THE former coach of Pat Rafter says determination is the key to success.
Richard Howes was at the opening day’s play of the Margaret Court Cup in Albury yesterday with his stable of four boys from Queensland.
The well-respected mentor says Rafter was never among the junior elite — largely overlooked by Tennis Australia.
Howes says it is a failing of a system whose narrow focus limits the greatest opportunities to those ranked one and two in the country.
“Tennis Australia is doing a lot of things right,” he said.
“Certainly tournaments like the Australian Open, Brisbane, Sydney are among the best in the world.
“There are other junior programs helping tennis at a grass roots level but when a junior starts to rise to the top, the system fails.
“We have one or two with the support of Tennis Australia and they are given great opportunities to play around the world but if they don’t measure up they fall by the wayside.
“Sometimes, like Rafter, it is the kids at five and six who are more determined, have the greater chance to succeed.”
The Sunshine Coast-based Howes said his squad, that includes two players in the under-16 competition and two 17-year-olds in the open division, would use the visit to Albury to develop their game.
“In Brisbane we play a lot of hard court tennis,” he said.
“They tend to play from the baseline, using their ground strokes.
“But on this surface it is important to go forward, be aggressive.
“You are relying on your serve and attacking — opportunities you don’t get on concrete.
“It helps them develop a more rounded game, to handle any situation.
“It gives them another option, even on hard courts.”
Howes said Rafter, who he coached from the time he was 11 to 17, was always a talented sportsman but a late bloomer.
“He always had ability but would I have backed Pat Rafter to win two US Opens? I certainly wouldn’t have put my house on it,” he said.
“He was very small and even when Pat learned to drive his dad had to put a cushion on the seat so he could look over the steering wheel rather than through it.
“But at 17 he sprouted and at one stage we had to give him six months off — he was basically growing faster than his body could handle.
“The muscles were pulling away from the bone and he was in constant pain. But Pat was fiercely determined and just never gave up — you can’t coach that into a player, they either have it or they don’t.”