Dubai tennis coach returns from Wimbledon after hitting life goal

Juan Ramirez coached Swiss player Alexander Ritschard at his first Grand Slam

Colombian Juan Ramirez, left, only began coaching professional Swiss player Alexander Ritschard in November after leaving his role as a tennis coach in hotels across Dubai. Photo: Juan Ramirez
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The whirlwind of Wimbledon is now just a memory for Dubai tennis coach Juan Ramirez, but it is a memory he will cherish.

He may be back to the daily grind of preparing for the US Open Qualifiers, but for a few weeks Mr Ramirez achieved a life goal by coaching professional Swiss player Alexander Ritschard all the way into the first round of The Championships in Wimbledon.

Colombian Mr Ramirez, 31, only began coaching professional Ritschard in November after leaving his role as a tennis coach in hotels across Dubai.

It is like entering a religious temple, the courts, the atmosphere, the players all dressed in white. It doesn't get any better than Wimbledon
Juan Ramirez

That adventure has taken the pair to what Mr Ramirez calls the “Disneyland of tennis”, although his charge, ranked 188 in the world, was knocked out in the first round of Wimbledon after four gruelling sets against fourth seed Stefano Tsitsipas from Greece.

It was a far cry from coaching holidaymakers and residents but Mr Ramirez loved every moment of guiding a professional through qualifying at the All England Tennis Club and into the first round of a major grand slam.

“Alex is my first professional player,” said Mr Ramirez, who left his job at Peter Burwash International tennis management to coach full time on the ATP tour.

“We had to win three matches in the qualifying rounds before entering the main draw.”

“Those matches were played at completely different courts than the main draw courts, so at first it didn't really feel like a Grand Slam.”

Mr Ramirez said it was an experience he is unlikely to forget and has given him a taste of the big time.

Switzerland's Alexander Ritschard celebrates winning a set point  against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas on day two of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London. AP

“Once we entered the main draw, it was an absolutely mind-blowing experience.

“There is a reason they call this venue the cathedral of tennis.

“It is like entering a religious temple, the courts, the atmosphere, the players all dressed in white, it is just the Disneyland of tennis.

“It doesn't get any better than Wimbledon.”

Born and raised in Bogota, Mr Ramirez never played tennis professionally, but was ranked in the top five juniors in Colombia.

He also made it into the top 200 in the International Tennis Federation’s junior rankings, leading to a US scholarship.

Mr Ramirez climbed as high as 16 in the US rankings at the University of Minnesota but fell just short of the higher echelons required for a tennis career.

His years teaching amateurs and as a hitting partner for professionals visiting Dubai to train during the winter primed him for his current coaching job.

During this time he found himself across the net from big names such as Borna Coric, Maria Sakkari and Svetlana Kusnetzova.

A chance meeting with an emerging Swiss player's father revitalised his tennis career.

“Because of my job in Dubai I was able to watch Roger Federer's preseason training for five years,” Mr Ramirez said, who still lives in Dubai when he is not travelling.

“I met Alex [Ritschard]'s dad when he went to Dubai for holidays with his wife, and stayed at Park Hyatt Hotel.

“He booked a tennis lesson and I happened to be the coach that day and we connected very well.

“He told me his son used to play college tennis in America, so I knew the level and the experiences Alex went through.

“After his dad left Dubai we stayed in touch, and a few weeks later he messaged me and offered to travel for the summer with Alex.

“I thought it was a great opportunity, as I was on holiday anyway during that time.

“After the summer I went back to Dubai and a few weeks later got another call from Alex's dad offering me a full-time job.”

Mr Ramirez with Alexander Ritschard in Dubai.

The pair had an opportunity to take part in the French Open at Roland Garros in May, the first Grand Slam tournament for both.

Unfortunately Ritschard failed to make it past the third qualifying round, and didn’t make the main draw.

When attention turned to Wimbledon, Mr Ramirez successfully coached his player through the qualifying rounds and a first round tie with one of the best players in the world.

“I grew up playing on red clay so for me being at the French Open was very special,” said Mr Ramirez.

“It is the place where all South Americans players and coaches want to be.”

Currently, both coach and player are slugging it out on the Challenger Tour, playing for the next month in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy, hoping to eventually secure a place at the US Open Qualifiers.

But the memory of their time in the leafy suburb of London SW19 will remain with them forever.

“Playing Tsitsipas on Wimbledon’s court one was an incredible experience — those are the players we want to play.

“It was good to see where our level was and what we need to improve to reach that regularly.

“Stepping on to those courts and just being there is literally a dream come true.”

Updated: July 06, 2022, 8:43 AM