Reyes partners with USTA to craft
next wave of U.S. stars
Ashley Marshall | March 16, 2016
The longtime strength and conditioning coach of Andre Agassi believes the new wave of great American champions is right around the corner, and he plans to draw on his experiences working with the eight-time Grand Slam singles champion to make that vision a reality.
Gil Reyes will start working with groups of young pros and collegiate players on the pro pathway at his Las Vegas facility later this month, as part of his partnership with the USTA’s Player Development division. And he is more than ready for the challenge.
"I’m excited and I’m looking forward to it,” Reyes said. “I’m a person of inspiration. I love the work, I love the concept, and to me, this is an inspired opportunity. The talent here is extraordinary. The future for American tennis looks really good, and I’m excited and honored to be a small part of it. ADVERTISEMENT ”
Speaking from his Las Vegas home, Reyes (pictured above) is equal parts teacher, student and mentor. His training methods and reputation are revered among those inside the game. And his passion for helping athletes become the best they can be is embodied in his delivery, which can draw parallels with motivational speakers.
Then there’s the resume. Reyes, a former strength and conditioning coach with the University of Nevada - Las Vegas basketball team, is best known for anchoring Agassi’s team for almost two decades. But he has also worked with top-flight players Caroline Wozniacki, Grigor Dimitrov, Eugenie Bouchard, Belinda Bencic and Sabine Lisicki.
Fernando Verdasco credited Reyes with helping him mentally, physically and emotionally; Sorana Cirstea has attributed her improved physicality to training at his Nevada facility; and Agassi repeatedly praised Reyes as the reason why he was able to compete at a high level for so long. Most recently, Reyes worked with Angelique Kerber and was instrumental in helping her win her first Grand Slam women’s singles title, at the 2016 Australian Open.
“When you look at his track record, everything starts at UNLV with him being part of the team that won the NCAA championship,” USTA Player Development General Manager Martin Blackman said, referring to the iconic 1990 squad that featured Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon, among others. “Then it goes through his years with Andre, where he helped him finish his career as the fittest player on the tour in his 30s with eight Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal, which is amazing, to recently being able to work with a player like Angelique Kerber and help her win her first Grand Slam. The body of work and longevity speaks for itself.”
Now the coach is returning stateside to develop more homegrown talent. In his new post with USTA Player Development, Reyes will work with groups of three of four American players at a time, depending on their tournament schedules. Around 70 percent of a player’s time will be spent in the gym, with the remaining time split between on-court conditioning and hill sprints, based on the individual need.
“There’s no one set program,” said Reyes, who has previously worked with current Top 40 Americans Sam Querrey and Jack Sock. “They come through here with faith and hope and expectations of getting better, and you have to tailor the programs for each specific athlete. They will feel better prepared if the plan was the right plan for them. It’s that simple.
“It’s all predicated on respect. They’re younger than I am, but I tell them they’re not too young to be respected or too young to be listened to. The first one or two days, I tell them that I’m doing the listening and the learning and that I’m studying them.”
Reyes has subscribed to the listen-more-than-you-speak coaching philosophy since his time working with Agassi in the late 1980s. For Reyes, this is essential to creating a relationship with a player and ensuring the fitness program addresses the most important areas. That style complements his core approach, which he sums up in three words – ‘inspiration,’ ‘information’ and ‘application.’
"Without all three of those, as teachers and coaches, we are merely regurgitators of data,” said Reyes. “In order to inspire, we must be inspired. Then the information must be accurate and true and it must apply to them as athletes. You can’t broad-stroke their dreams, their strengths and weaknesses.”
By giving players the physical tools they need to succeed, Reyes believes athletes can begin building the intangible characteristics that separate champions from contenders.
“My job is to help them prepare to compete,” Reyes said. “They’re not coming into my gym to learn how to become weight lifters. They’re coming in to get greater explosiveness, quickness, stamina, power and endurance and to learn how that all comes together to help them compete and preserve. They know how to hit a forehand and a backhand and a serve. But do they know how to win?"
Blackman said reaching out to Reyes was one more step in a systematic process designed to give American players access to the greatest team of coaches and trainers available.
“Our approach is to not only leverage our existing staff of coaches and performance staff, who is world-class and are doing a phenomenal job, but also to not leave any stone unturned in looking for every possible competitive advantage that we can find,” Blackman added.
By joining forced with Reyes, the USTA has landed a coach who, Blackman said, has the ability to connect with athletes and to inspire and motivate them in a character-building way that speaks to a holistic training approach.
Reyes calls a player’s work ethic, desire and competitiveness their “court character.” He developed that phrase while working with Agassi, whom he described as the ultimate fighter, and he believes it’s that court character, built in conjunction with the physical improvements, that will define the next generation of American players.
“To see a player competing and battling down to the wire and being physical, that inspires me like crazy because you know you might have had just a little bit to do with their improvement and with their greater fulfillment of the sport,” Reyes said. “We’re dreamers, but let’s have this covenant, this promise, that our backbone will be as busy as our wishbone. If that’s the case, I think we have some smiles coming our way.”