In conversation with Terry Radchenko

The Varsity sits down with U of T running coach who worked with Bianca Andreescu

In conversation with Terry Radchenko

Terry Radchenko, one of U of T’s track and field coaches, had the opportunity to work with Canadian US Open Champion, Bianca Andreescu briefly before her historic title run. In an interview with The Varsity, Radchenko explained what it was like to work with Andreescu, as well as the duties of a coach and advice he would give to Varsity Blues athletes.

The Varsity: How long have you been a coach at U of T and what are some responsibilities of the position?

Terry Radchenko: About 15 years ago, I started working with the University of Toronto track club, which had a junior development program consisting of around 150–200 athletes from grade seven to grade 12. I was coaching in that program for a number of years, and quite a few of those athletes happened to go on and run at U of T.

About seven years ago, I started as a cross-country coach the University of Toronto on a full time basis. In this role we work with athletes who raced from 400 metres up to 10-kilometre cross country. The majority of our job is coaching and looking after the athletes; we’re in practices with them, we work on the mental side of sports, we conduct weight training sessions, and overall we run an athlete-centered program.

We try to look at every athlete as an individual and make certain tweaks and changes to their program so they can be as successful as possible.

The other part of the job is a lot of administration work, such as planning meets and trips as well as other events, like the 800-metre festival in the summer, plus our work on eligibility requirements and recruiting, which are both big parts of the job. There’s a nice balance between administrative work, coaching, and communicating with athletes.

TV: What would you say is your favourite part about being a coach?

TR: Definitely the coaching part. Just being out there with the athletes, communicating with them, helping them, figuring out how they can be as successful as possible and watching them succeed.

You could be having a horrible day, whether it be because of personal reasons or perhaps you’re not feeling well, and you could go out to a practice and forget about everything else and just focus on that workout. It’s a really enjoyable part of the job. Of course there’s ups and downs, but there’s nothing better than seeing an athlete run a personal best or accomplish something that they’ve never done before.

TV: Can you explain  how you came into contact with Bianca, and if there were any previous connections?

TR: I’ve worked with a lot of different coaches over the years, whether it be sports performance coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists, Athletics Canada coaches, or Athletics Ontario coaches. Over time, as you [get to] know more people, they also become more aware of you and your work, and we reach out to each other.

There was another coach that Bianca was working with, and she mentioned that she was looking for a consult on her running form. That coach mentioned my name, so her mom reached out to me, and we talked about a time that we could potentially get together to have a look at what Bianca does in her warmups, her running routines, and also her stride in general. It came together right after she won the Rogers cup.

The day before she was leaving for the US Open in New York, she was able to come by the Athletics Centre with her mom and dad, and their little dog, as well her Tennis Canada strength and conditioning coach and her physiotherapist. We all worked together for around an hour.

We looked at her activation routine, which is the way she warms up her body before she exercises, and we looked at the drills that she does in active mobility to prepare herself. When I saw her Tennis Canada coach going through that, I noticed that it was very similar to what I and the coaches here would do with our university athletes. It’s interesting to see that world-class athletes in a variety of sports are doing the same types of activation and warm-up routines.

TV: What advice would you give to Varsity Blues athletes, especially those considering a professional career in sports?

TR: You have to listen to your coaches, work with them, and communicate with them to make sure that you can put a plan together that will allow you to be as successful as you can possibly be. I definitely think communication is something that’s really key, and you have to be open with that. You have to not only be willing to train hard, but also train smart.

One thing that we say about injuries is that it’s not that you’re necessarily training too hard, but it might be that you’re not recovering enough. You have to focus on all the little things, and it’s not just about going out to workout; eating well, watching nutrition, getting enough sleep, focusing on communication, [and] staying positive and confident, are all important. Every time you go to the line at an event, you want to make sure that you’re physically and mentally prepared to be the best you can possibly be. If you can put yourself in that position, it’s going to allow you to be successful.

TV: What kind of differences are there when training someone of Bianca’s age versus someone who might be older and in the middle of their career?

TR: You have to be careful, but I think younger athletes can improve much quicker since they haven’t done as much. Bianca’s obviously on an ascent right now; she went from 150th in the world to one of the best in the world in a very, very short time. A lot of it with elite athletes is about staying healthy, which goes back to making smart training decisions.

