***“I pulled into Nazareth, I was feeling bout half past dead”. This lyric concludes as I pull into the once OTA tournament Mecca known as ‘Richmond Hill Country Club’. I find this only too fitting as my mission today is to extract wisdom from a half past legend. A former #1 in the world over 35, Hubert Karrasch is a man of straight edges from his disciplined tennis lifestyle to his geometrically chiseled jaw line, (probably a result of endless grinding). Hubert is currently taking the coach 3 while offering housing, full time coaching, and mental guidance to players that wish to be, get this, better than he ever was. If you don’t know him, you’d better google him. Hubert Karrasch now lives and coaches in Hong Kong.***
Conor Casey sits with Hubert Karrasch:
Conor Casey: We all strive to get the feeling, but only a few achieve it. What does it feel like to be ranked #1 in the world?
Hubert Karrasch: I have spent my whole life striving to be number one. I wanted to be #1 in my academy, the #1 junior in the province, #1 in Canada, etc. I achieved all these check points on the way so I guess it was a sense of relief to know that after 15 years and over 20,000 hours of focus on my sport that I was recognized as the best. On the other hand a ranking doesn’t define who you are and rankings are always in transition. I can’t say it motivated me anymore, because I am always motivated to play my best tennis. I do remember my legs going numb after hearing the news though.
CC: What is the number one factor that has been most essential for you as a player?
HK: Knowing what works for me. Self identity; knowing who am I and what needs to be done in order to be ready to fight to the death. It’s different for everyone. Personally, I am always searching for a competitive edge. My mind is constantly thinking about winning tournaments during practice and off the court. Only one player out of 32 or 64 can get an A+, the rest get B’s, C’s and D’s so I’m pushing for the A+.. Also having a game plan that accounted for my weaknesses because once a match starts you won’t be getting your favorite shot too often.
CC: You have switched your attention to coaching. What makes a good coach?
HK: As a coach I believe strongly in being a role model, and working in an environment where the coach collectively develops players as a team. I don’t buy into the concept of coaches saying ‘my’ players. One coach does not have all the answers. I like to monitor a player on and off the court, and guide them on the right path. I will supply the blue print, but tennis is like boxing. A player needs to spend a lot of time alone in order to improve and gain an understanding of who he or she is and whether the athletic lifestyle is for him. At the end of the day it’s your tennis and you need to care about it more than anyone else. You got to love the pressure. Pressure is a privilege.
CC: What is a common error you see in the Canadian tennis scene that you feel is harming our players?
HK: Telling a junior they are talent is the biggest mistake by coaches or tennis leaders; most often it backfires and the player never maximizes their abilities. I tell players they are a little above average because in the big picture, international standards, that’s their true level. Also the word potential is dangerous. It means you haven’t done it yet. Don’t tell me, show me.
CC: So as a culture do you think we cater too much to talented junior players?
HK: The Canadian culture caters too much period. There is too much attention to the idea of being 100%. Parents and coaches have instilled the idea that we need all players to feel at peace and at ease while playing tennis in order to be their best. This results in players thinking they can only play their best when they are 100% healthy, or comfortable. But, when are you ever at your best? A few times a year, maybe. We are incredibly soft. My generation, played thru most pain; now there’s a physio on every street corner. Playing through aches and pains, helps strengthen a player’s mental game. We see this in Canadian hockey (the best in the world), with the culture of tough guys. Canadian tennis has kids giving up because it’s too windy and parents carrying their bag to the court.
CC: I see that too often as well. Parents should put down the bag and let the kid carry the load.
HK: Hell ya. Tennis is a battle. A soldier’s mom ain’t carrying his gun for him.
CC: Who is your tenemesis?
HK: Right now it’s Jimmy Arias. I want that guys head.
To be continued…