This interview was done previously with Craig Tiley during the Summer of 2010 and is being reposted for the upcoming Australian Open 2011. Stay posted for the next issue of Tennis World USA (digital magazine issue for January 2011) dedicated entirely on the Australian Open. We look forward to speaking with Craig Tiley once again and for now here is a previous interview with one of the greatest coaches and pioneers in tennis. I would like to introduce Craig Tiley, Director of Tennis Australia.
I had the greatest privilege of meeting Craig Tiley when he was the Head Coach of University of Illinois Men’s Tennis Team. At the time that I met Craig Tiley the University of Illinois Men’s Tennis Team the team was in a winning streak and a team to fear.
From that era several players on the team have emerged onto the professional circuit such as Amer Delic, Rajeev Ram, and many other players.
Craig Tiley attended Stellenbosch University/Universteit Stellenbosch, Tyler Junior College, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
As a coach he instilled a sense of respect to all the players and staff members that were underneath his direction.
He demanded perfection and gave perfection. With his impact on tennis at the college level he increased the exposure of tennis in US college teams.
Please welcome Craig Tiley a friend, a mentor of many, and a leader in the tennis industry. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: Craig Tiley, As some of us are aware you are the Tournament Director for the Australian Open, what other responsibilities do you have as Director of Tennis Australia? Craig Tiley: My aim in my job is to run a strong team of staff who each, in their own way, work toward making tennis in Australia as good as it can be.
That means ensuring the best opportunities, standards and performance in the sport from little kids starting out in the game, right through to the seniors having a hit at their local club. It also includes all levels from grass roots to Grand Slams.
My responsibility is to the sport of tennis in Australia and its participants. It is an incredible honor and privilege to work with such a great team of committed people in a community that is so focused on sport. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: Can you explain the purpose of Tennis Australia and what types of functions it has in the development of tennis players?
Craig Tiley: Tennis Australia is the governing body of the sport in this country.
We no longer facilitate the development of players, but instead, we now take responsibility for it.
Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: What type of involvement do you have in Tennis Australia in your current position? Craig Tiley: As Director of Tennis, I oversee everything related to the development of Champions; the community, which includes grassroots and facilities; the development of coaches; and all about competitions and tournaments, including the non-commercial elements of the Australian Open.
Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: I see that you graduated from Tyler Junior College in Tyler Texas? What was your course of study?
Craig Tiley: I was of part of the Tennis Tech Program, which was designed to prepare students for a career in tennis – either as a coach, administrator, etc.
Following this, I graduated from the University of Texas (Tyler) with a degree in Technology. I also studied for a masters degree in Kinesiology. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: In some colleges in the United States there are degree programs called Professional Tennis Management and as I understand it this program is a more specialized version of the degree in Sports Management? What do you think about this degree program and have you benefited from this program in any way? Craig Tiley: A specialized program that prepares students for either Sport Management or professional opportunities in a certain sport, are ideal educations.
Tennis Tech in Tyler Texas was a similar type program. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: Have you always wanted to go in the direction that your life has taken you in the tennis industry? It seems that you have developed a dream of a career that some people would really like to have.
What type of background in tennis do you have when it comes to playing tennis professionally? Craig Tiley: I have always wanted to be involved in sport – more specifically tennis. I played college tennis and then professional events, primarily in Europe, before realizing that Coaching was actually my first passion.
There aren’t many secrets of success, but if you have a passion for what you do and are willing to work hard for it, opportunities will come your way. I’ve been fortunate to have great teachers and have never been afraid to take risks and ‘go for it.’ Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: As coach for the University of Illinois Men’s team in Urbana-Champaign you had one of the greatest teams that were ever developed by a coach.
In many eyes, there will never be a college team as famous or successful as the Fighting Illini of Coach Tiley. To what do you contribute your success in coaching from or who? Craig Tiley: Right from the beginning at the University of Illinois, we put a plan in place and had the discipline to make decisions according to that plan.
We recruited for character and athletes who had a willingness to improve and a desire to become professional players. Our success was truly a team effort – great players and an excellent support staff.
I was also fortunate to learn from teachers and coaches who focused on the big picture and never allowed shortcuts.
Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: Was your departure from the University of Illinois something that you felt was time to do? And what are your feelings on departing the college at the time when the school was at the top of the tennis spotlight? Craig Tiley: I felt it was the right time for me, personally.
We had accomplished everything possible and I felt like it was a good time to move on. However, I am still very close with all my former players and staff and leaving the U of I was not an easy decision. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: In your tenure as coach for the U of I you developed some great players such as Amer Delic, Rajeev Ram, and others.
