Louis Borfiga has been Tennis Canada’s Vice President of High Performance & Athlete Development for more than 12 years. Before that he was at the French Tennis Federation and worked with players such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon, Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut during their formative years.
Tebbutt Tuesday spoke with Borfiga last week in Montreal in his modest office at Tennis Canada headquarters, an office that includes a bicycle he rides to work every day – except when it snows.
TT: What is the first thing you look for in a young girl or boy when they’re staring out at 12 or 13 years old?
LB: The first thing would be whether they have athletic ability, whether their technique is relatively good and also sometimes you can tell in a young child whether they really have that desire to play – if they kind of have that look that sparkles. That’s what we’re looking for but it’s always difficult to tell what could happen in the future.
TT. What’s the difference between coaching or teaching boys and girls?
LB. I’ve spoken a lot about this with high-level coaches. Firstly, I think now we coach girls the same way we coach boys – and a lot of coaches feel that way. Secondly, you have to be a bit more of a psychologist with the girls because with the boys sometimes you can be a little bit brutal and then the next day it’s forgotten. With girls, they’re a little more susceptible. So you have to be careful with the psychological aspect when you coach a girl as compared to a boy.
TT. What’s the most important thing in terms of avoiding injuries and physical problems with a young player? .
LB: It’s an interesting question because – and before talking about injuries I talk about practice. Today we too often have a tendency to talk about injury prevention and we forget that first of all you have to talk about practice. If you only do injury prevention, you won’t ever progress physically. So I think you have to put the main emphasis on practising and then of course you’ll do training to prevent injuries. Now right away we talk about “you don’t want to get hurt” – but if you don’t practice you can’t get hurt. So you have to careful about that message. But it’s obvious that prevention is important and fitness trainers now are much better informed about that. They’re aware of everything – about the shoulder…and every aspect of the body.
But don’t fall into the trap of just talking about prevention – first talk about practice. You’ve got to practice.
TT: You always tried to protect Félix (Auger-Aliassime) because he was so precocious so young. Was that hard to do?
LB: No it wasn’t difficult. It wasn’t difficult because his parents were 150 per cent with us about protecting him – so it wasn’t hard to have a long-term plan that we had to discuss sometimes. But it wasn’t ever difficult because his parents were on the same wavelength about protecting him. They didn’t want to throw him to the wolves (“dans la gueule du loup”) right away.
TT. What made you leave the French Tennis Federation to come to Canada?
LB. It was to have a new challenge, and also the chance to be the boss and to initiate a policy. As well, it’s obvious that the attraction of Canada was the goodness of the Canadian people (la gentillesse des gens canadiens). That’s what made me decide because to have my job you also have to be sentimentally attached to the country. You can’t take a job like this for the money. Well I guess you could but that’s not the way I am. You have to have a passion for the country.
TT: Have you learned anything in particular about Canadian players? Can you generalize about them or are they like players from other countries?
LB: (Borfiga above with Tennis Canada coach Simon Larose) Canadian players are like players from all the other countries. The only thing that I noticed when I got here was that the ones who were here didn’t have much ambition. They just played to play and they didn’t really have the mindset. Then we had the good fortune to have players like Milos and Eugenie and Vasek who had that in themselves. That allowed us to bring along the other generations by changing their mindsets.
TT: Did hockey take away a lot of athletes who could have become tennis players or is it just like lots of other countries with soccer and other sports?
LB: It’s the same thing in France, you’ve got football (soccer). But it seems to me that tennis is gaining more and more importance in Canada. And there are more and more parents who want their kids to play – and that’s thanks to the results of the best players. When you have people like Milos and now Denis and Félix, they’ll attract young kids. And the parents will be influenced because tennis is…from what I understand hockey is a bit dangerous and some parents are afraid for their kids. So that’s a good opportunity for tennis.
TT: With all the discussion about concussions in sports like hockey – have you noticed that more parents are putting their kids in tennis?
LB: That’s what I hear when I talk about that with (Tennis Canada’s director high performance coaching development) Jocelyn Robichaud who’s in charge of that, and (Tennis Canada’s senior director of tennis development) Ari Novick. Parents now are thinking that maybe their kids should play a less dangerous sport.
TT: You’ve worked with Tsonga, Monfils, Simon, Benneteau, (Sebastien) Grosjean, (Paul-Henri) Mathieu, Mahut and (Fabrice) Santoro among others, how is it that the French Federation has produced so many good players but not anybody who has become world No. 1 or won a Grand Slam title? Isn’t it strange – all those players and good programs and never someone who has become a great champion?
