“I was born and bred in East Hampton,” Paul Annacone told Hamptons.com. “There’s such a great quality of life.”
This summer, the former professional tennis player and current tennis coach (who has worked with Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Sloan Stevens) has teamed up with Gold Coast Sports Academy for Paul Annacone’s Tennis Academy. The camp is open to boys, girls, and teens ages 5 to 16 and will take place at various locations throughout tri-state area, including the Hamptons.
When he’s not traveling for work, Annacone splits his time between Los Angeles the East End. “This summer, with the Gold Coast Sports Academy affiliation, I’m looking forward to spending some more time out there with the kids and watching people get the rackets in their hands,” he told us. “It should be a lot of fun.”
We caught up with Annacone to learn more about the camp, his coaching philosophy and his favorite players to watch.
What drew you to tennis?
My parents played when my brother and I were little. They were both school teachers and we didn’t have a ton of money, so instead of babysitters, they brought my brother, Steve, and I to the parks. When they were playing we would be running around and at the end, we’d get to hit some tennis balls. I kind of fell in love with it as a little, tiny kid and my parents thought I had a little bit of a talent there, so I started playing junior tennis from there. It just blossomed and it was like a dream turned into a goal and a goal turned into a lifestyle for me, which is quite nice.
Did you play on any local school’s teams?
I did. I graduated from East Hampton High School, back in 1981, and played some high school tennis there. I left high school for 2 1/2 to 3 years in the middle of my high school career because there was no indoor tennis out there. So I went to Florida to Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy, so I could chase my dreams of professional tennis and get a college scholarship. But, I wanted to graduate with all my high school friends, so I came back and graduated from East Hampton High School. Then I went on to University of Tennessee for 3 years and after my third year I went pro and had a 10 year career playing on the professional tour. That got me into my coaching career. I’ve avoided real work for this long I figured I might as well keep up the good luck.
At what point did you realize you were good enough to pro?
When I was in college, between my first and second year, I went from about being ranked 50 in the country to number 2. I made a really big jump after my first year and then it kind of became a reality that I could probably have a chance at becoming a professional tennis player. After my second year, I was debating whether or not to go back to college, which I did for 1 more year, and then my third year in college, I was college Player of the Year. I didn’t win the NCAAs, but I was ranked number 1 in the country. Right after the NCAAs, about a month later, I qualified for Wimbledon. I ended up getting to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, nearly a month out of college. I lost to Jimmy Connors there and that was the springboard of hey, I actually can do this.
You’ve coached Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Sloan Stevens. When working with such accomplished players, do you adjust your coaching methods to address each player’s game?
That’s the tricky thing about individual sports. To be a successful coach of an individual athlete, you have to conform more to how that athlete receives information. You have to have an openness to different types of personalities. Whether it’s coaching those great players you just mentioned, or working with individuals at the camps. Part of our goal at the camps, in particular, is to get to understand how differently the kids think and try to get the right message across. My mantra is to figure out how to say what you want to say the way that player needs to hear it.
Who are some of your favorite players to watch and why?
Right now, it’s been an amazing era. In the men’s game you see [Rafael] Nadal, [Roger] Federer and [Novak] Djokovic all doing historic things. To see that has been quite a special time, for me, after being fortunate enough to spend 4 years with Roger and 7 years with Pete [Sampras]. I love watching that because I feel great players push each other and they make them play at newer and higher heights. I remember that with [Andre] Agassi and Sampras. I remember it back when I played with Connors and [John] McEnroe, and McEnroe and [Björn] Borg. On the women’s side you see Serena [Williams] doing things that no other woman has ever done and it’s just incredible. Serena’s arguable the best athlete that’s ever played the game. To see what Serena’s done and the longevity of her excellence, for me, as a coach, it’s fun to watch because it gives me new information and great pleasure to watch people achieve greatness. There’s a lot of youngsters that we don’t hear about unless you’re immersed in the tennis community. There’s a lot of young American men and women coming up, I think that that’s going to start to filter out in the next 24 months.
What made you want to start the Academy?
When I first talked to the folks at Gold Coast Sports Academy, I wanted to understand what they were trying to do and what their philosophy was. I had reservations because I’m just not there all summer. I wanted to make sure that their philosophy was very similar to mine, which was the hook. Their philosophy is how do we have the kids have a good time and how do we point them in a direction with that good time, so they can see how good they can be, regardless of what that level is. When we started talking about that, we started talking about coaching philosophy. The tricky part was, how can I do this if I’m not there every day? And then it became very simple, because my brother has a business, Annacone Tennis Management. My brother Steve was my coach throughout my professional career, so my brother has the coaching philosophy. I talked to him and said “I can’t be there every day, but the only way I feel good about something with my name on it is if my philosophy is being pushed. Since you have the East Hampton Tennis Club, and the Sag Harbor Park and Montauk Downs, why don’t we tie it in so you can ‘drive the bus’ when I’m not here.” That led to conversations with Gold Coast and we felt really comfortable because it would be Paul Annacone’s philosophy day in and day out; whether I was there or at Wimbledon or at a tournament in the United States commentating.
Where will it be held on the East End?
It’s going to be at East Hampton Tennis Club, Montauk Downs and Sag Harbor Park.
And it’s open to beginners through tournament level players?
That to me is the catch all. A lot of times people just want great players or beginners. We’re going to deal with all the skill levels.
For someone who is just starting out, what is the best thing they can do to improve?
Have a good time. For anyone who plays tennis, you can play from the time you’re 4 till you’re 104. If you enjoy it and reap the benefits of what the enjoyment does of hitting that little fuzzy yellow ball around, you can play it forever.
For more information about the partnership, visit goldcoastsportsacademy.com.