Lesson with a Legend: Emilio Sanchez
Dec 14, 2023
On a recent trip to Naples, tennis legend Emilio Sanchez agreed to give me a lesson at his Florida-based academy. Needless to say, I was thrilled to be coached by someone many consider the "godfather" of the Spanish style so popular at tennis academies today all around the globe.
Above: Legendary coach Emilio Sanchez at his academy in Barcelona, Spain.
Sanchez was an ATP former world doubles No. 1 with five Grand Slam titles. In singles, he was ATP world No. 7, winning 15 titles including the coveted Italian Open. Sanchez had career wins over the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, and Mats Wilander.
At this stage of his career, however, Sanchez is mostly known for his elite tennis coaching abilities. His tennis academies around the globe have drawn stars like Andy Murray, Grigor Dmitrov, and Maria Sakkari.
How could I get on the court with someone like Sanchez? On behalf of Florida Tennis, I was visiting the Emilio Sanchez Academy in Naples. It took place during a trip to the USP College Tennis Showcase and we got a chance to meet. He's someone I've looked up to since I was just a young kid learning the game.
Before we hit any balls, Sanchez sat down for an exclusive interview with Florida Tennis. He provided a deep dive into what makes the Spanish style of tennis training so unique. He also described its differences with the American approach.
"Spanish players have their own different technical style, but they all move very similarly," Sanchez remarked. He emphasized the importance of footwork. According to Sanchez, footwork sets the Spanish approach apart, making it more about how players move on court rather than specific shots they play.
Above: Coach Emilio Sanchez at his academy in Naples, Florida.
Reflecting on his professional career, Sanchez recalled a time when American players dominated the top ranks. "In my time when I started to play on the tour, there were 45 American players in the top 100," he shared, emphasizing the dominance of the American contingent. However, he pointed out that European players, particularly the Spanish, started adopting a heavier emphasis on movement and footwork.
"In the 80s and the 90s in Europe, people started to play much more tennis in the clubs, and they started to create academies," Sanchez explained. This shift paved the way for a new generation of players who moved differently. Sanchez acknowledged the technical prowess of American players but emphasized the Spanish focus on movement as a game-changer.
"You see them move on the court, and you're going to realize that the way they move gives them more opportunities," Sanchez asserted. This emphasis on movement and footwork not only became a hallmark of the Spanish style but also a key factor in the success of their players.
During my particular lesson, Emilio ran tough drills that focused on movement and footwork. Within five minutes I felt like someone punched me in the stomach — I was gasping for air. American players don't move with the unique patterns Sanchez teaches, and I was out of breath quickly. I had an epiphany: training this way would rapidly improve my fitness and on-court agility.
Off court, Sanchez and his team at the academy are committed to developing players by building the physical and mental pillars necessary for success in professional tennis. "So we build the footwork to be able to build physicality and mental strength too," he explained.
Above: Sanchez coaches on and off the court at his academy in Naples.
Footwork, according to Sanchez, is intricately connected to the mental side of the game. He stressed that being physically strong allows players to endure long matches. "Footwork is attached to the mental side. If you're strong physically and can last three hours, you're mentally stronger automatically," he asserts.
In the competitive world of tennis, where every edge matters, the Spanish approach appears to produce results. The footwork, speed, and stamina of Spanish players is admired around the world. After my lesson with Sanchez, I was a believer. The endurance it takes to adopt this style would surely get results — fast.
Sanchez's academy in Naples offers personalized attention to players, ensuring that they not only develop their skills but also receive the care and support necessary for their journey in the sport.
As Sanchez continues to shape the next generation of tennis players in the heart of Florida, his style of training stands out as a testament to the importance of footwork, physicality, and mental resilience in achieving success on the global stage. In a sport where every step matters, the Emilio Sanchez Academy is leaving an indelible mark on the future of tennis.
Above: A look back at the career, philosophy, and approach of coaching legend Emilio Sanchez. Video: HEAD Tennis.