Player Development Coach Profile:
Victoria Chiesa | December 15, 2021
With over a decade of experience as a tennis coach for some of the sport's most recognizable names, it's easy to think that Michael Joyce is the one imparting wisdom on players and colleagues alike when working in USTA Player and Coach Development.
However, as his first year on staff at the USTA comes to close, Joyce says that's not the case. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
"I think you're always learning. Tennis is always evolving. Being on the road, being at the tournaments, seeing how people are playing... I'm constantly learning. At the USTA, I've been learning about the different players, and I've learned a lot in how much the USTA does in tournaments and schedules," Joyce said.
"I wasn't aware how much work that Kathy [Rinaldi], Ola [Malmqvist, director of coaching] and [USTA Player and Coach Development general manager] Martin [Blackman] have to do to even put on a USTA pathway schedule. ADVERTISEMENT You take it for granted that you're just going to have tournaments, but the actual amount of time, work and money that goes into doing that calendar is a lot."
On the back of a private coaching career that saw him help Maria Sharapova to two of her five Grand Slam titles, and tenures with other top WTA players including Victoria Azarenka, Johanna Konta and Eugenie Bouchard, Joyce now gets to utilize the skills he honed working with these champions with young American players just starting their careers. After a longtime professional relationship with USTA head of women's tennis Kathy Rinaldi, who recruited Joyce to join the USTA during the COVID-19 pandemic, he arrived in Lake Nona in January.
Traveling with Sarah Hamner, now a freshman at the University of South Carolina, to a tournament last year, Joyce recalls how he met Rinaldi there: "She said, almost jokingly, 'You're coaching all these Americans, would you ever work for the USTA?'"
Joyce adds: "I didn't really want to be the type of coach to work with six players at the same time, so I never thought that my kind of coaching could be a fit for the USTA. For me, the work that you do at tournaments is just as important as the work you do at home, so I made it clear to Kathy and everybody that if I'm going to do this, spend the time away from my family and travel, that it was going to be productive. I wanted to come in and have one or two players that I'm going to have the time to do that with."
He's found a fit with 17-year-old Ashlyn Krueger from Highland Village, Texas. Krueger, the 2020 Orange Bowl champion, had a whirlwind 2021 that saw her win the USTA Billie Jean King Girls’ 18s National Championships, earning a wild card into the women's draw at the US Open as a result, as well as the junior girls' doubles title in New York with Robin Montgomery. Unranked to start the year, Krueger flirted with the WTA Top 500 in singles this season and won a round with Montgomery as wild cards in the US Open doubles draw.
"I think she has great potential. She has a big game and is a tall girl, but she's young in her tennis IQ and emotionally," Joyce says of the right-hander. "I went to Europe with her when she played the French Open and Wimbledon in juniors, and even though her results there could've been better, she'd never been outside the U.S. before. It's all about the learning experience. I think in the last few months, she's realized she can play at a high level, but at the same time, she has a long way to go physically, and learning both her game and how to play against more experienced players.
"It's a work in progress, but that's what I love about it because I feel like, at this age and at this point in her development, she can learn so much—a lot more than if I worked with someone who's 27 and been on the tour for 10 years, where it's a little tougher to make an impact. You also have to go with the ups and downs. It was great that she won Nationals. She could've lost early, because she started in her first round really nervous and struggled to get through a couple of matches. Physically, she's actually a little bit similar to Maria in that we found out she grew an inch this year [to 6-foot-1]—a lot of people don't realize that Maria was actually 5-foot-11 at 17 and when she won the US Open two years later, she was 6-foot-2. When Ashlyn grows a little bit more into her game, I think she has a really bright future."
Krueger is not the first fledgling American with whom Joyce has worked, however. After his tenure with Sharapova, he worked with Jessica Pegula for six years from 2011-17, and perhaps no one outside of Pegula's immediate family was more thrilled with her career-best 2021 than Joyce.
"I'm still really close with Jessie. She's my daughter's godmother... and Ashlyn is at the same point and age that I started working with Jessie full-time," Joyce said. "This summer, I got to go to the Olympics with her because Kathy asked me to come [as a part of the coaching team], and spending two weeks with her there was like the old days. I always knew she could be really good. She was under the radar for a while because of the fact her parents had a lot of money, and people might've thought that I was working with her because of that. She was also so close, so many times, and then she'd get injured or something would happen.
"This last couple of years, because she had those injuries where she came back from knee surgery and hip surgery, I think she realized how important it is to take care of her body. That, plus her maturity and the time she puts in taking care of herself physically, have all accumulated to her doing really well. I think she also believes that she can be there and that she can beat anybody. It's been a long journey, but I think she's in a really good spot now."
In addition to traveling as a part of the U.S. delegation with Tokyo, Joyce estimates that he was home for only about eight weeks during the 2021 season as he worked with Krueger, saying he feels it's crucial to be on the road with his players as much as possible. Krueger played 14 professional events in 2021 and another six in juniors, and thanks to Joyce's relationships with players on tour, was able to practice with WTA pros including Pegula, Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza at the high-level events she played in San Diego, Indian Wells and New York.
"I traveled more this year than I ever have. I still enjoy like the competition. I like working and then going into competition, trying to win and the matches. For me, that's still exciting," Joyce said. "Her getting a chance to practice with those players, it's priceless. Just for her to see where she's at compared to them and how they practice. I think that's just part of the experience of learning and growing, and having a coach like me who does have a lot of experience, can only help her on the road."
Moving into 2022, Joyce says he and his colleagues hope to continue to build the roster of players who train at the National Campus, both those in residence and those who come and go as they please. Having players with a range of experiences on campus, Joyce adds, can be mutually beneficial.
"I think the more players we can get who have Orlando as a training base, then it's going to help everybody. It's going to help the good players and it's going to help the young players. I think, ultimately, it's going to make everybody better at every level. I think that's what our vision is right now," Joyce said.
"I really love the people I work with. I think they really love what they do. The work players put in from when they're 14, 15, 16 through, let's say, 22... it gets them to the big results of their careers. It takes a village to get a player there. We do what we do because we love helping a player reach their full potential, and I think we all have the same mentality. We want to see the players succeed and do the best they can, and it's nice to work with a group like that."