Q&A: Michael Joyce,
USTA PD national coach
Arthur Kapetanakis | January 19, 2021
Michael Joyce, who spent nearly a decade coaching former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova earlier in his career, has now joined USTA Player Development as its newest women’s tennis national coach. The 47-year-old started his post at the USTA National Campus this month, working with transitioning professionals and young American pros in Orlando, Florida.
After getting to know Sharapova as a hitting partner, starting when the Russian was as young as 9, Joyce joined her team full-time in late 2004, soon after she shocked the world by winning Wimbledon at 17. Coming on after the 2004 US Open, Joyce had immediate success in bringing his charge out of a post-London slump—Sharapova won the WTA Finals title later that year, near Joyce’s hometown in Los Angeles, no less, as she returned to top form.
After guiding Sharapova to two Grand Slam singles titles (2006 US Open, 2008 Australian Open) and the world No. ADVERTISEMENT 1 ranking on several occasions, Joyce linked up more recently with Americans Jessica Pegula (2011-17), Samantha Crawford (2015-16) and Shelby Rogers (2015-16). After brief stints with Victoria Azarenka, Johanna Konta and Eugenie Bouchard, Joyce most recently helped Timea Babos of Hungary win three Grand Slam doubles titles, from 2019-20.
Prior to his coaching career, Joyce had an injury-impacted ATP career that saw him reach a career-high ranking of No. 64 in 1996, including a run to the Wimbledon fourth round in 1995. Throughout his time on the tour from 1991-2003, Joyce notched victories over the likes of Pat Rafter, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Jim Courier and Michael Chang, among other top players.
In joining the USTA, Joyce is back among many familiar faces, having worked with the organization at various times throughout both his playing and coaching careers. His relationship with Kathy Rinaldi, Head of Women’s Tennis with USTA Player Development and U.S. Billie Jean King Cup Captain, extends many years, as he explains in the following Q&A.
Read on to hear the Santa Monica, California, native discuss his coaching philosophy, his goals in his new role and much more.
Q: How will your role fit into the new player development framework at the USTA, and what are you most excited about as you get started at the National Campus?
Michael Joyce: Player Development has gotten a lot smaller. In some ways that kind of fits my philosophy a little bit. When I was younger, everything was a little bit smaller.
The USTA helped me when I was a junior, tremendously. Robert Lansdorp was my coach. I certainly couldn’t afford to have my coach travel with me full time, and my parents were working. To be able to travel to those tournaments and have great coaching through the USTA, along with them helping with my expenses, was huge for my career.
It’s really pricey to be on the tour, especially when you’re starting out. I was able to work with Jose [Higueras] a lot and go to Palm Springs and I had great training weeks and I was able to Courier was there and Todd Martin and all these guys. To be able to train with them and see what they were doing was priceless.
I think that’s what Kathy and Martin… their vision is to kind of bring that back more. Not that they haven’t had it all the time, but with so many coaches and so many players, it’s a little tough to get that kind of continuity that you need, for the player and the coach.
I’m looking to really focus on a couple of players, where I can eventually travel with them. If I could, this year hopefully, spend 20-25 weeks on the road where I’m with the same players, it would be good for them, and then obviously having them training here a lot too.
The resources here are amazing; to give an opportunity for a young player to have that is amazing,
Q: How will your approach be different as part of a coaching team, coaching a few players, as opposed to being a private coach, as you have been for most of your coaching career?
Joyce: That was one of the things that I thought about.
What’s interesting is—especially when I was coaching some of the more successful players over the year—I always feel like a player needs a team around them. For me, a lot of times, I’ve been thrown into a situation where I’m working with a player and I have to put together a team around us.
A lot of it depends on how much money they make and different things, but ultimately you can’t do it all yourself. I’m the one that’s there on the court with them day in and day out. But you always have to have a good trainer and physio and all this stuff. And then they get injured…
I was actually teasing Kathy [Rinaldi] and Martin [Blackman, General Manager of USTA Player Development]… I have probably like 20 doctors’ numbers in my phone, reaching out to different therapists. So I’ve kind of done everything on my own, but I’ve had to seek that out.
And so in this way I feel like it’s going to make my life a lot easier because everything is done right here.
The coach is kind of like the quarterback that has to keep everything running. The players really only have to focus on their training and practice.
Q: Can you share your overall coaching philosophy? What will you key on as you begin to work with new players?
Joyce: I’ve coached boys and girls and pros… I kind of ran into the role of being a women’s coach mostly because of Maria, being so successful put me on the map as a women’s coach per se.
Obviously after her, most of my jobs have been with women. When I’m not on the tour with somebody or have been home, I’ve worked with boys as well. But I feel like I’ve had a lot of success with women, and a lot of it has to do with the player. Every player is different. I’ve worked with different players at different points in their career.
Each player has different things to work on, obviously. But I feel like being able to maximize the player’s game, knowing what their identity is, how they’re going to play against certain types of players… that’s why I really enjoy working with player who are right on the verge of breaking into the pros, or a really good young pro that’s trying to get to the next level. Because a lot of it, it’s small things. But I think it’s really important that they understand their game, that they understand what it takes to stay healthy, taking ownership of their careers.
