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  • CDT Staff

Teaching The “Defensive Fighting Method” To Bring American Tennis Back To The Top Of It’s Game

A former Division I tennis coach and player for his alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University , Frederico Goncalves currently oversees the tennis program at Crandon Park Tennis Center, Home of the Miami Open. Since his tenure at Crandon began, Goncalves has been building an elite junior academy for American youth at the world famous tennis center, as well as coaching top 100 ATP tour players to prepare them for the hard court season each year. Goncalves primary goal is to teach his students his trademark method of play, and propel the future of American tennis back to the top of the global rankings.

As Director of Tennis at Crandon Park Tennis Center, where I have been coaching high level junior, college, and professional level players for the past two years, I have developed and coached a unique method that blends the best of clay court and hard court play. I have coined this style as the “Defensive Fighting Method.”

As a junior player from Portugal, I grew up playing tennis on iconic red clay courts, known for slowing the play of tennis down and elongating the duration of point play. Due to the nature of these courts, many players who learned tennis on clay are great defensive players. However, because the speed of the game is getting faster (due to technology in the racquets and overall increased athleticism of professional athletes), a more aggressive style of play is needed.

My Defensive Fighting style of play is a blend of hard court power playing with clay court endurance and stamina, both mentally and physically. I created this after years of analyzing play on the tour, training on clay as a junior player and hard courts as a college player, and noticing the nuanced evolution of the top players in the world.

I believe that players who grew up learning the game on clay understand the “game” of tennis much better. The points are always long and creativity is necessary to win. You are forced to win points using angles, touch, pure endurance, as points are likely to go for over 2 minutes. This is opposite of hard courts, where a powerful serve and forehand can win points very quickly. The Defensive Fighting methodology utilizes creative play on all surfaces, which gives my players a unique edge on their opponents.

An integral component to my Defensive Fighting method is staying focused and disciplined for long periods of time. My unique style of training as a junior with Portugal’s Davis Cup Coach Jose Vilela (1998-2003) has also helped me develop this in a Defensive Fighting player. At the beginning of every practice, we were partnered up and expected to have a 100-ball rally. It didn’t matter how long it took us to get there, the task needed to be completed before moving on with the practice. This type of practice not only trains players physically, but mentally as well. I coach my players that focus is a muscle, and that you must constantly stay engaged in the task at hand in order to improve focus.

After 2003 I started practicing with Nuno Marques (current Davis Cup Coach and previous 86 ATP), which gave me a much better insight of how the tour works and what it takes to become a professional player. After travelling all around the world playing ETA, ITF Junior tournaments, Satellites and Challengers, I realized that tennis is the hardest sport in the world because it makes you perform at the highest level technically, physically and mentality.

Several tennis analysts and some of my own clients have posed the question, “Why doesn’t the United States have any of the top professional players today?” Outwardly it appears that the US is not successfully developing the same caliber of players like they did in the early 1990s like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, or Jim Courier. These players were powerful at a time when tennis was not used to it. As players have gotten used to powerful styles of play and with the continuation evolution of racquet technology, it is no longer unique. Players today need both powerful play with consistency, endurance, stamina, and mental toughness.

This is where my Defensive Fighting method comes in. I believe players become more mentally tough when they are used to having to play defense and fight for most of their points. It is much more physically demanding and requires players to not only develop themselves physically, but mentally as well. Today’s champions such as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Caroline Wozniacki are powerful, but can play defense well and fight to win every point.

Therefore, I believe that my Defensive Fighting method gives my players the edge when "crunch time" comes. Joao Sousa, current 44 ATP, and Gastao Elias, 152 ATP, are both Portuguese Davis Cup players that have made vast improvements and made significant jumps in their rankings after implementing my Defensive Fighting method of play. I train them while they are in Miami preparing for the hard court season. I am looking forward to have them at Crandon Park Tennis Center to practice in July and August prior the US Open. Juan del Potro, Andy Murray, Caroline Wozniacki and the Williams Sisters are some of the champions that also enjoy coming to my club during the summer to train for the hard court season.

My Junior Programs such as Summer Camp and High Performance Training, which are also held at Crandon Park, draws juniors from all over the world. These juniors directly benefit from having professional players practicing in my facility and using my methodology. I train all of my junior players through the Defensive Fighting method, and have seen many players make great improvements in their games because of it. Some of them include: Alex Knight, Jemina Rodriquez, Richard Torres, and Sophia Morales. It is my passion to continue to coach the Defensive Fighting style of play to American juniors and help bring American Tennis back to the top of the game!

By Frederico Goncalves, Director of Tennis at Crandon Park Tennis Center, Key Biscayne, FL

About Crandon Park Tennis Center

The 13,800-seat stadium court is the centerpiece of the Tennis Center at Crandon Park facility, home of the Miami Masters in Miami, Florida since 1987. The Miami Masters uses twelve courts for competition courts, plus six practice courts. The facility is also home to two European red clay courts, four American green clay courts, and two grass courts. During the majority of the year when the Miami Masters is not on site, the Crandon Park Tennis Center is a Miami-Dade County park that is open to the public year-round. Cliff Drysdale Tennis is located at the tennis center and offers year-round clinics, camps, private lessons, and an elite high performance academy for junior players led by Frederico Goncalves.


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