Bianca was able to stay healthy despite a few little bumps in the road and nagging injuries — all elite athletes have that — showing how important it is to communicate with your staff to make sure you keep moving in the right direction and don’t need to take huge chunks of time off. I think you can push the envelope a little more with someone who is on ascent, as they will have those big training gains. On the flip side, you have to make sure to not be overaggressive with them, because you don’t want them to get injured.

Athletes who are already in the middle of their career already possess a lot of information, and because of that it’s best to make smaller changes — they already know what has made them successful and that doesn’t need to be rewritten. They probably know themselves a lot better and already know what they need to eat before a race, or how long it takes them to get ready.

The conversations might be a lot different with an older, more mature athlete. I would say that Bianca is an interesting case, because female tennis athletes especially can achieve success at a very young age and hopefully continue that success throughout their careers.

TV: Is there anything we should be looking forward to in terms of major athletes coming to U of T, and specifically for track and field?

TR: We’re always trying to recruit the best athletes that we can and bring them into our program. We believe that the University of Toronto track and field program is a world-class program.

Just over the last Olympics there were three Olympians developed from our program here: Sarah Wells, — who was just on the Amazing Race Canada — Alicia Brown, and Gabriela Stafford. These are all people who were developed here in our program at the University of Toronto. Gabriela’s sister, Lucia Stafford, was at the World Student Games and came fifth, and I think she has big goals for this summer and beyond.

Madeleine Kelly is an athlete who just graduated from U of T and won the 800-metre [race] in the Canadian women’s championships. She also has her sights set on some really big goals for next summer — an Olympic year. We have a lot of other young athletes who are showing promise in our program, so we’re definitely excited for the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Men’s and Women’s tennis vs. McMaster University

Bianca Andreescu defeats Serena Williams to win the US Open championship

Andreescu becomes first Canadian to win a Grand Slam tournament

Bianca Andreescu defeats Serena Williams to win the US Open championship

Bianca Andreescu defeated Serena Williams this Saturday to capture Canada’s first ever Grand Slam singles title. 

She won in straight sets 6–3, 7–5 to capture the championship, but Williams, a tennis veteran, did not make it easy for her. 

Andreescu won the coin toss, and elected to give Williams the first serve of the match, which earned her a break in the first game. She won the first set by a score of 6–3. 

In the second set, Andreescu was up 5–1, winning three break points in the set. She was on match point in the next set, but Williams’ veteran composure shone through, as she was able to fight off Andreescu’s match point, and bring the set score back even at 5–5. 

For the first time in this tournament, Andreescu looked shaken, with the crowd roaring behind her, and all the momentum in Williams’ favour. However, Andreescu continued to show the poise that she had shown throughout the tournament, winning the next game with her own serve.

Andreescu would then have needed to win the next game — with Williams serving — in order to avoid a tiebreaker. She won the first point, and went up 40–15. After Williams won the next point, Andreescu delivered a beautiful forehand to secure herself the title. 

After embracing Williams, Andreescu fell down onto the court, lying on her back to take in the moment. She then quickly climbed onto the stands to celebrate with her team and family before accepting the trophy at the centre of the court. Along with being designated the US Open Women’s Singles Champion, Andreescu also earned a 3.85 million USD cheque for winning the tournament. 

Andreescu is only the third Canadian to reach the finals of a Grand Slam tournament, after Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic reached the Wimbledon finals in 2014 and 2016, respectively. The Mississauga native burst onto the tennis scene this year, winning the Indian Wells tournament in March and the Rogers Cup in Toronto in August. 

The Rogers Cup final saw Andreescu face off against Williams, but the match was short-lived, as Williams had to retire due to injury. At the end of the match, Andreescu was seen comforting the distraught Williams, and they embraced shortly after.

At the US Open in New York, Andreescu won the first three rounds in straight sets before beating Taylor Townsend in the round of 16. In the quarterfinals she lost the first set against Belgium’s Elise Mertens, but won the final two sets 6–2 and 6–3 to advance. 

In the first set of the semifinals against Belinda Bencic from Switzerland, Andreescu had never led, but Bencic was unable to win a break point for the entire set. Andreescu dominated in the tie-breaker, winning it 7–3. 

