ATP Coaches' Boost: Cahill Lesson Supports Colleagues
Tony Downer, a retired venture capitalist who lives in Connecticut, has been playing tennis his whole life. He played with his father, and now he enjoys hitting with his children. But he hasn’t checked one thing off his “bucket list”: a trip to the Australian Open.
Downer is set for a dream experience next January after winning a fundraising auction benefitting coaches affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He will enjoy a two-hour lesson with Aussie coach Darren Cahill at Melbourne Park during the 2021 Australian Open.
“By any and all measures Darren Cahill appears to be an extraordinarily stand-up, bright, committed, accomplished guy and you say, ‘Okay, this might be the right moment, the right way to go take in the Australian Open,’” Downer said. “The financial support or earning power of everyone involved, including the coaches, has been cut off completely. You can understand why those individuals who play such a critical role in the health and wellbeing of the professional sport could be in need of support and you put all that together and we threw a number at the auction and lo and behold it prevailed.”
Downer has gained an appreciation for the job coaches do, which made him more than happy to support the cause with his bid. All of the auction’s proceeds are allocated by the ATP Coaches Committee to support the members of the ATP Coach Programme in need. Part of the proceeds will be donated to a global COVID-19 relief fund.
“I have enormous respect for the coaches,” Downer said. “Their economics are such that if the player isn’t competing and the player isn’t earning, they’re left without earnings.”
Downer is not unfamiliar with the tennis world. For 31 years, he worked in venture capital and growth equity, making investments in technology companies. But since 2016, he has been the oldest ball person at the US Open. Downer also is a ball person at the New York Open.
“You’re immersed in the tennis community, you get the view behind the curtains. You get to interact with the people involved in the community and get an enhanced appreciation of what the life is like,” Downer said. “You get a very close-up view of what the players are experiencing both on and off the court… That is more fun than you could imagine.”
Downer hopes to spend a portion of his time with Cahill on court, and another portion chatting over a cup of coffee. He has long been impressed by how Cahill has helped many different players achieve success. The Aussie has mentored players including Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray, Fernando Verdasco, Ana Ivanovic, Daniela Hantuchova and currently Simona Halep.
“It really is extraordinary that he’s been able to work effectively with such a broad range of players. That’s not an inevitable or natural result that one would project,” Downer said. “Somebody who is effective hypothetically with an Andre Agassi is not necessarily going to be able to work and get inside the head of Simona Halep.”
Downer will also receive two premium tickets for the men’s and women’s singles finals at the 2021 Australian Open, a behind-the-scenes tour, access to premium hospitality and plenty more. This was only one of several dream experiences up for grabs in the first round of auctions, highlighted by a lesson with Ivan Lendl at the 2021 US Open, which went for $19,000.
The first round of auctions and prize draws raised more than $90,000 for coaches affected by the pandemic. The current round, which is highlighted by a chance to hit with Andy Murray at 2021 Wimbledon, remains open until 27 July.