Tennis World USA had the pleasure of exclusively interviewing the University of Georgia women's tennis head coach Drake Bernstein. Former Bulldog national champion Drake was promoted to head coach of the University of Georgia women's tennis program at the end of the 2023 season, following the retirement of coach Jeff Wallace.
Bernstein was an associate head coach, under Wallace, for 11 seasons. The Bulldogs, in 2023, finished 26-5, with a final ITA ranking that saw the women's team finish at No.2. They advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Championships, the ITA National Team Indoor Finals and they won the SEC Tournament.
Drake has played an very important role in developing 36 All-SEC honorees, 36 All-Americans, 31 ITA Scholar-Athletes, three SEC Freshman of the Year selections, two SEC Players of the Year, and one National Player of the Year.
In addition he is the primary recruiter, traveling the world and participating in various Grand Slam tournaments, securing some of the best student-athletes in tennis in the world.
We wanted to congratulate you, mr. Drake Bernstein, to take on the role of new head coach of the University of Georgia women's tennis team, following Jeff Wallace's retirement.
Are you ready for this new big adventure?
Yes, I am very excited about the new role here at Georgia.
Jeff Wallace and I have worked together for 11 years here. I feel that time as his assistant and experience under his wing has prepared me to take over. I am excited to continue to build on the legacy he has left behind while putting a new, fresh fingerprint on the program.
What is the greatest quality that a head coach must have? The role goes beyond that of coach, and includes much more: psychology, motivation, being a terrain where tennis players grow.
It is a great responsibility, as well as an honor.
I think that a head coach, or any coach for that matter, must be able to put the players first.
In our case, we have 8-10 student-athletes who are the reason we have a job. It is important to remember that this experience is about them, putting our own ego aside. In my experience, the young women in our locker room understanding that I am here for them as a person first and as a tennis player second has helped build trust when it comes to talking about their game on court.
I believe that great people make great tennis players, so that is a huge part of our relationships.
The University of Georgia women's team won the 2023 SEC Tournament, got the semifinals of the NCAA Championship and closed the season ranked no.2.
It was a great season: what are the secrets behind these successes?
I don’t know if there are any secrets to success.
We work hard, we play together as a team and for something bigger than ourselves and we love the battle. Again, I believe that great people make great tennis players and also great people make great teams. We know that playing for our teammates, the University of Georgia, and all of our fans pushes us further than we could go alone.
How important is the technical staff in a season like this?
Every staff member plays a critical role at some point in the season. We have incredible resources, strength and conditioning, massage therapy, sports nutrition, academic support, sports performance coaching… the list goes on and on.
Throughout the year, all of these departments keep our student athletes healthy and in a position to perform at their best when it matters the most.
Who are the players who surprised you the most during the season?
Darja Vidmanova took a big jump in her game this year.
She is 6 ft. 3 in. and growing into her game more. Her serve is really becoming a weapon and she is connecting the dots to play a more offensive game. This season she reached a career high ranking of #4 in college. Also Anastasiia Lopata from Ukraine and came in took huge strides as a freshman.
When she started here in August, she had one major weapon, her speed. She primarily used that speed defensively but is learning to use her speed more aggressively and growing her groundstrokes to finish inside the baseline.
What are the rooms of improvements for the next year?
I think that is one of the most exciting parts of next year. If you look across the board, everyone on our team has areas that they can continue to improve individually.
For each of our student-athletes, it may look different, but everyone has the potential to continue growing their game. As a group, we will look to improve our doubles. The doubles is only worth one point in college tennis, but it often times can be the difference between winning 4-3 and losing 4-3.
Mental health is an issue that plays a key role in sport, especially in tennis: is it a topic that is also talked about in the Georgia women's locker room?
Yes, mental health is a very important topic in our locker room.
Being a tennis player at the University of Georgia can be strenuous and demanding at times. We have an incredible program dedicated to the mental health and personal development of our student-athletes called The Georgia Way.
That staff does an incredible job not only preparing our young women for life after college, but managing the workload during college as well.
Tennis, as both an individual and a team sport, plays an even more central role, compared to other sports, in a College, and affects the development of students' daily life.
At Georgia, is tennis as valued as any other sport?
I would argue that more than any other university in the US, tennis is valued.
It is common for both men’s and women’s tennis matches to have over 1,000 spectators. We certainly have the best support in the country in terms of community and from within our athletic department. Our Athletic Director, Josh Brooks knows every player on the team, their game styles, the big matches they’ve won and who they are as people.
He comes to every home match as well. He is connected to our program and always helping us improve.
Can you give us some updates on the imminent recruitment for the next tennis season?
For the 2023-24 season, we will be bringing in a few more players and a new associate head coach.
Alexandra Vecic will be playing in her first season with us next year. She has a WTA career high of #462 and a ITF Junior high ranking of #9. Aysegul Mert will be joining the team from Turkey (WTA #811, ITF #52), along with Gracie Epps who has been the number 1 player in her class in the US.
We have also hired Jarryd Chaplin to be our associate head coach. He was both a player and women’s coach at the University of Tennessee who was ATP #155 in doubles. He brings a wealth of knowledge of the game and will certainly have a big impact on our development moving forward.
Photo Credits: University of Georgia Website