Coaches Corner Interview: Jeff Landau

Jeff Landau is our featured guest for today’s edition of Coaches Corner. Jeff is originally from the United States but now living in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has been coaching tennis for 26 years, starting when he was still a teenager. As a junior player he was ranked annually in the top 5 in his Northeast area of the USA and top 75 in the USA. At age 18, Jeff accepted a tennis scholarship to play for Wake Forest University (NCAA Division 1) where he played as high as #2 singles and won the team’s Most Valuable Player Award his senior season. In 1994, Jeff won the United States Amateur Singles Title, winning a prestigious USTA Gold Ball. After graduation, he competed on the professional tour reaching a high of #1,325 in the world in singles. He recorded wins over Ivan Miranda (ATP#104) and Thomas Blake (ATP#141).

After retiring from his playing career, Jeff worked for the United States Tennis Association, helping grow tennis at the grassroots level. During this time, he also served as the Women’s Junior Varsity Tennis Coach at Yale University. Jeff was a freelance sparring partner on the WTA Tour between 2000-2005, sparring with players such as Venus Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles. Jeff still competes and is world ranked in the over 40 division and has been a member of 6 Friendship Cup teams (USA vs South Korea). He is an internationally certified coach by the PTR at the highest level (Professional level) and holds 2 elite level coaching certificates (adult and 10&Under) from the PTR. Jeff received his degree of Bachelor of Arts from Wake Forest University.

What was Wake Forest like for you?
Playing college tennis at Wake Forest was an amazing experience for me. The facility, the coaching, the program, it really supported my tennis development. My coach, Ian Crookenden, had been a Wimbledon semi finalist in doubles and had won the NCAA Division 1 Doubles National Championship twice at UCLA (partnering the legendary Arthur Ashe). It was incredible the fact that I got to play with so many different players with great talents every day, and it really helped my game. My game improved a lot in college.

What did you learn from your experience playing college tennis?
Growing up as a tennis player, I didn’t really get to play on teams that often – tennis is an individual sport. College tennis, however, required me to think about my team first. I wasn’t playing for myself, but for the team. So, it’s exciting to get to play in a team atmosphere, where it is not ‘all about me’.

You turned professional after college. Was it always your aspiration from a young age?
Every junior player wants to be a professional player growing up. Most of them play tennis or keep playing tennis inspired by the current professional players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, John Isner and many more. So like everybody else it was my dream too, to be a professional player.

Why did you choose to pursue college tennis first, instead of turning professional early?
Although being a professional player was my dream, my initial goal was to use my tennis to get into the best academic school, so I could continue pursuing my academics without having to sacrifice my tennis. Hence, I went to Wake Forest. A lot of people don’t realize that you can play in professional tours while you’re in college during holidays. I knew through college tennis that my game would only improve, and that I could always turn professional later after college. So the logical next step for me was to do college tennis.

At that point in time when you were thinking that college tennis was the logical next step, what was your ranking?
I’d say I was around top 75 in the US and I had reached the quarterfinals of a Grade 2 ITF and done well in a few other ITF events in the US. I had reached the semifinals of a few national tournaments in the US also and won 3-4 matches in the Orange Bowl qualifying tournament.

Wow, that is quite an achievement for such a junior player.
Yes, and some people don’t realize how good you need to be to play in college or the pros.

So, you played some professional events while you were in college, and after that you turned professional. And now you’re in Jakarta, Indonesia. How was the transition from playing pro in the U.S. and now in Jakarta?
At the beginning, I didn’t come to Jakarta for tennis but because my wife’s Indonesian. However, I saw the opportunity for me to do something with tennis here and help grow the sport to improve Indonesian tennis.

So you’ve been here coming up on 10 years, when did you start the UTR events?
I started the UTR events in 2015.

How did you start the UTR events?
The concept was really small at the beginning. I was just running  match-play events twice a month where people could just come and play matches and I’d put the results in the UTR site. There was no prize, and no draw, kind of like practice matches that counted. Players would just come out, and get two matches against whoever I lined them up with. Because at that time, nobody had a UTR rating here and I needed to get more players rated in order to expand the events. I organized them quite regularly, and the events became popular pretty fast. Right now there are probably around 400 UTR rated players in Indonesia because of my events.

How’s the progress been? How did the BSJ Open get started?
The BSJ Open started last January (2018). One of the reasons was because I wanted to get my players at BSJ to play tournaments because what I’ve seen is that a lot of players train so much at schools or clubs, but they never compete in a match. I didn’t want my players to follow this trend because you’ll never reach your true potential without competing. To me tennis is about competing. It’s not about training with your coach at your club. If you play tennis, you should be competing. Otherwise, why play?

BSJ Open is a pretty well-known tennis tournament right now. What do you think of the growth?
Now we have an average of around 125 players participating in each event. It’s growing bigger and we’ve started drawing players from neighboring countries such as Singapore, and we even have local professional players participating. I’m pleased that it’s grown this big, and we’re constantly brainstorming ideas of how to keep growing to meet the needs of the market.

It’s amazing what you’ve accomplished these past few years with UTR events and BSJ Open. So at first it was to meet the needs of the players from BSJ?
Yes, that’s how it started. The idea was to bring the competition to them (my BSJ players).  Having it at BSJ encourages them to come since it’s a familiar environment and home turf. So, really, I want to help my players at BSJ, to get them used to playing tournaments, and hopefully encourage them to eventually participate in other national tournaments or international events.

You mentioned “one of the reasons” earlier, what would be the other reasons of why you’ve started regularly organizing UTR events or BSJ Open?
I found out from my friends, who are college coaches, that UTR rating was the most important thing they look at when recruiting players.

So having a rating in UTR will help a player get recruited?
Yes. If you have a UTR, you’ll be able to get on coaches’ radar. And through the rating, the coaches would be able to gauge your level and compare it with their current team’s level and other recruits from the USA. A lot of junior players in Indonesia are pretty active in ITF tournaments, but they didn’t know that when they compete in ITF tournaments, they get rated too.  It’s great that they are starting to become aware of how important UTR is, because really, it will help them get recruited for college tennis.

Thanks Jeff for sharing your experience! You shared really deep insights and it’s really inspiring seeing that you’re contributing so much to the tennis industry in Indonesia! We’re hoping junior athletes would only benefit from your work and have it as an encouragement to really do their best in tennis and to #DreamBig.

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