Ask Samantha Stosur where she’d be without David Taylor and the Australian tennis sensation will tell you it’s most unlikely she’d be in Paris this weekend contesting the French Open final.
Taylor, Bathurst boy made good, is living proof that you don’t need a name like Darren Cahill or pupils of the calibre of Lleyton Hewitt or Andre Agassi to be a successful coach.
It helps, but it also helps if you possess the special qualities that make Taylor, in the eyes of former Davis Cup coach Wally Masur, among others, the premier coach in women’s tennis.
“Coaching women is a different proposition altogether than coaching men and Dave just completely understands the dynamic,” Masur told AAP. “He understands what makes them tick.”
Taylor – whose previous charges include ex-No.1s Martina Hingis and Ana Ivanovic, plus fellow Australian Alicia Molik – certainly knows what makes Stosur tick.
Since taking charge of the 26-year-old in early 2008 – while the Queenslander was recovering from career-threatening illness – Taylor has helped dramatically transform Stosur from talented former top-ranked doubles player to grand slam singles finalist and potential world No.1.
At the time, Stosur was not only out of shape physically but, critically, also lacking the self-belief to compete with the game’s elite on her own, without a on-court partner on the world’s biggest stages.
As he did with Molik, whom he guided from outside the top 50 to world No.8, Taylor convinced Stosur that tennis matches were won as much inside the mind as inside the lines.
At her peak in 2004-05, when she won four WTA titles, an Olympic bronze medal and reached the Australian Open quarter-finals, Molik constantly credited Taylor for bringing “clarity” to her game.
He has worked similar magic with Stosur, who, like Molik, was too hit-and-miss until linking up fulltime with Australia’s successful Fed Cup captain.
“Sam’s always been a great server and a great hitter of the ball, but she’s started to play tennis. She’s become a better tennis player. She’s structuring her points better and she’s got a game style – and I think this is where David Taylor has really helped,” Masur says.
“He’s pretty definite about a game style that she’s trying to pursue.
“Like, even against Venus Williams in Madrid (last month) – she lost pretty comfortably but she was pretty predictable in what she was trying to do, and that’s what you have to be.
“If you watch a lot of good players, you have patterns which they perfect and they just keep doing it and keep doing it and that’s what Sammy’s been doing over the last year particularly.”
Born in the NSW Snowy Mountains town of Tumut in 1973, the same year Margaret Smith Court won Australia’s most recent French Open trophy, Taylor and partner Tamara recently celebrated the birth of their first child, daughter Emma and they travel together.
Masur says Taylor’s understanding of women is what allows him to extract the best from his charges.
Masur, who once mentored former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich, believes women’s players need more encouragement than their male counterparts.
“It’s funny, I’ve never really been on the road and coached girls but from what I gather it’s a very different occupation to coaching boys,” Masur says.
“Boys are more like preparing your athlete physically and just getting them strong and ready to play and then men take it upon themselves: ‘this is what I do, this is how I’m going to play’.
“If they lose, the guys tend to blame themselves, whereas girls can give too much credit to their opponent.
“From what I can gather, with the girls, when you’re travelling (as a coach), you have to be like ‘this is what I want you to do, this is how I want you to go about it.’
“You’re almost like one step removed from the girls and then they can sort of play with more clarity like Alicia’s talking about.
“That’s what Dave does well. He analyses the opponents, looks at the strengths and weaknesses of his player and he gives them rigid sort of game plans and game styles, which I think over time is very beneficial for someone like Sam for example.”
Taylor is not averse, either, to be being brutally honest with his charges and pinpoints one particular heart-to-heart with Stosur after a series of ugly losses – including a listless second-round defeat to world No.114 Vania King at the US Open – as a turning point in the world No.7’s career.
“She reacts well to honesty and I’ve always been honest and sometimes for me there’s been some very difficult moments where I’ve had to be really honest,” Taylor told AAP on the eve of the French Open.
“I guess that’s my job as a coach. They’re not the happiest conversations, but sometimes you need to have them.
“And every time I’ve had a really difficult conversation or she’s had to really look hard at herself and what’s she doing out on the court, she’s responded extremely well.
“So I’d have to say she’s extremely coachable. She has a lot of respect for me and I’ve never had any problems with her in terms of work ethic.
“She’s the perfect student – she will look at herself and improve herself and sometimes that’s difficult to do.”