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It’s All Been Aces for Paul Annacone

Wed, 08/30/2023 - 18:27
Paul Annacone’s pro playing, coaching, and commentating career began on Mashashimuet Park’s humble courts.
Jon M. Diat

A relentless serve-and-volleyer during his 14 years on the pro tour, Paul Annacone won three Association of Tennis Professionals titles and reached a career-high ranking of 12th in the world in singles. His doubles career was notable as well: With Christo van Rensburg, a South African, he made the finals of 17 major tournaments, winning nine of them between 1984 and 1989, including the Australian Open title in 1985.

He was the third-ranked doubles player in the world in 1987. In all, he won 14 doubles titles on the tour — a mighty fine playing career to say the least for one whose game largely started on the humble courts at Mashashimuet Park in Sag Harbor, where his late father, Dominic, was that school district’s superintendent.

“I’ve been so very fortunate,” Annacone said last week at the outdoor players’ lounge at the U.S. Tennis Open in Flushing Meadows. “My life has been a dream come true. I truly love tennis and enjoy being around so many people whom I’ve known for a long time.”

Annacone is probably better known now as the coach who helped shape the games of Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. Under his guidance Sampras won nine of his 14 major titles, and Federer reclaimed the world’s top ranking and won Wimbledon in 2012.

Today, Annacone, along with Michael Russell, is coaching Taylor Fritz, a tall 25-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., who is ranked ninth in the world (he reached fifth back in March) and is continuing as a commentator for the Tennis Channel. It’s a full schedule for the 60-year-old Annacone.

“I still really enjoy the balance between doing television commentary work with the Tennis Channel and working with Taylor,” Annacone said. “I probably spend eight weeks at various tournaments during the year, and probably around 80 days doing work in the studio. I’m very comfortable with my schedule.”

Annacone strongly believes that Fritz, a powerful right-hander, who is at present the number-one American player, has it within him to win a Grand Slam and more. On a side note, no American male has won the U.S. Open since Andy Roddick in 2003.

“Taylor has come a long way in sharpening his game and is incredibly competitive,” Annacone said. “At this stage of his career and progression, he clearly has the talent to win a major. He has all the tools.” This year, Fritz captured two A.T.P. titles — the Delray Beach Open and the Atlanta Open.

“When I started working with Taylor in 2018 he was ranked 105 in the world and by this past March he was ranked fifth,” said Annacone, who lives just outside Los Angeles, in Woodland Hills (a short drive to the Tennis Channel studios) and East Hampton, where his son Nick and his wife also have a house.

Despite his busy schedule, Annacone and his wife, Elisabeth, had a chance to spend some time at their house here this summer. “It’s been nice to take a bit of time out, go to a few different restaurants, and play a bit of golf.” So far, Annacone has been able to tee off at Shinnecock Hills, the Southampton Golf Club, the South Fork Country Club, and at the Maidstone Club.

He’s also enjoyed being a grandfather for the first time. In November, Nick’s wife gave birth to their daughter, Carter. “It’s great to be a grandfather,” he said. “I just wish my dad were still alive to see her.” Dominic Annacone died in September.

Paul Annacone’s daughter, Olivia, was married last May, and lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a talent relations manager for Paradigm Media Entertainment. His son Emmet is finishing a degree in psychology at Skidmore College. Paul’s mother, Catherine, lives in Naples, Fla.

“I’m hoping to see my brother, Steve, soon too,” he said. “But he’s been very busy out on the East End giving private tennis lessons.” The brothers are very close. Steve served as Paul’s coach during his tennis career.

Back in 2017, Annacone came out with a book titled “Coaching for Life,” an autobiographical look at his journey from the tennis courts in Sag Harbor to his work helping those looking to perfect their own formulas for growth and success. A labor of love, it took him 10 years to complete.

Asked whether he plans to write another, he smiled broadly, and said that while his wife has encouraged him to do so, “I don’t know. We shall see. The first one took such a long time to do.”

At the end of the conversation, Novak Djokovic, the all-time winner of 23 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, snuck up from behind Annacone, and, with a broad smile on his face, gave him a playful hug and handshake.

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