NEW POST TENNIS COACH SERVES UP PASSION
BY JOE PALLADINO, WATERBURY REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
WATERBURY -- Pete Sampras lost 11 tennis matches on grass courts
during his illustrious professional career. One of the men who beat
Pete on the lush green stuff is the new head coach of men's and
women's tennis at Post University.
His name is Mark Keil (pronounced Kyle). Yes, it is OK to ask, who is Mark Keil?
With Wimbledon rushing to its conclusion this weekend, who better but Keil, a man who played in the singles and doubles draws at the All England, to get the straight dope on the tournament.
First, a little about Keil. Raised in New Mexico, he was a collegiate star at the University of South Florida before turning pro in 1988. Considered a doubles specialist, Keil reached a career-high rank of No. 32 in the world in doubles, 167 in singles.
He won five doubles championships, has $750,000 in career earnings, and even produced, directed and starred in a cult tennis film, called "The Journeyman."
You can actually tell stories about Keil all day.
He became close friends with Andre Agassi, "And he paid for my bachelor party in Vegas. He came, and got me 11 rooms at Caesar's Palace. He is the most caring, giving tennis player, no, not just tennis player, athlete in the world. I don't know where he got it from. His father was an ex-boxer and a pit boss in Vegas."
That gives you a taste of the Keil personality. He is blunt, honest, and intense, or, in his own words, "Yes, that's me, an intense person, a positively intense, passionate, intense person."
And there was that day, in 1991, at the Queen's Club Championship in London, "The greatest day of my life," the warm-up event each summer for Wimbledon, when Keil defeated Sampras, 6-2, 7-6 (2).
Sampras had already won his first U.S. Open (1990). Ranked No. 8 at the time, Pete had yet to become the Pete that we once thought of as the greatest tennis player who ever lived.
So it is with some degree of expertise that we can ask Keil: Who is the best ever?
"The best player ever is Roger Federer," said Keil, and Federer is also his pick to win Wimbledon. He is my pick and your pick too, by the way. "But I am rooting for Andy Roddick. He's the guy I want to see win."
When we talked to Keil on Wednesday, he did not yet know the result of the Roddick-Lleyton Hewitt match. "Don't tell me, I'm going home to watch it tonight on the Tennis Channel."
His pick to win on the women's side?
"I was rooting for my future girlfriend, Maria Sharapova."
Do not laugh when he says that.
"Why are you laughing? I'm serious, she is my future girlfriend. But she lost early, so my pick is (Dinara) Safina."
Keil went with the chalk for his Wimbledon picks, so let's ask him, what's in store for Post University tennis?
"A lot. I am looking for the most talented student-athletes to come play at Post University," said the former volunteer assistant coach at UCLA, and the current assistant tennis pro at the Country Club of Waterbury. "I will try to instill upon them my positive attitude, so that they can improve the level of their games, and go on and have successful lives."
Keil brings in a swarm of local players for his first season coaching the women this fall, like Helena Bartolomeo of Watertown, Christina Green of Southington High and Pamela Ifill of Wilby.
"We are very proud of the women's program, and we will be competitive in the fall," Keil adds. "Previous teams were lacking in discipline," he said, amongst other rather harsh assessments of the state of tennis at Post.
"This year we will find out who wants to become successful."
But first, does anyone have Sharapova's cell number?