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How to make a tennis champion, according to Sharapova's former coach



The moment Maria Sharapova stepped on the court, coach Gabe Jaramillo could tell she was special. At the time, the future No.1 tennis player was only nine years old but already exhibited rare qualities one couldn't find among her peers, the renowned tennis coach and motivational speaker told CGTN during an interview last month.

"Gabe, what am I supposed to accomplish today? What am I here for today? What am I working on?" Sharapova asked with excitement when they first met, recalled Jaramillo as he recalled memories with noticeable enjoyment. What really set her apart, however, was the incredible level of focus on achieving really big goals.

Sharapova was 13 when she competed in the Orange Balls, one of the biggest junior tournaments in the world, against French prodigy Marion Bartoli. After she lost the match, Jaramillo asked her to work on her serve which he believed led to her defeat. But instead of focusing on Bartoli, the young Sharapova had only one person on her radar – Serena Williams, world No. 1 player at the time .

"She'd played that match in her mind for at least five years. Every time she trained, in her mind she was playing against Serena Williams," Jaramillo said. "So, when she played at 18 years old, when she played Wimbledon, she beat Serena."

During his career, Jaramillo coached 11 world champions and 27 Top 10 tennis players including Jim Courier, Andre Grassi, Kei Nishikori and almost all of them show similar tenacity, resilience and drive, he said during the interview, which was held during the launch of the Chinese language edition of his latest book "How to Make Champions" published by CITIC Press Group.

In the book and the interview, Jaramillo repeatedly emphasized the importance of having the correct attitude for professional athletes both on and off the court. To him, attitude is like gasoline. A person can have the best vehicle in the world, but without gasoline failure is inevitable. For example, elite-level athletes tend not to fret over losses and can quickly focus their attention on the next match, he said.

Oftentimes, people tend to mix up talent and potential in the development of athletes when they are two very different things, according to Jaramillo. Talent has to do with genetics and is generally easier to recognize, such as height, coordination and physical strength. It also consists of cognitive abilities – seeing and anticipating the opponent's movement. But potential is trickier because it's intangible.

"Potential is how hard do they want to work? How much do they want it? How much do they love the game? Do they play without fear? And the list is long. And the thing is, if they miss just one of those, they won't make it. They have to be able to do it, to be able to achieve," Jaramillo said.

In 2003, the Japan Tennis Association invited Jaramillo to choose a promising young player to bring back to the U.S. for training. Out of all the candidates, he picked the least favored: Kei Nishikori.

According to Jaramillo, Nishikori possessed a key attribute of champions. While other players played conservatively under pressure, opting for safe shots and high returns, Nishikori exhibited bravery and resilience, showing no fear despite the intensity of the competition.

This quality convinced Jaramillo of Nishikori's potential as a true athlete. Training and building the mentality of a professional athlete can also help people in daily life, he said.

"If you think about all this stuff we have talked about, especially the mental part, the attitude, their brand – it will help a child, it will help a businessman, it will help a lawyer, it will help anybody," Jaramillo said.

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