Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Zach Gilbert's background serves him well

Zach Gilbert, Brad's son, coached former Cal teammate
Pedro Zerbini in the spring and summer. Under Gilbert,
the 23-year Brazilian dramatically improved his world
ranking. Photos by Paul Bauman
  When Pedro Zerbini turned pro in February, he chose a 23-year-old coach with no professional playing experience.
   Zerbini is no dummy, though. The Brazilian graduated from prestigious Cal in December in economic development.
   And Zach Gilbert is no ordinary 23-year-old coach. He's the son of Brad Gilbert, who ascended to a career-high No. 4 in the world during a 13-year playing career before becoming a renowned tennis coach, commentator and author. Zach also was Zerbini's teammate at Cal for four years. 
   At least Zach is older than Zerbini. By two weeks.
   "I get people asking me about (my age)," Gilbert admitted in June during the Sacramento Futures tournament, in which Zerbini reached the singles quarterfinals and doubles final. 'Aren't you a little young to be doing this?' Yeah, but I'm confident in my knowledge of the game. I think I have a lot to offer Pedro. It's a little strange to be friends and former teammates. Now I have to be the boss a little bit, but I think things are working out alright so far."
   Indeed, since Zerbini debuted in the world singles rankings in April, he has almost halved his position from No. 1,218 to No. 625. On the Futures circuit, he has reached two finals and four quarterfinals in singles and two finals in doubles (winning one).
   Gilbert cautioned, though, that "it's easy to let your mind wander out here, especially at the Futures level. It's hard to be out there on your own and keep your drive week in and week out. The biggest thing I can do is make sure he stays on track mentally. If you have a bad loss, it happens. You have to shake it off and make sure it doesn't hang on for long stretches."
    Brad Gilbert said by telephone that his son "has a good demeanor, which is maybe the most important thing for a coach. He's very relaxed. One thing about tennis and coaching -- you always have to be open to learning. You have to understand the player and push the right buttons to make him play better."
Zerbini addresses the fans after he and former Pacific-10
Conference rival Nicolas Meister from UCLA finished
as the doubles runners-up at a Futures tournament
in Sacramento in June.
   Zerbini, named first-team All-Pacific-10 Conference in his last three years at Cal, hired Zach because "he understands the game well. He knows me and my style since we went to college together. He's seen a lot of my matches and been around the game. He's very analytical."
   Wonder where he got that from.
   "The majority of what I know I learned from (my dad) and my college coach (Peter Wright)," Zach said. "My dad wants me to have fun out there. You've got to be passionate about it. When I see how much he loves and cares about the sport, it's hard not to admire that quality, how devoted he is. He obviously taught me a lot about strokes and X's and O's, but that's not as important as loving what you do."
   Andre Agassi also was a big influence. Brad Gilbert coached the International Tennis Hall of Famer from the time Zach was 6 to 14.
   "Those are a lot of impressionable years," Zach said. "I really looked up to him, and I'd go crazy at all of his matches. He was a positive influence on my life and a good role model."
   Zach grew up in San Rafael, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and across San Francisco Bay from Cal in Berkeley. He began taking lessons full-time at 7, grew to 6-foot-3 and played low on the ladder at nationally ranked Cal.
   "I competed because I wanted to," Gilbert said. "My dad was not too pushy. He would have been just as happy if I played basketball or baseball. I played a lot of sports until I was 12. Then I decided I was best at tennis. My dad and mom were supportive of me in whatever I wanted to do."
  Zach's two siblings -- sisters Julian, 20, and Zoe, 15 -- take after their artistic mother, Kim, and do not play tennis. Brad said he's not surprised that Zach, who graduated in American studies, became a coach at 23.
   "If that's the path he wants to do down, I'm sure he can do a really good job. He's been around me and a lot of players, and he's a really bright kid. He learned a lot being around tennis his whole life," Brad said.
   Like Brad, though, Zach also is involved in television. He's working full-time for the rest of the year as a writer and researcher for Chris Fowler on ESPN's "College GameDay."
   Then Zach will decide what he wants to do. Return to coaching? Stay in television? Try something else? It doesn't matter to his father.
   "I'm like everybody," Brad said. "I want the best for my son. Whatever he wants to do, it's all good."


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