Charlie yanked at the waistband of her white jeans, which had gotten noticeably tighter over the last couple of months. ‘Ramona is a taskmaster. But I do think she’s good.’
‘She’s the best, everyone agrees.’ Mr Silver coughed. ‘Charlie, there is something that—’
‘I reached out to Todd Feltner. He wants to coach me,’ she blurted out before even placing her napkin on her lap. She wasn’t planning to breathe a word about her conversation with Todd, but the familiarity of the club where she’d practically been raised combined with her father’s warm hug and kind eyes had opened the floodgates. She regretted it the minute she said it.
‘Pardon?’ Her father looked up, his expression alarmed. ‘Todd Feltner, the men’s coach?’
‘Men’s coach no longer. He wants to coach me, his first and only female player. He thinks I have what it takes.’
‘Of course you do; you don’t need that jerk-off to tell you that,’ her father said sharply. He took a deep breath and made what appeared to be a concerted effort to calm down. ‘Sorry, I’m just surprised.’
Charlie reached across the table and touched her father’s hand. ‘I know Todd doesn’t have the greatest reputation as a person, but as a coach … well, he’s the best.’
Mr Silver took a sip of water. ‘Do you know how many fines he’s paid the USTA for his outbursts? You remember what he did to Eversoll, don’t you? It was caught on camera if you need a refresher. He’s a loudmouth, and he’s abusive to his players. Why on earth would you want to work with someone like that?’
‘I’m not looking for a friend or a manager,’ she added, her temperature rising.
‘Last time I checked, you had a coach.’
‘I still do, and you know how much I love Marcy.’
Her father pulled his hand back, gently but with intention. ‘She shifted you from the juniors to the pros. She’s skillful. Gracious. And not to put too fine a point on it, but she happens not to be an asshole. The tennis world is full of them, and Marcy is one of the most genuine, honest people I’ve ever met. I don’t know about you, but that means a lot to me.’
Charlie felt a quick flash of anger. ‘It means a lot to me, too, Dad. Obviously.’
They both smiled at the teenage waiter who brought them their identical grilled chicken salads, no tomatoes, dressing on the side. Charlie knew her father would have ordered the steak sandwich with fries if he’d been dining with anyone else, and she appreciated his show of support.
‘Does he understand your game? Your strengths, weaknesses, personality? Does he have the right relationships with tournament directors and tour officials and board members? Does he have a proven track record for helping you improve your game? Focus on strategy and court management? Protect you from all the business noise that’s better handled by others? Can Todd Feltner help plan the optimal travel and training schedule to maximize performance without sacrificing sanity?’
Charlie forced herself to take a deep breath. Her father played professionally for less than three years, over four decades ago. Why was he being so tough on her? Charlie chewed her food slowly and stared at her plate.
‘I’m surprised to hear you’re even considering firing Marcy and hiring Feltner,’ her father said.
‘I want to win,’ Charlie said finally. ‘And I think I need a change to do it. Marcy has been my coach for almost ten years now. I was fifteen when you hired her to work with me.’
‘You’d just won the Orange Bowl. As a fifteen-year-old! You’d far outpaced my coaching ability by that point.’
‘I’m not criticizing. She was a great choice for me then. But let’s be honest with each other: you didn’t hire her because she was the best possible coach available. You chose her because she was young and easily influenced, and you knew that she wouldn’t go around your back to pressure me to turn pro.’
‘Charlie, this is all water under the bridge. And I don’t think there’s any denying that Marcy was perfect for you at a really vulnerable age in—’
‘I agree, Dad. She was perfect. Literally, perfect. Only twenty-eight herself, just retired due to the shoulder injury, and sweet. More like a big sister than some intimidating middle-aged ogre who was going to make me hate the game. I appreciate that, I swear I do. I think she was an excellent choice. I still do.’
‘But I’ve been on the tour for years now – I’ve played all the tournaments, traveled to all the places. I’ve steadily improved with Marcy, there’s no denying it, but I’m starting to think it hasn’t been fast enough. I’m almost twenty-five! Do you know how many women won their first major titles at twenty-five or later? Ten. In the entire Open Era! Ten. And that’s not even considering the fact that I’m recovering from an injury so bad the press is saying I’ll never win a big tournament again. Even Marcy suggested as much.’
‘You’ve gotten to the quarterfinals of Australia and the French Open – twice. You’ve reached the semis at Indian Wells and Singapore. I hardly think you’re doing a shabby job.’
‘That’s not what I’m saying and you know it. I want to win a Slam. I’ve trained my entire life for that, and now it seems like I have an opportunity to work with someone who might be able to take me there.’
‘I just don’t know that—’
‘All other things being equal, if your goal was to win a US Open in the next two years, who would you hire? Marcy Berenson or Todd Feltner? With no consideration for their style of coaching or likability or whatever else we’re throwing in there.’
Her father was silent.
‘Yeah, me too,’ Charlie said quietly.
‘That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the right choice for you,’ Mr Silver said, taking a sip of his beer.
Charlie met his gaze. ‘It sounds like Todd’s not the right choice for you,’ she said.
Mr Silver peered at Charlie.
‘There’s more than winning, Dad, of course I know that. Every year the women’s tour becomes more and more focused on fitness. Fifteen years ago, if you lifted for an hour a day, you could expect to outlast most of your opponents in a tough three-setter. All that’s changed now. Women spend almost as much time on fitness training as they do on the court, and Marcy’s not totally up to speed on that. I’ve told you before that she’s not willing to travel as much, and that’s been difficult, too.’