Coaches' Corner: Boynton On How Hurkacz Is 'Finding The Answers'
Craig Boynton has worked with a variety of players throughout his career, from former World No. 1 Jim Courier to John Isner, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson and more. Last season, Boynton began coaching 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals competitor Hubert Hurkacz at the BNP Paribas Open.
Boynton spoke to ATPTour.com about what working with Hurkacz has been like, how much the Pole needs to (or doesn't need to) change his game, and more.
Last year you began working with Hubert during the season, so if it did, how did your approach change during the off-season?
The mindset is always the same. It’s to help the player grow and improve. There are always different times in a tennis player’s career when the learning curve is steeper than at other times. The mindset that I have is always the better you are, the more you need to know. And so coming into this year, this off-season, I had a pretty clear idea of the things I wanted to work on with him on the court.
I think Hubi is working through part of that learning curve and dealing with how to be a professional tennis player day-in and day-out at the highest level. That’s just something that every tennis player takes a little bit of time to really work through and understand. I think he’s at that point, and I think he’s doing a great job with it.
What’s the biggest difference in his game between when you two first started and now?
I think his understanding of things has improved. That doesn’t always necessarily translate into better performance yet, but it’s really difficult when athletes have questions and don’t have the answers. Now Hubi is starting to get the answers. It takes a bit of the time to get the answers and then implement the changes and then you implement the changes and you go forward. Then you play [tournaments] and you run into, “What do I need to learn now?”
You take anybody for example and you see their path and it’s just constantly up, but there are periods where they regress a little bit. Let’s just say that’s the universe saying, “you need to learn something and take some time and learn it.” His learning curve is really good. He got through a lot of material really fast.
Hubi had a great start to the season results-wise at the ATP Cup and in Auckland, but then had a few tournaments where the results didn’t necessarily reflect that. So how did he take that, was he able to put things into context of improving?
He’s got a tremendous attitude. That’s not even really a question. It’s always: What happened? What was the good? What was not so good? What can be better? What are you dealing with now? He’s really good about that and we take it tournament to tournament.
Up until this point, we’ve had a pretty clear plan. He knows why things have gone well and he knows why things have not gone as well, and we’re just getting through that learning period, that implementing period, and then he’ll be playing great tennis and getting to a certain level.
I had this with John Isner. I remember when John got to No. 19 in the world, for eight months we just couldn’t get past No. 19. We’re working, we’re working, we’re working, and it took a bit of time and then bang, out of nowhere he shot up to the Top 10 quickly. He had gone backwards a little bit and he got to about No. 50 in the world, and then he won Newport and he was on his way. It just seemed like no matter what he did or what I did he just couldn’t break No. 19. That didn’t stop us from working hard and trying to figure out the issues. Once you get through that, then you’ve enhanced what you’re doing on the other side once you finally get through that.
Hubi is still young in his career, but how much of bridging that gap is technical work and how much of it is it something breaking his way for him to get confidence and take the next step?
I don’t think it’s as much technique. I look at other athletes and there are other athletes in other sports that you wouldn’t teach how they do it. Like a Reggie Miller, how he shot the basketball, or a Jim Furyk in golf… they’re just really good. I don’t think it’s a technical aspect. There are some things you can clean up, you can put your foot here on the serve instead of there. There are little things that can help, but it’s mostly committing to play the way that gives you the best chance to win.
It’s about staying committed during big matches or big tournaments and getting through those matches and getting through those tournaments. Then what you’ve done is created confidence and once you’ve created confidence, then things start to come your way and you expect things to come your way. You have an expectation when you walk on the court and you know that you’re going to play well. You walk into a locker room and you know, “I’ve got these guys under control if I stay committed.” But you always still go back to the court and try to clean something up a little bit.
I don’t think there’s a big on-off switch to someone’s forehand that’s on off. I think it’s just confidence and timing. If you’ve gotten to the Top 50 or Top 30, that’s really difficult to do. It’s difficult to do that if you’ve got something that’s just so technically unsound. You just can’t beat these top guys and you can’t beat guys in the Top 20 or 30 if you’re just not good.
Hubi in the past year has beaten those top guys and made a pretty seamless climb in a quick amount of time, so what are you most pleased with?
I’m not displeased with anything, so I would say just that he’s willing to go through this journey with open arms and an open heart and willing to just do whatever it takes. That’s really what I admire about him the most: that he just wants to do whatever it takes, work as hard as we need to work, drill as many drills as we have to drill, travel to as many tournaments as we have to travel to just to maximise his abilities and try to win some really big tournaments. That’s the thing that’s most pleasing to me.
The work and improvements here and there are great, but his willingness to want to come back the next day after something bad happens with a good attitude and that he is willing to work and willing to be coached, that is what I admire the most.
You see someone like Daniil Medvedev who admitted to making fairly substantial changes that led to his rapid rise. Has Hubi had to do anything major?
The benefit of what I have with him is he’s a professional. I never have to doubt whether he’s going to make the right decision… he just needs to learn. Everyone feels comfortable at the top at a certain rate. Medvedev was a tough out at No. 70 and No. 50, a very tough out. Then you can sort of see him start to figure things out and put things together. He beat Steve [Johnson, whom Boynton used to coach] in the final of Winston-Salem and Stevie didn’t play poorly.
He was comfortable moving forward. He had that confidence, he had that expectation. He was like, “Okay, I know what I need to do, I know I need to play [a certain way]”, and he was comfortable doing that. It took him a bit of time to figure that out, and with these younger players, that’s what you see.
The step back might be a little bit, it might be a lot. You look at Kyle Edmund, he made the semi-finals of the Australian Open and kind of took a step back. You see a mini step back here and there from Felix [Auger-Aliassime], and then he puts up a couple of good results. It happens, it happens to everyone. We’re all human. We have to feel comfortable in our own skin.
Just imagine how comfortable Novak, Rafa and Roger feel at No. 1 in the world. That’s a pretty daunting ask, but it’s taken them a long time to get like that. Novak was No. 3 in the world and he didn’t look that comfortable at No. 3 in the world way back when. He fixed his diet, he committed, and history is being made. Everyone goes at their own rate. Everyone has their own different personal issues or details that they need to clean up that is their own.