My mom was, together with my dad, the most influential people in my and my brother Cyril’s tennis careers.
Dad was a Junior National Under-18 singles Champion and mom was an 11-time National and International Czechoslovak singles Champion, a singles Wimbledon finalist in 1962. Topping her list of achievements was a Top 5 position in the World rankings. Years later, I was lucky enough that BBC gave me a VHS tape that showed footage of my mother’s Wimbledon run.
After her playing career she became well-known tennis coach, becoming National leading coach for women ‘s tennis in Czechoslovakia. She was very well recognized globally, and under her wings grew players like Martina Navratilova, Hana Mandlikova, Miroslava Bendlova, Hana Strachonova, and many others. My brother and I, we got the best of her knowledge we could from our earliest stages of development, and thanks to that we continued to build up on further on.
My memories are very much helped by old photos from when we use to practice on the tennis courts at the Sparta Prague club. We used to play a lot of family doubles and singles on court No.4 in the late afternoons, after our parents had time after their work.
Lucky enough, my brother and I never felt any pressure from our parents to play tennis. We spent most of the weekday afternoons playing tennis or other games with the local coaches and other kids at the Sparta club – just having fun.
Our mom Vera was in charge of our technique, so even when other coaches practiced with us they followed her instructions. She taught me and my brother the style, the strokes, the on-court mentality. When it came to genetics, we were also lucky enough to inherit the rest in what it takes to become one of the best in the World.
I think I inherited her eye for the technical parts of tennis, and probably my empathy for personal, inner feelings, which helped as I transitioned from tennis to both sports and clinical psychology. Her schooling and the experience from my tennis days put it all together.
I think the good feeling you get when you are able to help somebody find steps for their improvement is most likely why my mom also got into coaching when she retired, so she could help others reaching their goals. Unfortunately, I cannot ask her and I can only guess.
After we started to play junior tournaments there was a deal made within our family: there was no more talk about tennis at home. Another rule: number one was school and only after that was tennis, at least up until about age of 15 for me. Looking back I think mom and dad did it all in a very smart way, not pushing but secretly guiding us the right way towards our hobby, so that we felt we chose it – even if it was actually chosen for us!
I was only 17 years old, just starting out in my professional career, when my mother passed away from cancer. During my 18 years on the tour there were many times that I needed her coach’s advice badly and there were times her expert opinion was missing – including from some of people I would hire and work with. It is not normal from 17 years of age that you do not get a chance to ask your mom for advice in anything.
I only regret she did not live long enough to experience and see mine and my brother’s success from the seeds she planted.
From an interview with David Kane.
More from the My Inspiration Series:
Martina Navratilova by Hana Manlikova
Lindsay Davenport by Dinara Safina
Miloslav Mecir by Daniela Hantuchova
Daphne Fancutt by Wendy Turnbull
Althea Gibson by Katrina Adams