Zenith Ambassador And Supercoach Patrick Mouratoglou: ‘Little Details Make Big Differences’
At press time, the U.S. Open Tennis Championships will not only dominate the sporting world for a fortnight, but also reinforce the ever-growing tie between tennis and timepieces. While the tournament is sponsored by Rolex and most of the best players endorse various watch brands, one very special coach will be courtside wearing his own signature Zenith on the wrist: Patrick Mouratoglou, who teaches us that tennis, like watchmaking, is the sum of all parts. And he also has a strong opinion about the race for “the best of all time.”
Tennis is an individual sport, but any player who wishes to succeed at the highest level is required to make all components of their game work with precision. Just like a mechanical timepiece. And even though tennis is an individual sport, any top player has an entourage and a main coach – just like a fine mechanical watch has a whole team behind its creation, supervised by a technical director or an entrepreneurial CEO.
Indeed, analogies between both worlds are not difficult to establish: timepieces and watchmakers on one side, players and coaches on the other. Then you have iconic timepieces and master watchmakers sharing the stratosphere with Grand Slam champions and supercoaches. Patrick Mouratoglou morphed from a frustrated player in his teens into today’s perennial supercoach; he is able to deal with the highly complicated psyche and game of an elite competitor just the way a horologist is qualified to finetune a supercomplication.
It was Patrick Mouratoglou who helped a complex champion like Serena Williams become the greatest tennis player ever – male or female. From 1999 until 2012, she won 13 Grand Slam titles in 13 years; from July 2012 until January 2018 (less than six years) she won 10 more Grand Slam titles, the Olympic gold medal, and three consecutive year-end WTA Championships under the French coach’s guidance.
Then she gave birth to her daughter Olympia, had life-threatening post-birth complications, and managed to regain good enough form to reach four more Grand Slam finals. Serena Williams, an Audemars Piguet ambassador, is retiring after the 2022 U.S. Open, while Patrick Mouratoglou has moved on to advise former world number one and dual Grand Slam champion Simona Halep, an Hublot ambassador. The supercoach has a partnership with Zenith and usually wears his own Defy 21 Patrick Mouratoglou Edition.
Ahead of the last Grand Slam tournament of the year held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows until September 11, 2022, thanks to Zenith I had the opportunity to visit Patrick Mouratoglou at his own manufacture of champions: the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, located at Sophia Antipolis on the French Riviera near Nice.
I was joined by the inimatable Julien Tornare, Zenith’s CEO, an avid tennis player himself. On the menu: a tennis clinic and a charity gala. But also a conversation with Mouratoglou on tennis and timepieces that complements and updates the lengthy piece I previously wrote about him for Quill & Pad. For a journalist specialized in both areas like me, the setting was ideal. And the Mouratoglou Academy is pretty much like the Zenith manufacture with a linguistic nuance on top: they make El Primeros in Le Locle, while in Sophia Antipolis is allegedly “La Primera” tennis academy.
Should Patrick Mouratoglou be considered the “El Primero” of tennis coaches? It’s hard to say, considering all the exceptional coaches on the tour, some of them with their own Grand Slam titles on their resumés — like Rafael Nadal’s coach Carlos Moya, Novak Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic, and especially Andy Murray’s coach Ivan Lendl.
But Mouratoglou is the first whose passion for timepieces originated in his passion for coaching. “When I coach someone, I like to get myself into his or her head to better understand the player and the person. And I often absorb everything my players like,” he told me.
“When I was coaching Grigor Dimitrov, he kept telling me about timepieces, showing me watches that he liked and how different watch brands are; I had previously never really cared about the subject, but Grigor is an aesthete and has such a passion for beautiful things that I ended up falling in love with timepieces.”
Before joining Zenith as an ambassador, Mouratoglou could be seen at tennis tournaments around the world sporting a few interesting timepieces such as an Audemars Piguet Millenary, an IWC Portugieser Perpetual Calendar, a De Grisogono New Retro, and an Hublot Classic Fusion Chronograph Mykonos. He’s been committed to Zenith since 2019 and has not only visited the manufacture at Le Locle several times and actively participated in the concept of his Defy 21 Patrick Mouratoglou Edition, but also took the time to attend Watches and Wonders 2022 in late April.
“I loved being able to do the watchmaking experience at the Zenith booth. It was incredible. There are a lot of things in common between complicated mechanical timepieces, the performance you need to conceive a watch like that, and what we do in sports,” Mouratoglou told me. “It’s all about precision and performance, it’s about the sum of all parts. The experience was truly amazing, and it is super inspiring to do things together with Zenith; it also is so different from what I do every day and for Zenith to work with us and bring the sports spirit into the philosophy of the brand is exciting too. It’s a win-win situation.”