Early on in the second set it looked like Bencic would force a third set, going up 4–1 and 5–2, and Andreescu seemed exhausted. However, she continued to show strong mental fortitude, and won the next five sets in a row, triumphing over the match in straight sets. This set up the match against Williams in the finals. 

Andreescu has been drawing in fans from all over the country, and has inspired the hashtag #SheTheNorth. She has received support from the likes of Justin Trudeau, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, and former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion. Even her competitor, Serena Williams, shared praise for the young star, saying, “She really knows how to mix up the game, above all I just like her as a person, she’s amazing.” 

The future of Canadian tennis

In conversation with Denis Shapovalov

The future of Canadian tennis

Over the last decade, Tennis Canada has produced a new wave of successful Canadian tennis players. Starting with Vasek Pospisil in 2007, Milos Raonic in 2008, and Eugenie Bouchard in 2009, Canadians have been a force to reckon with on the courts, beating some of the best players in the world. However, Canada’s best might be knocking on the door to glory.

Currently ranked 27th in the world, Denis Shapovalov is no stranger to success on the big stage — he won the US Open Doubles Junior Grand Slam in 2015 and the Wimbledon Singles Junior Grand Slam in 2016. Shapovalov exploded onto the professional scene in 2017, beating then-second-ranked seed Rafael Nadal at the Rogers Cup in Montréal. The star on the rise spoke with The Varsity about his success and his future in tennis.

During this year’s Rogers Cup in Toronto, Shapovalov had the opportunity to play on Centre Court in his hometown.

“Playing at home is truly amazing. It’s very rare to have a chance to play in your home country so when I have that chance I try to take advantage of it. I really love having the crowd behind me, so I try to get them engaged as much as possible,” Shapovalov said.

“Obviously it’s great to have my friends and family around to watch me play. When I am on the court I try not to pay too much attention to that; however, it’s great to see them off the court because I am usually travelling, so I don’t get a chance to see them often,” Shapovalov added.

When asked about beating Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro in 2017, Shapovalov replied, “Beating them was a huge step forward in my career. I was about 130th in the world when I beat them, so with that tournament my ranking jumped a lot and made me eligible to play in bigger events. It was also a huge confidence booster for me, knowing that I am able to beat players of that level. It really inspired me to work harder to keep improving.”

Shapovalov’s big wins sparked a climb up the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) ranking from 133rd to 67th.

When it comes to tennis supremacy, four men lead the way in the Golden Era of Tennis: Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer. Combined, they’ve won 50 of the 55 major single titles, from the 2005 French Open to the 2018 US Open.

It’s hard to imagine tennis without the Big Four, but Shapovalov suggested that the future of tennis may start to change.

“It’s difficult to know exactly what the future of tennis holds. However, I see a lot of talented young guys on the come up. I’m sure [in] the next couple of years we are going to see a lot of ranking changes with lots of young guys coming up and older guys dropping out,” he said.

Denis Shapovalov is not only a talented singles player, but also a competitive doubles player. Yet, even the biggest names in the sport have difficulties balancing both events.

“I think doubles is equally as exciting as singles. You have a lot more ‘hotshot’ points and the game has a very high pace, so it is fun to watch,” he said. “For me, it’s a chance to work on some components of my game that I usually cannot in singles matches. Such as serving and volleying.”

Like most professional athletes, Shapovalov’s daily routine is broken down by the minute. When he isn’t competing or travelling his schedule is:

9:00 am: Wake up

9:30 am: Breakfast

10:00–10:45 am: Mobilization

11:00 am to 1:00 pm: On court training

1:00–3:00 pm: Lunch and break

3:00–4:30 pm: Fitness

4:30–6:00 pm: On court training

6:00–7:30 pm: Cool down and recovery

7:30–10:00 pm: Dinner and off time

10:00 pm: Bedtime

What makes Shapovalov a real threat in the future is his desire to improve.

“I think I have a lot of areas where I can improve. I think mentally I am still growing and improving. Physically I can keep getting stronger and more explosive. And on court I can improve a lot in my net game,” he said.

Looking toward the 2019 tennis season, a motivated Shapovalov has the opportunity to make some noise atop the ATP rankings.