This week we were thrilled to interview renowned Argentine coach Mario Bravo, director of the legendary Escuela de Tenis del Club Independiente de Tandil since 1998. The academy in Tandil has been the home and training ground of Juan Martin Del Potro, Mariano Zabaleta, Juan Monaco, and Guillermo Pérez Roldán to mention just a few. Mario coached and traveled with national junior teams to COSAT tournaments in South America and Europe with great success.
RM: Hello Mario, it’s great to have the opportunity to talk with you. Can you tell us about the Argentine training system?
Mario Bravo with Nacho Menchon, Diego
Junqueira, Marcelo Gomez, Juan Martin
Del Potro. Photo: Negro Gomez Tenis
MB: As we say here in Argentina, every master has their book. In Tandil, we have a line of training which we learned from Raúl Pérez Roldán, the father of Guillermo and Mariana Pérez Roldán. He coached Franco Davín, who is currently the coach of Juan Martin Del Potro. He grew up with a philosophy based on four pillars: the automation, the control, the speed, and the tactics and strategies. Based on these pillars which were set over 30 years ago with my partner Marcelo Gomez, we have been in charge of the academy in Tandil. We have been updating the training system but always following the line of enduring, self-improvement and focusing on the importance of footwork.
RM: Could you describe how training loads and work focus changes for different age groups?
MB: In our academy, we start with mini tennis with a social objective; we seek the kids that enjoy the game. Overall, until age 13-14, we want our players to play matches enjoying the game. Starting at age 14, after approximately five years of development, we expect the junior players to improve their speed and use better strategies in their matches. Of course our main focus is formation and it is what we love to do until ages 18-20. At these ages, our players, for example Zabaleta, Monaco and Del Potro, find their personal coaches. We have about 250 players in our school, and every year we scout a smaller group of players to receive additional training. These kids must have a special character and they must really love tennis, as the additional training has fewer games and is more automated, always with the objective of building up a champion.
RM: At what age do you start working the mental game?
MB: We start working the mental aspect at age 16, and of course, if someone needs special help we provided professional support as needed. Our philosophy of teaching is based in discipline, which also translates to – if the junior keeps up with our system, they usually become mentally strong.
RM: How does the work load change for the juniors with professional projections?
MB: Starting at age 12, and depending on the physical fitness of each player, kids that are playing national competitions normally start training Monday through Friday for two hours plus one more hour of physical fitness training. Starting at age 14, and depending on their commitments to COSAT and South American tournaments, some start training twice a day and complete their academic studies online with flexibility for when they can prepare their courses. At 15 and older, they add in gym work, body positioning, tennis technique and training. We also add a fitness coach and a professional that works footwork, running and court movement. Germán Groppa is the professional fitness coach who has been with us for a long time. He is very experienced and has been working with players from Mariano Zabaleta and on.
RM: At what age do you recommend transitioning from green balls to the normal yellow balls?
MB: We have a great advantage in terms of tennis formation compared to USA, in our opinion, as for us the ideal surface to teach tennis is clay courts. Clay courts are slower which allows kids to execute all types of shots. It is very different for a kid that learns to play on hard courts which are much faster. We do believe that the transition to play with yellow balls is at age 12, but this depends on the physical aspects of the player. However, official junior tournaments in Argentina are played with yellow balls.
RM: Argentine players are known for their technical skills and also for being great fighters. Is the warrior spirit something that is developed at the academy?
Juan Monaco with Mario Bravo and Mariano
Zabaleta. Photo: Negro Gomez Tenis
MB: There could be a general vision and a particular vision about this. I will comment on the second one. We have had the opportunity to have great mirrors for our kids in our school. In the beginning, we had Guillermo Pérez Roldán; Mariano Zabaleta was able to see Guillermo training on the same courts. Later we had Diego Junqueira and Máximo González; Monaco was able to see Zabaleta, and later Del Potro was able to see Zabaleta and Monaco. This was a mirror of seeing these players working on the courts and seeing the hard work.
Also, an aspect of the history of Argentine Tennis was Guillermo Villas, who opened up tennis for the masses. Villas was the great symbol of tennis and effort, which in today’s tennis terms would be a Rafa Nadal. As the masses were able to play tennis, most of them also learned from their home lives that everything in life is achieved with effort.
RM: Looking back in your academy’s history, is there a common denominator between players like Del Potro, Zabaleta and Monaco, beyond their talents? What have been the details that set them apart from the rest?
Mariano Zabaleta, Juan Martin Del Potro
and Juan Monaco. Photo: Negro Gomez Tenis
MB: First of all, I would say their parents. They always allowed the training to be driven by the coaches and were supportive. In terms of game, the common denominator has been an aggressive style, in particular from the baseline. They are players that hit the ball really hard and have a very good technique playing modern tennis; at our academy we encourage them to hit the ball on the rise. They are all mentally strong in addition to their physical skills, which is very important in terms of formation.
RM: What is cross training like at the academy?
MB: As a matter of fact, all the boys mentioned earlier all played soccer until age 13-14. Girls usually play hockey, which is very popular with girls, and we also recommend volleyball.
RM: What is the best advice you could give to a promising junior player who would like to play professionally?
MB: I always insist that they should be champions of themselves. Ranking 1000, ranking 500, ranking 10, ranking 1, wherever you were able to achieve. But if you did it well and you didn’t leave anything behind, you didn’t leave anything to luck, you trained, you were committed, you were focused, you desired to do it, then you are a champion of yourself. That is what, for me, a teacher should seek; seek to try to help a kid to achieve the best they can do.
Mario Bravo is a renowned Argentine coach who has been instrumental in the development of many South American tennis players. He has coached top ATP and WTA tour professionals and is the director of the legendary Escuela de Tenis del Club Independiente de Tandil in Argentina. If you would like to know more about his academy, we invite you to visit his official site www.tandiltenis.com.