have to feel great about that.
Chip Brooks: I feel real happy for her because that was really a good springboard leading into Miami and the rest of the season.
Chris Oddo: Is there a game plan for these next few weeks to avoid a possible letdown?
Chip Brooks: The main focus at Indian Wells was just getting Jelena back to doing what she does best, and that’s controlling the baseline. You know, not letting other players push her back, not inadvertently drifting back – even if she has to take a ball on the rise.
Chris Oddo: I know Jelena’s quite a character. Did you guys have an over the top victory celebration?
Chip Brooks: No, I have some friends that have a winter residence in La Quinta. We got finished; she went back to her hotel, packed up and caught a flight out of L.A. I went to my friends, had a quick dinner and drove up to Ontario for my flight.
The only nighttime activity she did was going to the player’s party (when she was sick) and I made sure that she got home by 9:30 (laughing). We spent literally every night and day on site. We ate dinner there just about every night – got practice, got physio work on her leg, got a massage.
When we finished up if it was early enough I would head out and do some scouting of the players that were on her side of the draw – it’s been a while since I’ve been on the road and I hadn’t seen many of the women play live, so I spent a lot of time observing how they were playing.
Chris Oddo: So you’ve got Miami, then the Family Circle Cup – will you part ways after that because you’ve got too much to do as the Director of Tennis at IMG, don’t you?
Chip Brooks: Yeah, I’ve got a full time job… Nick left for Miami today. After that we’re going to sit down and try to figure out a strategy to help her – I’ll try to go to 6 or 8 of the bigger events and we’ll try to figure out a game plan where we can help her. If she decides to bring a full time coach in who can be with her all the time, that’s fine too. I’m just happy to help her any way I can.
Chris Oddo is a freelance tennis writer and blogger who is based in San Francisco, California. He is a regular commenter at OTB under the moniker The Fan Child. You can follow his blog at http://thefanchild.blogspot.com/.