Paul’s coach ‘slapped him in the face’ en route to Djokovic showdown

Novak Djokovic jokes about his age at the Australian Open

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Tommy Paul’s coach admits he ‘literally slapped him in the face’ as he resorted to physical action to refocus the American star on his long road to tennis stardom. Paul set up an Australian Open semi-final showdown against Novak Djokovic on Friday and is the last American standing in Melbourne.

The 25-year-old will be a major underdog against the irrepressible favourite Djokovic at Rod Laver Arena but can take huge pride from the tournament – even if the legendary Serb does end his run.

Paul had never gone beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam before pitching up at Melbourne Park and now he has reached the last four. He defeated countryman Ben Shelton, another breakthrough star of the tournament, 7-6 6-3 5-7 6-4, in a pulsating All-American quarter-final clash.

But Paul, usually so relaxed, has been flustered before playing in the biggest matches of his career. And after losing in the first round of his home Slam the US Open on four straight occasions, his experienced coach Brad Stine changed his approach.

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On the eve of last year’s tournament, in which Paul progressed to the last 32, Stine slapped Paul twice as he looked to discipline the North Carolina man and transform his mindset. And Stine was concerned Paul was becoming similarly agitated during his victory over Shelton.

“I literally slapped him in the face, and I told him, ‘Hey, I need Tommy Paul. Like, where’s Tommy Paul? The guy who’s here right now is not Tommy Paul,’” Stine told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I needed him to relax, and I yelled that to him yesterday [Wednesday] during the match at one point.I said, ‘Be Tommy Paul right here,’ and he knows that means relax; be loosey-goosey, be that guy, because when Tommy’s playing his best tennis, he deals with pressure extremely well.”

Stine, who famously coached former world no.1 Jim Courier, has been on a journey with Paul for over three years and their relationship clearly has a unique dynamic. The revered coach has also worked with the likes of Kevin Anderson and Mardy Fish, and is now reaping the rewards from his latest project with rising star Paul.

“Tommy was probably a little less disciplined as a player when he came out of juniors,” he added. “Obviously, he had very good success, but I don’t think he was very disciplined when he was in juniors either.

“He was just a better athlete and better tennis player than a lot of those guys. I think you can probably say the same thing about some other [American] guys from his period. He wasn’t necessarily doing everything right off the court, but he was certainly working hard on the court … he liked to work, he liked to play – and he still does.”

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