Chris Brandi is in his first year as an assistant coach for the Wake Forest University men’s tennis team. After completing his collegiate career in 2006 at the University of Florida, where he earned All-America honors in doubles and helped lead his team to the No. 1 national ranking, Brandi immediately went into coaching, working with Laura Granville and 2005 US Open junior champion Ryan Sweeting. Since his arrival at Wake Forest, Brandi helped coach the Deacons to their first appearance ever in the ACC Tournament Final and claim the program's first national title at the ITA Indoors Doubles Championship in November.
Wake Forest Assistant Men's Coach
© Wake Forest University
was recently chosen as one of four coaches to lead the USTA Men’s and Women’s Summer Collegiate Teams, an elite training program for the top American college tennis players in the country. He recently took time from his busy schedule to answer some questions for USTA.com.
Brandi, whose father Andy coached the Florida women's team for 17 years,
USTA.com: You played your college tennis at Florida. What is one of your best memories from your years in Gainesville?
Chris Brandi: Growing up in Gainesville, playing for the Gators was my dream, so I have many special memories. I would have to say that the best moment was beating Georgia in the semifinals of the SEC tournament in Athens my junior year. They had a rough crowd, and it’s always better beating your rival on their turf. We went on to beat Tennessee in the final, but the Georgia match was huge. I might be wrong about this, but I read that we were the last team to beat Georgia in Athens.
USTA.com: What did you learn from your college tennis experience there? How has it shaped your coaching philosophy?
Chris Brandi: Just like in anything else, hard work goes a long way. I was very lucky to play at such a great school, play with some great players and be coached by some great coaches, namely Andy Jackson. One thing that Coach J would always tell us is that great players make their own good luck. What he meant was that many matches are won and lost before they are even played. The players who have put in the hard work in practice will always be more confident under pressure, in crucial situations, than the players who might not have worked as hard as they should have. As a coach, you realize that your players need to create their own good luck. I’m not big on excuses as to why a player won or lost a match. To me, all things being equal, the player who competes better will come out on top. Players earn their victories with hard work.
USTA.com: Who have been your biggest influences in your tennis career?
Chris Brandi: Obviously, Andy Jackson at Florida. He is as professional as any coach out there. Jeremy Bayon, Coach Jackson’s assistant, also helped me tremendously while I was in school. He still gives me advice from time to time. Michael Hegarty, now the women’s head coach at Arkansas, coached me for one year while he was still an assistant at Florida, and I soaked up anything I could from listening to him. But, without a doubt, my father, Andy Brandi, was the biggest influence on my tennis career. He introduced the game to me, coached me until I went to college and then taught me how to be a coach later in life. I always tell my dad that if I become half the coach he is, I’ll be pretty successful out there.
USTA.com: You definitely come from a tennis coaching family. When did you decide that you wanted to be a tennis coach, or did you always know?
Chris Brandi: When I was 15 or 16 years old, I realized that I probably knew the game of tennis better than I could play it. I guess this is about the time all kids tell their parents what they want to be “when they grow up.” I sat my parents down and told them I wanted to be a coach. I loved the fact that coaching tennis wasn’t your typical desk job. However, when I went to college, I always thought I would become a lawyer. I was a little burned out from the game. After my eligibility was up, I was still at UF finishing my Master’s degree with plans to go to law school afterwards, when I got the itch to get back into tennis. At that stage, it meant going into coaching, and I was very fortunate that my father's partner, Harold Solomon, offered me a position at their institute, where I worked for a year and a half before I decided to pursue a career in college tennis.
USTA.com: After working with some of the top young pros, you made the decision to join Jeff Zinn’s staff at Wake Forest. What is your favorite part of coaching at the college level?
Chris Brandi: Just going to practice and seeing the guys get a little bit better every day. The way I look at it, coaching is like putting together a puzzle or problem solving. Every player is unique, every situation is different, and you have to work with your players to figure out what works best for them. There is nothing better in coaching than helping a young player overcome a problem, no matter what the trouble may be. Also, working alongside such a great coach and, more importantly, a great guy like Jeff Zinn every day. He’s been a great mentor to me.
USTA.com: What’s the most challenging part?
Chris Brandi: Figuring out how far you can push your players because they are also full-time students who need to learn to become balanced individuals.
USTA.com: Recently, you were selected to coach the USTA Summer Collegiate Team. What do you hope to accomplish in that role this summer?
Chris Brandi: For the players turning pro, I hope I can help make their transition into professional tennis go as smoothly as possible. For those going back to school, I hope I can help them bring that professional mindset back to school, which I believe will help them in their tennis and academics. I also look at it as a new challenge to help my development as a tennis coach.
USTA.com: What’s the best coaching advice you’ve been given?
Chris Brandi: This applies to more than coaching, but “don’t make emotional decisions.” Another great tip that my father told me when I went to college is that there are three things that take up all of your time as a student-athlete: school, tennis and your social life. You can do all three decently, but you can only do two of those very well. I remind my players of this all the time.
USTA.com: Coaches don’t have a lot of free time, but when you do, what do you like to do?
Chris Brandi: Unfortunately, I don’t have much of a life outside of tennis, but I do enjoy good food, reading and watching movies.
USTA.com: Do you get more nervous now coaching, or was it worse when you were playing?
Chris Brandi: It is a bit more nerve-wracking as a coach because, once the points start, you have absolutely zero control over what happens. But similar to when I was a player, I get very nervous prior to the match. Once they roll out the balls, I’m fine because, as my college coach would say, “The hay is in the barrel.” You either prepared properly, or you didn’t.
USTA.com: Any advice for current college players who want to go into college coaching?
Chris Brandi: It seems to me that many former players are now realizing what a great career college coaching is. It’s fun and provides plenty of challenges. Every day is different from the rest. I couldn’t be happier that I decided to get back into college tennis.