Berger excited for role as Olympic tennis coach

July 20, 2012 10:43 AM
U.S. Men's Olympic tennis coach Jay Berger meets with the media while at the BB&T Atlanta open.
By Chris Starrs, special to

– Although Olympians Donald Young and Ryan Harrison were bounced early from this week’s BB&T Atlanta Open, Olympic men’s tennis coach Jay Berger doesn’t think the setbacks will affect the pair when play begins later this month in London.

Young, ranked 58th in the world, is 2-16 in singles this year and has not advanced past his first match in 12 consecutive tournaments dating back to February. He was eliminated in the first round this week by Steve Johnson.

"Donald has obviously been struggling, but what better time to turn it around?" said Berger, the USTA’s head of men’s tennis and an assistant coach at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. "Donald’s a great player, a very talented player, and (the Olympics are) a great opportunity to turn it around and rise for this great event."

The sixth-seeded Harrison, ranked 43rd, is 21-17 this year and was knocked out of the tournament in the first round by unseeded James Blake.

"Ryan is in great spirits and good form," said Berger. "Donald’s out there training hard, and Ryan’s out there training hard, so we’ll be prepared."

Also selected for the men’s Olympic team are John Isner, Andy Roddick and the doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan, who are not competing in Atlanta this week, although the Bryan twins – the No. 1 doubles team in the world and winners of the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing – are more than familiar with their coach.

"I’ve spent a lot of time with them," said Berger of the Bryans. "I’ve known them since they were 17 years old and actually traveled with them when they were juniors. I went over to the French Open and spent time with them, and I was with them at Davis Cup, and I talk to Bob quite a lot. He sent me a nice Twitter (image) of his baby daughter in Olympic gear holding a medal, which is actually pretty cool."

Although he has a long history as both a player and coach, Berger said his role with the Olympic team is based on his ability to connect with the competitors and his knowledge of the Olympic process.

"A lot of it has to do with my relationship with the players," he said. "I’ve known a lot of these guys for a number of years, and I’ve been involved in Davis Cup for seven or eight years in the role as coach with Patrick (McEnroe) and now Jim Courier, and I think I’ve got some great experience at the Olympics in China.

"The Olympics is an incredible event overall. Just to participate in China was amazing. To be able to go over there and help these guys win medals is something I’ll cherish the rest of my life, and hopefully I’ll make a difference in how we do over there, as small as it may be."

Berger added that one of his primary chores will be to keep his charges focused on tennis, which isn’t always easy to do in the Olympic atmosphere.

"It’s always interesting to balance the Olympic experience – staying in the village, the opening ceremonies – and weighing that with not losing sight of the main reason you’re there, which is to be successful," he said, adding that the Olympic Village in London is located more than an hour away from the All England Club in Wimbledon.

"When we were in Beijing, the process of the opening ceremonies (took) over 12 hours. You have to balance it. That’s a tremendous experience, and we have to prepare our players that it’s going to be different. There are going to be obstacles.

"Luckily, we have very experienced players who have played (in) big matches and have all had such great experiences. We’ll stay on task of what’s important, and that’s the process of playing their best tennis and being as prepared as possible and making sure they manage the distractions that can be around at an Olympics."