LB: Well they’ve done it with the women – Amélie (Mauresmo), Mary (Pierce) and Marion (Bartoli) but with the guys it’s true they haven’t done it. When I was at the Federation we had lots and lots of meetings about that. And we couldn’t come up with an exact answer – and the explanations can come down to very small margins. We don’t have a rational explanation. You can say lots of things, maybe we did too much for them and didn’t make them self-reliant like Amélie who had her own way. We came close with Tsonga and with Cédric (Pioline – a two-time Grand Slam finalist) and other players. But I don’t think there’s a rational explanation for it.
TT: Maybe it’s too easy to say this – but if Monfils had had a different mentality, maybe he could have been the one?
LB: Yes obviously and (Richard) Gasquet too. Richard had enormous potential and enormous talent. It’s also a player’s own personal ambition. Richard had the level – he was ranked No. 5 or No. 6 and Gael was No. 9 or No. 10. The great champions dedicate more than their lives to tennis – maybe they were only 100 per cent instead of being 110 per cent.
TT: In the 12 years that you’ve been here, has there been a change in tennis in terms of the style of play – something obvious in the way that the game has evolved?
LB: Before it was more serve-and-volley here whereas now we have players who are much more solid in all aspects of the game. If I take the example of Milos, he’s solid from the back of the court now. We worked on that a lot when Milos was here (at the Centre National in Montreal). I’d say we have many more complete players and now we have players who can play on all surfaces. If you look at results, Eugenie made the semis at Roland Garros and by the way Milos made the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and the semi-finals in Rome. And I think our two young guys will play well on clay. I was very impressed by Denis on clay at Roland Garros this year. He played really well, even if he lost (second round), he played really well. Félix, in my opinion, is a clay-court player – he’ll be very good. So players have become more solid and multi-surface.
TT: And what about the enigma of Genie Bouchard?
LB: I have trouble understanding what has happened because Eugenie has done exceptional things. She was No. 5 in the world and made semi-finals of Grand Slams, finals of Grand Slams and honestly it’s an enigma because she keeps on practising. She has always been serious and also it seems to me that she must love tennis because she has played Challengers and other events having once been as high as No. 5 in the world. In my opinion she’ll come back. She cannot not come back. But it’s true, she’s an enigma.
TT: Not necessarily the best player, but who is your favourite player after your forty or fifty years in tennis – men and women – if you had to chose one who has given you the most pleasure to watch?
LB: Of all the players…that’s tough. I like to be involved with players and to watch when I’m partial. Of course now it’s when I watch Milos or Vasek or Eugenie or Denis or Félix. Obviously I prefer to be involved – but who have been the players I enjoyed watching in my life? I was a sparring partner with (Swedish great Bjorn) Borg and I really liked watching Bjorn and that’s partly because I was involved with him. And I liked the way he was able to find a way to win Wimbledon (five times) even if he wasn’t a grass-court player. And among the women – I think the player I liked to watch was Steffi Graf. For me she was the best player – best athlete, best player and elegance – everything.
Of course there’s a player that I always enjoyed watching and who everyone enjoys watching – and that’s Gael. But everyone enjoys watching Gael. Whenever he plays you always know ‘something’s going to happen today.’
TT: They have the killer question (la question qui tue) on the popular Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle, so here it is for you: Should Louis Borfiga have been a better player (ATP best of No. 308 in 1975) than he was? What would it have taken for you to be a better player than you were?
LB: It would have helped if I had had more talent. (He laughs) I didn’t have enough talent. But it wasn’t like now. I didn’t have my first lesson or coaching until I was 16. Until then I was just hitting balls against the wall. And when I wanted to play a tournament (he lived in Monte Carlo) I took two buses and public transport for an hour and a half to play a match. It was great but of course I didn’t work on technique and after that it was too late. There wasn’t anything. It was like that all over France then – things have changed.
Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion and former world No. 1, now lives in Chicago with her soccer star (Chicago Fire) husband Bastian Schweinsteiger and their seven-month-old son Luka. Recently the 30-year-old Ivanovic attended a Blackhawks game at the United Center and showed off her puck-shooting skills.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) October 19, 2018
Here’s another of our vlogs from Wimbledon. We asked the question “can you name the four players named Denis (Dennis) in the men’s singles draw at this year’s Wimbledon?” The vlog includes guest appearances by Pam Shriver, Feliciano Lopez and Martina Navratilova.