Coach Scott Davidoff has worked with a bunch of Indian players over the years and has gone on record to say that “India has a special in my heart”. In this chat with me along the lines of the Cincinnati Masters event, Davidoff shares about his journey in tennis, his experience working with Indian players, Bopanna’s stellar 2022 season, Sania’s farewell year, and much more –
Q) You took the University of Colorado to Division I as a player. And then won Regional Coach of the Year as the head coach of your alma mater, before doing what you have been doing on the pro tour. How would you sum up your journey in tennis so far?
I feel very blessed to be able to do what I love. After my collegiate career as a player and after playing a short amount on the Tour, I felt I had the capability and opportunity to get into coaching at the Division 1 university level here in The States. I realised it was a passion that I truly loved and wanted to stay with. Timing is a big part of certain things in your life.
I had a great experience coaching at the university level for 6 years. Then the opportunity came along to start coaching an ATP player on the tour. A few years after that I got with Mahesh Bhupathi, and we created a special coach-player bond. That created my journey into India, where I would go for a few months of the year and help the juniors and other pro players along with Mahesh. Since early on in my coaching career on the ATP/WTA Tours, India has been an integral part of my learning & coaching experience. It’s a home away from home for me, and it has a special place in my heart.
Q) You’ve been working with several Indian Tennis players over the years – Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania Mirza, Rohan Bopanna, etc. What has your experience been working with them?
It’s beyond words. To speak about it, I get emotional about it. They’re very special in their own right. What they’ve accomplished is mind-boggling. As a coach, to have helped them achieve what they have, it’s just been special to be a part of their journey. We have a coach-player relationship, but they’re also family. They’ve always supported each other since the time I started in 2005-06.
Sania, Mahesh, Rohan – they trust each other and have always been there for each other. And not only for each other, but also for India as a country. They’re very patriotic and a lot of what they do is because of their love for India. The support they have from fans back home is amazing. I learn from them everyday. And despite what they’ve accomplished already, we’re still learning everyday.
They’ve been on Tour for over 20 years, but there are still things we’re working on everyday. I try to keep them motivated and try to ensure that they’re still enjoying the experience. Once you stop enjoying, it becomes tough to keep moving forward. India is a critical part of who they are.
Q) Rohan has been having one of his best years on tour at age 42. Has it caught you by surprise? What’s your take on it? Especially given he hadn’t won a single match in 2021 until May or so?
For me, it’s not a surprise. Being with Rohan for so many years, I know his capability. He’s had a lot of success. Last year, he didn’t have success for many months, it was a struggle. In the last 16 months, he’s been healthier than ever now, even at his age. He wakes up really early every day, it’s the little things. He hasn’t had an injury recently. Also, with the pandemic easing out, his family has been able to travel with him. So it makes for a better experience overall for the player and you can enjoy more. His wife Supriya has been really supportive and they have incredibly special relationship.
One thing that stands out for Rohan for me, even when he was transitioning from singles to doubles, is that he has the ability to solve problems on his own. I can see him missing a shot and then analysing as to what went wrong. I still give my input wherever I need to. But it’s been wonderful to see him become a coach and mentor to the numerous players at his own academy. It’s enjoyable to see him have such a great season. We keep moving forward. I keep telling him that he’s one of the best players in the world right now, even at his age. We’re doing our best every week, even with wins and losses. We keep moving forward, and that’s the most important thing.
Q) Speaking of tough losses, he had one the other day against Khachanov/Shapovalov. What were your thoughts on that match?
In doubles, one or two points can change the whole match. Unfortunately, they had the opportunity the other evening to take advantage in the first set at 5-4. Khachanov and Shapovalov are really accomplished players and can play great doubles as well. Then there was an unfortunate rain delay as well for 30-40 minutes, which really slowed down the momentum down. Rohan and Matwe came out and were not as sharp for the first few points, and that is when the opponents capitalised and took away the first tiebreaker.
But Rohan is incredibly positive and stays in the moment. That’s what showed in the 2nd set tiebreaker, where he and Matwe turned things around. Then the match tiebreaker is really a lottery, it’s a combination of a lot of things. It could have been a straight sets win, but a super tiebreaker becomes tricky, it can go either way. But you have got to take the positives from the videos and keep moving forward. We’ll get ready for the US Open.
Q) Sania is playing her last year on tour. How do you feel about it? There will be a huge void in Indian Tennis after she hangs her boots…..
It’s quite emotional. Sania’s a special person and legend that we have in India, and not just India but around the world. She’s accomplished so much and she’s given so much to the game. But there’s still a lot to look forward to this season. We’re trying to get to the season-ending WTA World Tour Finals with Lucie (Hradecka). But we’re also trying to enjoy and cherish these moments. Tennis has been such an integral part of her young and adult life. But we’re competitive, and she wants to win. That’s why she is here.
Over the years, India hasn’t had the development of players, more so on the women’s side. We haven’t been able to capitalise on her career. What Sania’s done to inspire women and girls in India and around the world has been incredibly special. It’s something we need to celebrate.
Q) Given your experience with Indian players all these years, do you have any suggestions/tips for Indian coaches or players on what are the things they could work on to improve?
I’ve been part of Mahesh, Sania, and Rohan’s journey for 15 years. I would love to do more but I would like to see more camaraderie from all aspects, including the federation’s side. Coaches’ education is really important and maybe me and other coaches could go there and educate coaches on how to develop young players, and even pros. There is such a potential upside. As we have seen in the last couple of months, there are so many men (Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni, Sriram Balaji, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, etc) knocking on the Top 100 doubles rankings.
The other big thing is opportunity. You have plenty of courts in places like The States. In India, there needs to be more opportunity to play. Everyone really needs to come together to move forward and make a difference.