What do you think of these players and their careers since their time at U of I? Craig Tiley: They are not only excellent players they are excellent people. Part of the culture we created was about being professional, disciplined and driven in all aspects of their lives.
I think they are both talented players whose careers are still unfolding, and are still to peak. Let’s also not forget the other great players from the program who are still competing as professionals, such as Kevin Anderson and Ryler DeHeart.
However, it is also gratifying to see former players become huge successes in their chosen careers, using the lessons they learned in college every day. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: Did the players that have come out of your time at U of I coaching era, come to you and ask you for advice in going professional? And did you feel that they made the best decision at the time that they made their decision to go professional? Craig Tiley: There were a few times I travelled with U of I players and we often spoke about having a professional touring team after college.
However, I thought it best that they take the next step in their careers with someone else assisting them. I am also proud that almost all of my former players have gotten their college degrees. In fact, Amer Delic just finished his college degree while he was rehabbing from surgery.
I certainly spoke with each player about his decisions to go professional or to remain at school. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: As a tennis coach for a college you dealt with the issue of recruiting. What was your policy for recruiting players for the college team? Do those policies make an impact today in college recruiting in tennis? Craig Tiley: My policy was to recruit quality young players with lots of talent but, equally importantly, lots of character.
They all had a willingness to succeed, a great work ethic and the right attitude to be part of a team that was totally accountable for its results. I believe if you don’t focus on recruiting for character, it’s difficult to build a tradition and a group that the community wants to embrace.
The survival of college teams today depends on how they engage the greater community and the attitude players have about their personal and team development. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: In your position as the Tournament Director for the Australian Open what do you find the hardest responsibility in dealing with? Also what challenges do you face creating the tournament draw each and every year? Craig Tiley: To be honest, the Australian Open runs extremely smoothly.
We have a great group of people who are very experienced in their individual roles. It’s a privilege to lead the team that is responsible for delivering the Australian Open. The toughest time for everyone is with the Open ends! There are many variables that are taken into consideration during scheduling.
But with the help of technology, we are able to deal with these variables a lot quicker than in the past. The draw is done at random and is fully automated. And, during the past couple of years, the schedule is assisted by a specially designed computer program.
Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: For years the Australian Open has been the starting point for all the majors and for years it has successfully entertained millions. The Australian Open is basically the first major tournament of the year.
Do you find it even harder to year after year create a successful tournament? Craig Tiley: Strange as this may sound, I actually find it easier because we make gains every year on what works better for the players and the fans, and what they like the most.
We set out to improve it each year and I think we manage to achieve that. We have very open channels of communication with the players who are now comfortable with telling us what they appreciate and what they find difficult.
So, as those relationships have continued to grow and improve, it has become an easier process to develop the event. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: As tennis has progressed in the last 10 years what do you find is the strongest guiding force for European players to dominate the Pro circuit so strongly? Do you feel that European players have an advantage over the American players in coaching and training? What do you think is the cause of this and how can it be improved on? Craig Tiley: The tennis world is a very different place than it was 25 years ago.
Not only are there more players from many different parts of the world, but the quantity and quality of those players have also improved. The strength of the competition, as well as the number of opportunities has become greater.
The development of a player’s game on clay is extremely important, as is the number of competitive opportunities, excellent coaching, a winning attitude, discipline, great physical and mental attributes and, most importantly, the correct technique.
Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: In your coaching opinion, what junior players do you feel are the ones that the world should keep a close eye out for to do well on the ATP and WTA circuit? What do you feel will be their strongest attributes that they will bring to the game of tennis? Craig Tiley: Being an excellent junior does not necessarily guarantee success as a professional player.
Juniors must develop an all-around game and always build their skills for the future. Too often, juniors take shortcuts and focus on immediate results. We are proud of the fact that, in Australia, we reversed this culture and focused instead on the long-term development of our juniors.
Many players have already achieved great results – some of which include: Bernard Tomic, Jason Kubler, Luke Saville, Ben Mitchell, James Duckworth, Ashleigh Barty and Olivia Rogowska. Chris Smith, Tennis World USA: In closing, what do you see as the future for Craig Tiley in tennis? Do you see any other avenues that you wish to do in tennis that you haven’t succeeding yet? Craig Tiley: I want to ensure Australian tennis is in the best shape it has ever been and that the excellent health of the sport in this country is sustained by a structure, organization and group of people that will guarantee it continues to grow and improve long after I am gone.