Mal coaching at Milton in 1965

Mal coaching at Milton in 1965

Members of the Palmwoods Tennis Club are delighted with their new coaching strength. The Club’s new coach is Lucas Kawka and the director of coaching is well known Queensland identity Mal Murphy.

At 78 Mal has had a broad and satisfying tennis career path, playing with the greats and even stringing their rackets. Here Mal records some of the stories and reflects on coaching modern day tennis.

I first came to the Coast in 1966 from Brisbane. I stayed here 13 years, establishing various junior movements and coaching fairly solidly. Then I was head coach and manager at the  Milton Tennis Centre and my wife ran the pro shop.  Young people came from all over Brisbane because Milton was so central. I stayed there for 6 years, also stringing rackets for all the visiting Davis Cup teams, including the Aussies.

Mal stringing rackets for Pat Cash

There was no professional tennis as such in those days. Once you turned pro, as I did in 1959, you weren’t allowed to play in any amateur tournaments or even fixtures. Even Rosewall and Laver couldn’t play for many years.

You’d play and get a trophy but no money as an amateur. It was hard to find the time or the money to play around the country. That’s why I turned professional, hoping that open tennis would start, but I was out of it for 9 years.

Turning professional meant coaching and over the years I’ve coached the national 16 champion and the national 19 champion. In later years I worked with Jay Gooding from Nambour who got up to number 400 in the world which is pretty high. He’s doing well now in New York with a coaching business.

I am a national director of coaching and the Queensland rep for the Australian Tennis Professionals and I have put Lucas through his first and second levels.  My function is to give him guidance if and when he wants it, or I can take over from him if he gets sick or has to go away.

Harry Hopman's Florida coaching camp

Harry Hopman's Florida coaching camp

My approach to coaching is that I like to let natural talent have a go rather than make them hit the ball the same way.  I met Harry Hopman playing the Queensland Open and he said to me once  if it’s reliable and effective and it stands up under pressure just leave it alone.

Harry invited me to take some players to his camp in Florida for a few weeks.  He had a wonderful setup with 42 courts and 3-4 players and one coach per court. All groups were doing the same drill at the same court at the same time of the day and Harry’s psychology  was  if you didn’t put in your best effort you got dropped into a lower group. So there was natural competition and it worked beautifully.

The tennis match I enjoyed the most was a game of doubles I played against Hoad and Rosewall on the centre court at Milton. Although we won the first round, playing those guys in the second round was a marvellous feeling.

On the cover of the California-based magazine, World Tennis

On the cover of the California-based magazine, World Tennis

I remember I aced Geoff Brown once and I still remember it. But the umpire said foot fault and I said what did I do? He said you jumped. You weren’t allowed to jump in those days. Brown got to the Wimbledon final in the late 40s. He was one of the first guys to wear shorts.

If I was giving advice to aspiring young players I would say think very seriously. I’ve  seen a lot of talent which didn’t develop fully because of the unrealistic expectations they have of how easy it is to become a tennis pro. I have worked with guys who have tried really hard, slept in airports, so they could be on the tour.

But you must put in the effort .  I had a girl who came down to Milton to train. She would fly down  all the way from Townsville. She had little talent  but she got up to No 2 lady in the state because she just worked and worked and worked. You need that work ethic linked with a little talent. And, if you are a natural athlete too, then you’ve really got something!

For coaching to be effective, first the coach has to know what he’s talking about, then the pupil has to believe the coach knows what he’s talking about. The coach is not going to get the pupil to do anything that’s unrealistic to his ambitions. Sometimes coaching means that the pupil gets worse before they get better. The technical flaws mean they will sink down and then improve overall.

There is a big difference between teaching guys to play tennis and teaching them to hit a ball. Entirely different. Just feeding balls to a pupil is not enough. You see some  juniors hitting balls but get them to play a strategic game, and put the ball in a different place, and they don’t know how to play. That’s the big thing.

Tennis is becoming stronger in Palmwoods and once the new centre is completed we can really get it rolling. At the moment there are six good courts, but we need a club room and a pro shop, a place to relax with atmosphere so that you have a reason to come back.

As for modern tennis, there’s too much emphasis on power and velocity these days. The only time players come to the net these days is to shake hands. The volley game has all but disappeared but we live in hope that it will return”.