SA coach guides Colombian pair to Wimbledon title, No 1 ranking
Cape Town - Six years ago, not long after he had retired after a distinguished tennis career in which he reached a 12th world doubles ranking, Jeff Coetzee was approached by Colombians Juan-Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.
"I had never met them before," reveals the former South African Davis Cup player, "and knew only vaguely who they were. They said they had heard about me and wanted to know if I would be interested coaching them on the ATP circuit."
That Coetzee accepted the offer is now history, with this union of veritable strangers progressing systematically over the years from a point where Cabal and Farah were regarded as no more than an average pairing with a mid-50s ranking to annexing the Wimbledon title over the weekend and, in the process, elevating the Colombians to the number one doubles ranking in the world
Their rousing, spine-chilling 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6), 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 epic win over French couple Nicolas Mahut and Eduard Roger-Vasselin in 4hr 56min was not only the second longest doubles final in Wimbledon history, but one of the most memorable of the august event.
"I experienced a thousand deaths during the match," says the 42 year-old Coetzee. "There were so many changes in fortune and points of amazing reflexes and skill. The mayhem has continued, with Juan-Sebastian and Robert having become national heroes after becoming the first Colombians to annex a men's grand slam tennis title - and I've become embroiled in it all."
Coetzee says his agreement with the Colombian charges is to spend 25 weeks in the year with them, including the periods in which the four grand slams and all other major tournaments are staged.
As for the rest, he spends much of his time with his family in Cape Town that he still regards as home, attending to the tennis academies he has launched and coaching promising young prospects - as well as assisting Tennis South Africa in sundry projects.
Focus on Coetzee emerged in the semi-final at Wimbledon in which Cabal and Farah edged out current South African Davis Cup player and world eighth-ranked doubles player, Raven Klaasen, whose career mirrors his own in many ways, and his New Zealand partner, Michael Venus.
“It was not easy plotting against Raven, a good friend," says Coetzee," but you can't afford to be sentimental in such cases."