I think a good coach does all those things. Ultimately when the player’s done with you, a lot of the stuff they know themselves. Obviously in situations, I’ll coach a little different, but I feel like I have a pretty good track record with those types of players and at that age. They’re like sponges… everything is new to them.
I’ve worked with a few players who have been kind of… let’s say they’re in their mid to late 20s or maybe they were really at the top of the game at one point and then they dropped. I’ve been able to help some of those players, but I feel like they’re always trying to get back to what they were, they have some pre-notion in their head about how they need to play. A lot of times you can help them, but at the end of the day you’re not really teaching them, if that makes sense.
I really enjoy this age of 15 to 20, let’s say, where you feel like you’re actually teaching them to become better and learn.
A good coach can adjust to the situation. It’s like, I could sit there and watch a football game on the weekend, and we all are like ‘experts,’ right, and can say this team needs to do this… It’s not that hard to figure out what people need. What’s hard is getting them to do it. That’s why continuity is important. The player has to have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish.
Q: You’ve had a relationship with Kathy Rinaldi that stretches back quite a bit. Can you tell me about how you’ve gotten to know each other, and what you’re looking forward to as you begin to work with her on a daily basis now?
Joyce: When I was coaching Jessica Pegula, she lived in Boca [Boca Raton, Florida]. At the time, the USTA headquarters were in Boca, and we’d go over to the USTA quite a bit and play practice matches and different stuff. So I was dealing with Kathy quite a lot then.
And then when Martin came in, they put some training weeks together during the offseason and they even brought in a few private coaches, and we’d get paid a little bit to come. For me it was easy; I was living there anyway. I also went to some of the meetings and gave some information and we’d try to have the girls train together and do some fun stuff together. So I got to know Kathy really well then.
And then later I worked with players like Samantha Crawford and Shelby Rogers and Melanie Oudin… and I was always in contact with Kathy because she knew those girls really well.
We go pretty far back. I think she has such a great vision and she wants to see everybody succeed and help as many people as she can. I think it’s going to be great working with her more closely now.
Q: Looking back on your own playing career, what memories stand out?
Joyce: My career was a little bit strange because when I did turn pro I ended up getting injured, dislocated my shoulder. My first year and a half on the tour I missed quite a bit.
I remember getting to the fourth round of Wimbledon. Wimbledon was always special to me, I also got to the finals in the juniors there. I like playing on grass. I remember growing up and watching Wimbledon all the time.
I remember those years when I was in my early 20s, I was doing well for a few years. That’s why I’m so big on taking care of your body, strength and conditioning, injury prevention. I had some bad luck.
I had the shoulder, I had this really bad tendonitis in my left wrist. I had a two-handed backhand and… back then we used to get cortisone shots… and eventually the tendon ruptured. My backhand was never quite as good as it was before I hurt my wrist.
Q: How does that experience inform your coaching today?
Joyce: The game is so physical now. It was physical back then too, but in a lot of ways it’s even more physical, especially the women. You’ll see all the time, by the semifinals, final, somebody will get hurt or something. Being able to play at a high level, day after day, it's even more important in some ways than when I was with Maria.
The first two or three of matches she was killing people. But the depth is much deeper now, so you don’t see the top seed winning the first couple matches 1 and 1.
I actually think the top players then were better than the top players and more consistent than the top players now. But a girl that's ranked Top 100 or even Top 200 now is much better than a girl ranked Top 200 then.
Q: Do you think that comes down to better coaching, or maybe better technology or overall knowledge… a clearer understanding of what it takes to get to that level?
Joyce: There’s a lot more money in the sport, from prize money alone. You can see from the Australian Open, first-round singles losers make about $70,000, just for playing the tournament. If you’re Top 100, you can add that up, if you lose first round all four Slams, that’s around $300,000
Kathy and I joke around about that all the time, when I was playing, when I got to the fourth round of Wimbledon I made like $40,000. First round US Open was $5,000. Even Maria, when she won the US Open she got 1.2 million, which at the time we thought was a ton.
But now, what, [Ashleigh] Barty won like $5 million last year. [Editor’s Note: Australia’s Barty won $4.4 million for winning the 2019 WTA Finals, the biggest prize in tennis history. She also won $2.6 million for winning the 2019 French Open.]
With that money, players can have bigger teams around them. Even when I was playing, it was unheard of to have a coach and a trainer or a coach and a physio. It was unheard of.
With Maria, when she started making a lot of money, we were debating whether to have a trainer or a physio. We decided to go with the physio because we thought she couldn’t train that much at tournaments anyway.
Just think about that... that was a big decision. Now it’s like a norm. You’ll see girls ranked 80 that have three people with them.
It’s certainly why there’s a lot more longevity in the game. And the athletes from the women’s side, they’re all athletes now. Before you had some girls that did well because they hit the ball well, and they were not in the best shape. You don’t see that anymore.