Coaches Corner

Coaches' Corner: 3-Player Coach Farmer Reveals Unforgettable Story

Farmer explains why Isner's serve is like "watching the ocean"
April 18, 2023
Philip Farmer and the three ATP Tour player he coaches: Hans Hach Verdugo, Austin Krajicek and John Isner.
Philip Farmer
Philip Farmer and the three ATP Tour player he coaches: Hans Hach Verdugo, Austin Krajicek and John Isner. By Andrew Eichenholz

ATP Coach member Philip Farmer is enjoying a special moment in his career. One of his players, Austin Krajicek, partnered Ivan Dodig to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters title and is now No. 3 in the Pepperstone ATP Doubles Rankings. It has been a satisfying run of success, as the pair qualified for last year’s Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.

But that is not all that Farmer has on his plate. He also coaches John Isner and doubles player Hans Hach Verdugo. The trio have formed a team based out of Dallas, Texas. spoke to Farmer about how he balances coaching three players, the crazy behind-the-scenes story of the week his son was born and what makes Isner’s serve special.

How do you balance figuring out what you need to work on with both singles and doubles players?
I've been coaching on Tour since 1997, and so you understand that every player is wired differently. They grew up in different cultures, different backgrounds, different coaching styles, and obviously [have] different games. So you just learn to adapt, you learn to be flexible, you try to look through their lens as well to understand what they're going through.

Besides motivating and coaching and helping, I also try to be a really good listener, and understand what they're going through and what needs they have. And for each one it’s different. John's about to have his fourth child under the age of five. Austin just got married over a year ago and doesn't have kids and Hans doesn't have kids [and] is not married yet. So there are three kinds of really different home situations that require different attention and time and things like that.

So as a coach, you're just trying to help manage the player's life and make it easy for them to just go out and compete and play with as little stress as possible. Just try to be open-minded, try to think outside the box and be a good listener.

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Where you have two of your guys at some tournaments — and you've had three at the same event — what is a day in your life like?
Busy, nonstop. It’s really important to have good communication with all the guys. So we'll have individual chats, we'll have group chats. It helps that I have amazing guys that are flexible, and understand that there's a team involved, even though it's primarily an individual sport. So that helps to have three flexible guys that understand the team concept.

We just try to make sure we communicate and [know] who's playing, who needs the priority at that time, where the warmups are, and then try to just make sure you communicate with the ATP and also the tournament referees. They do a great job of saying if you have multiple players, you let them know before the tournament starts, they put it in a little database and it helps at least try to keep their matches staggered, so that you can watch all the matches.

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What was it like in Turin last year when Austin qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals with Ivan Dodig and you got to coach there?
It was surreal, it was a dream come true, because last time I had gone to the World Finals was with the Bryan Brothers in 2003 and 2004. They won both of those as well back-to-back and those were in Houston. So to go back 20 years later with Austin and Ivan was really, really special, and especially how they did it. We literally had to win everything… It was really special to have Austin qualify to get back there for me 20 years later. And then for me to to bring my wife, who was pregnant with our son, she was able to fly to Turin and experience it. So it was very, very special.

During this year’s Dallas Open your son Finn was born. What was that whole experience like?
It's just been a crazy, crazy year… I just really had John there [in Dallas]. But Nataliya ended up going into labor the Monday the tournament started, so baby Finn was born. And then the next day John was the night match and Finn was barely a day old. She was holding him in the hospital room and it was about 6:30 at night. John was going to be around playing around 9, 9:30.

She just looked at me and she goes, ‘Go’, and I was like, ‘What?’ And she's like, ‘Go do your thing. Go be with John and help him win this tournament and win this match tonight.’ I said, ‘Are you serious?’ And she's like, ‘I've got it. My parents are here. I'm good. I want you to be with him. I want you to help him.’

And so I literally showered in the hospital room. I had my tennis bag there. I got in the car, drove to the match got there just in time right before he was going on. He even looked shocked. ‘What are you doing here?’ And I said, ‘Hey, man, my wife wanted me to be here with you.’ And he thought that was really, really cool, really special. Obviously, he was blown away at how amazing my wife is and she understands this career and the passion and the work behind it and wanted me to be there for John for the hometown tournament.

It was an unbelievable run, getting to the final, epic match, match points and played a guy [Wu Yibing] who was extremely hot all week and just came up a couple inches short and almost got the hometown title. But I was really proud of his effort, proud of my wife, for her strength and allowing me to be there for that experience.

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What can you say about John's serve that people maybe don't realise? People know how great it is, but what is something that you see as his coach that people might not understand?
I think it's deceiving because of his height. And obviously, there are advantages to that. But just because you're tall doesn't mean that you can hit your spots, that you can hit those spots and hit those aces and second-serve unreturnables under pressure. So I would say he's got the best serve in history, in my opinion, first and second serve.

I think it's one of the smoothest, most efficient motions, which allows him to go after it, and allows him to be brave and very accurate in big moments and under pressure. It's not simple as in the simple, easy, but it's a simplified motion that's very, very fluid with a lot of rhythm to it. And it's just a beautiful thing to watch. It's almost peaceful and graceful to watch.

I think that's why he gets such a big fanbase because of the world-class player he has been and sustained over his career… He's an unbelievable ambassador for tennis and so professional for our game and gives back and he's just a great sportsman and a great person for our game. But the fans also come out, because they want to see that big serve. They want to see how many aces, they want to see what the speed is. And it's beautiful to watch. It's just very smooth. It's like watching the ocean, it's fluid and it's really smooth and he's able to just hit those spots under pressure, which is not easy. I don't care how tall you are.

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