Mouratoglou showed up at Watches and Wonders 2022 with the blue-dial version of the Defy Skyline and has also been sporting a new white-and-black ceramic Defy 21 boutique edition, but mostly wears his signature Defy 21 Patrick Mouratoglou Edition, a bold and technical chronograph featuring the very best in high-frequency timekeeping, a state-of-the art carbon fiber case, and a new-generation hybrid strap.
This watch boasts another très cool feature: the coach’s motto “Little Details Make Big Differences” is engraved on the rim of the bezel and filled with luminescent pigment. “As a big watch aficionado, I was delighted by the perspective of having my own timepiece,” the world-famous coach enthused. “Within the catalogue, the Defy 21 was the model I preferred, and it represents a good combination between tradition and modernity.”
The case material is inspired by the robust and lightweight carbon fiber composite used in racket frames; the El Primero 9004 automatic caliber has one escapement for the watch display (36,000 vph/5 Hz frequency) and another escapement for the chronograph functions (360,000 vph/50 Hz frequency), allowing for 1/100th of a second measurements with its lightning-fast central chrono hand sweeping at one turn per second.
The Time Lab chronometer-certified movement boasts a double-chain structure based on two regulators made of carbon-matrix carbon nanotube composite plus a patented material insensitive to magnetic fields and temperature gradients to a degree well above existing norms.
A Defy 21 Patrick Mouratoglou Edition watch fetched almost €30,000 in the auction that took place during the Mouratoglou Academy Gala, helping the final sum attain a staggering half million euros for charity.
The gala is the annual highlight at the Mouratoglou Academy and this year’s edition had a constellation of stars in attendance from tennis-obsessed DJ Bob Sinclar to Miss France, athletes from other sports, and some of the most promising students of the Mouratoglou Academy. And there are many of the latter benefiting from the 12-hectare, first-rate facilities (33 courts), stellar professional staff (coaches, physical therapists, trainers, doctors), and impeccable weather (more than 320 days of sunshine per year).
Alongside the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, the Mouratoglou Academy is the best-known tennis academy in Europe – and the most complete. Yet its most relevant asset is intangible.
“More than a physical place, what is important in a tennis academy is what you want to do with it, it’s the spirit of it, it’s the philosophy behind it,” Mouratoglou explained. “Experience is also very important because it makes you get better at what you are doing and we have the responsibility of the people working and kids practicing here. When I started 25 years ago, I already had a very clear idea about what I wanted to do. I was a tennis player when I was young, but my parents wanted me to study and for me it was the end of my life when I had to stop tennis – so I decided to dedicate the rest of my life helping young players achieve their dreams in tennis and in a way that is the most respectful of their potential.
“Our job is to give every player the opportunity to reach their maximum level and for that we need to be able to understand their needs and do something that is as much as possible personalized. That was my goal since the start, and I think we were the first ones to do very individualized training in a tennis academy. That was the philosophy at the start and still is. Of course, we needed a physical place. We didn’t start from scratch here in Sophia Antipolis, but we did it 25 years ago, first renting two courts, then eight courts, then 20 courts, to finally buying my first academy in Paris, to having a super clear idea about the ideal setup and the ideal place for it. We thought the French Riviera was the right place and we saw this place that had a hotel and tennis courts; if you could see how it looked in 2015 when we bought it and now you wouldn’t believe it.”
Tennis academies are a big business venture that began in the U.S. with Nick Bollettieri’s in Bradenton, Florida, which became the unavoidable reference in the 1980s with so many young prodigies – shooting Andre Agassi and Jim Courier to the top, then Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova.
“Nick Bollettieri’s Academy was the best for so long and an inspiration for all of us – in terms of business model, it didn’t work because in the end he had to sell it to IMG. It’s a very difficult business because you need to know the sport very well and have a real philosophy; you also have to be a specialist in tennis coaching, a specialist in marketing, a specialist in sales, a specialist in business. To combine all of it in an area where you also have to master the educational side since you are responsible for those kids and deliver performance, it’s very difficult . . . . that’s why there are every year 10 new tennis academies opening and 10 that are closing. Very few manage to stay for a long period, even Bollettieri’s is now the IMG Academy because he couldn’t continue so it’s a very difficult business, a business for people that are passionate, that will give everything, that will sacrifice their lives for it.”
Part of the functioning budget comes from sponsors like Zenith. “Sponsorship is part of the business model of the academies because we have many clients all over the world who are consumers, so brands are also interested in partnering with us,” the supercoach explained.
“The business model is based on the players who come for the tennis and school program, the people who come for the training camps. Then we also have a country club, a hotel, a regular school. We have sponsor deals, patrons. We have a lot of different sources of revenue, and it’s satisfactory to have all those in order to make it a profitable business, otherwise you will disappear. A regular tennis scholarship program costs around €50,000 per year, but it includes everything; kids are taken fully in charge. They play tennis, go to school, and we can place them in the best universities in the U.S. It’s part of what we propose. Housing, food, we follow them in the tournaments. But it’s a selection process: we are full every year, so we are forced to select players.”
