Edinburgh coach Marcel du Coudray is again flying the flag for Scotland’s national tennis academy, as well as assisting Russia’s former world No.3 Nikolay Davydenko, before and during Wimbledon which gets underway on the lawns of SW19 on Monday.
For the past few years, Marcel, South African-born but a Mauritius Davis Cup representative through family connections, has never been far from Davydenko’s side as a practice partner for as long as he is competing in the world’s greatest tournament.
The pair became friends at a tournament in Poland where Marcel’s wife, Monica, hails from, and the experience has provided fascinating insights into Wimbledon and for providing information that can be passed on to tennis students in Edinburgh about what it takes to reach the top.
“Absolutely I have brought back ideas to our National Tennis Academy,” says Marcel, adding: “From a personal awareness point of view I see the standard the top pros are producing on a day-to-day basis and that helps my understanding of where I am going with the kids.
“If a 14- or 15-year-old is talking about wanting to be a pro player I know the standard he or she has to maintain.
“It reinforces my conviction when I have to tell somebody they are not working hard enough in order to go down a very difficult path.
“The specifics of what you need to be a pro are incredibly difficult. For the Scottish youngsters, it is not impossible, but you have to train to the highest level and intensity.
“There are hundreds of guys practising and you could end up somewhere close to the top which could be No.500.
“That is very good, but you are not going to make much money at that level. That is why tennis is such a brutal sport – there are only about 120 guys in the world who are making a living from it.
“I will often be standing on a practice court with Davydenko amazed at how well he and the guys all around are playing and for how long because they are so fit.
“About a year ago, I made a comment to a couple of coaches that I had never seen tennis played as well as it was currently being played.
“One looked at me and said: ‘That’s a big call’, but I justified the remark by saying I didn’t think anybody had played tennis as well as Novak Djokovic was doing.
“I wasn’t hailing Djokovic the greatest player ever, but I don’t think anybody had ever played as well as he did at the Australian Open last year.
“Djokovic took the level of tennis up to new heights and Rafa [Nadal] has stepped up to the same mark. [Roger] Federer is up there and Andy Murray, too. It is remarkable how well the top guys are playing.”
So, just how will du Coudray assist Davydenko, a grand slam semi-finalist at both French and US Opens as well as the winner of the 2009 ATP world tour final?
“We’ll start hitting with one long session each morning and a shorter one in the afternoon when we’ll try to play some points. Nikolay will be trying to acclimatise to a different surface and that takes a little bit of time. There will be strength and conditioning sessions in between as well.
“Because the grass court season is so short, a lot of the guys, unless they are serious contenders, try and make it as fast as possible.
“Some game styles are more suited than others and those with more variety will adjust better than those who do one thing very well.”
He added: “Last year I had to be very creative getting practice facilities. We were calling on all sorts of contacts because it rained so much and Wimbledon backed up all the practices to half an hour per player.
“You can only virtually warm up in half an hour, so we were training at other venues around London.
“It is good for Andy Murray that he is playing the Boodles Club exhibition tournament because they allow players to spend the whole day there.
“You get to do a couple of hours of practice in the morning and then a competitive match without the pressure of having to win; you can try things out.
“Nikolay, who has just become a father, will take it one match at a time. He has had good results; in Nice this year when he lost to Brian Baker in semi-final, and to Federer at the same stage of the Rotterdam tournament.
“But he won’t be seeded this year, so could play one of the favourites early, but his big weapon – as always – will be speed.
“Other guys have big weapons, but Nikolay will be relying on speed and movement and, remember, he is one of the few with a plus-win ratio against Nadal!”
Revealing how much intensity will go into preparations, du Coudray said: “I was in the locker room when John Isner came off during one of the weather breaks in his marathon match against Nicolas Mahut two years ago. The physio went out and got bowls and bowls of pasta and started shoving it down him for recovery.
“They had the ice bags out straight away and it was interesting to see the amount of detail that went into his recovery after that match.
“The attention to detail, the amount of science that goes into preparing for the next day, the specific diets, the specific training regimes – it is very important when you think about the level they are trying to produce day after day. It takes a lot out of your body and you have to respect your body and put back in what you take out.
“That is why some players take two hours to get to a press conference and the media give them a hard time. But when they have played a tough match they have to look after themselves because they sometimes have a match the next day.
“What you don’t see on television is that, after every match, there are two or three hours of preparation for the next day. Media, stretching, cool down, rehydration, food and physio are scheduled, and there is a lot to be done before a player can go home and switch off.
“I will be with Davydenko virtually 24 hours a day. We stay in the same hotel and spend a lot of time together talking about how many hours before a match we want to go to the courts and how long to warm up.
“You have to time things so that when you go on court you are still warm and not rushed.
“There is a lot of discussion on a day-to-day basis, including about whether to practice at the same time as a match is scheduled in order to get into a routine. My role includes coming up with a plan that Nikolay is comfortable with.”