The current crop at the Mouratoglou Academy looks promising. “We have young players in all the age groups that are among the best in the world in their category, among the top three. Also touring pros who stay here a lot, very good professional players who were formerly students and decided to keep the Academy as their base like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Coco Gauff, Holger Rune, and Alexei Popyrin, who live here with their families, and others who joined after or who often come to practice like world number one Daniil Medvedev, Jeremy Chardy, Alizé Cornet, and, of course, Simona Halep now.”
Halep has gotten back to winning big titles with a recent success in the Toronto WTA 1000 alongside Patrick Mouratoglou: “Last spring I wanted to work and Serena was not playing tournaments, so I decided to start with someone else. I’m excited about working with Simona, it’ll be an exciting journey because she’s an incredible player, she’s been number one, she has won Roland Garros and Wimbledon, she feels the game so well it’s so pleasant to watch. And it’s very important that I love watching my player. Plus I enjoy her work ethics, mindset, personality, and think we can go a long way. The start was difficult, she had two difficult injuries, but even after her marriage the motivation remains incredible.”
On the men’s side, the race for the “greatest of all time” has been affected by politics, says Mouratoglou.
“Politics are playing too big a role in tennis at the moment. Wimbledon banned Russian and Belarusian players just because they had the wrong nationality. What did they do to deserve that? I understand the idea and the message, but there are other ways to do it but to not award ranking points was even worse. Those who played great at Wimbledon didn’t earn any points.”
Like Novak Djokovic, who won at Wimbledon after not being allowed to stay in Australia and before being refused entry in the U.S., which means he will also not be playing in the U.S. Open.
“Novak Djokovic couldn’t play at the Australian Open and can’t play at the U.S. Open. So the race to know who’s the GOAT is directly affected by politics. That’s not sport. We have the three best [male] players of all time competing to win more Grand Slam titles – and because of politics that race is hurt.”
So what is Mouratoglou’s take on Rafael Nadal (22 Grand Slam titles), Novak Djokovic (21), and Roger Federer (20)? “Tenniswise, I think Roger has shown perfection in tennis and everything he does; I don’t think anyone will play like him ever in the history of tennis. It’s just perfection on all levels, the fluidity, it’s unbelievable how he plays. Rafa is, of course, the greatest clay court player of all time and his fighting spirit is unparalleled, his love for the battle is unmatched in the history of tennis.
“Then I would say Novak has a bit of both,” he continued. “There are no weaknesses in his game, he’s good in all departments; he’s the best returner of the serve, his own serve is impressive even though the rest of his game is so incredible that nobody talks about how good his serve is. He loves pace and uses his opponents’ pace against them; when they don’t give him pace, he is able to attack; everybody says his backhand is the best shot but his forehand is also incredible. He’s an incredible fighter as well. And he is the guy who wants to do everything perfect, including nutrition, searching for new ways to practice, his eyes to see faster; he always wants to be ahead of everything and keep improving. Anyway, the three will mark the history of tennis forever. We are living in one of the most exciting eras in the history of tennis.”
Mouratoglou is also excited about his partnership with Zenith, a collaboration that not only allows him to develop various projects but also teaches him more about watchmaking. “It is an association with philosophy because the base line is exactly what I do – a Zenith’s motto ‘Time to Reach Your Star’ is exactly what I do with the kids, make them reach their potential. So the partnership made complete sense, but it’s also about meeting people who just get along well, who have the same mindset, the feeling they are willing to do things together.”
Mouratoglou’s longtime battle for coaches having a bigger and more visible role in tennis was recently rewarded: the ATP Tour finally allows experimental coaching from the sidelines in the men’s professional circuit. We’ll see a lot of him during the U.S. Open, closely following his protégés’ progress in the tournament. It remains to be seen how far they will go at Flushing Meadows, but what is certain is that the supercoach will be seen with a Zenith timepiece on his wrist.
For more information, please visit www.zenith-watches.com/en_us/product/defy-el-primero-21-patrick-mouratoglou.
Miguel Seabra, editor-at-large of Portuguese watch magazine Espiral do Tempo, has also been a tennis journalist and Eurosport commentator for 30 years. Follow his exploits on Instagram at @miguelseabra.
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At both a tennis fan and watch guy I think I am qualified to report the watches are terrific and this guy is a publicity hound of the first order. He even dated Serena while he was coaching her (before the husband and baby girl). He shoves himself in front of every camera he finds. His opinions on both watches and tennis mean not much to me.
Yet he was pathologically shy and had to follow therapy for years to fight that condition. In any case, his academy is extraordinary. And Zenith watches excellent.