Therapist Gooch, courtside with kings of tennis
New Plymouth sports therapist Roger Gooch will have more interest than most in the progress of world No 20 Kevin Anderson at the Heineken Open next week. He was part of the towering South African's team at three grand slam tournaments in 2013. Robin Martin discovers how the dream assignment came about.
His prowess on the tennis court may be fading but 17-times grand slam winner Roger Federer has a future in public office should he want it.
"Federer is just amazing, just his whole demeanour, how polite he is to everyone. He probably reminds you of someone who could go down as a politician. He could easily be the president of Switzerland," says New Plymouth sports therapist Roger Gooch, who met the Swiss master several times during the northern hemisphere summer.
"It's probably because Federer's an elder statesman now, but you can only take him how you find him and I couldn't have been more impressed with an individual who is probably one of the most famous people in the world," says Gooch, who was working with South African No 1 and world No 20 Kevin Anderson - a regular training partner of Federer.
Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Federer, Rafa Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, all of whom use the top-five ranked server as a training partner, was just one perk of being hired to assist with Anderson's conditioning and recuperation in the run up to the French Open, Wimbledon and later the US Open.
Gooch had previously worked with Anderson's coach, former New Zealand Davis Cup player GD Jones, and it was the Aucklander who called hoping to sign up the 50-year-old to help the 2.03m tall (6ft 8in) right-handed player manage his recovery from elbow surgery when his regular therapist became unavailable.
"I'd worked with Roger quite a lot when I played and later when I was coaching my sister Sacha so when we needed someone for six weeks taking in the French Open and Wimbledon, Roger was the first and most obvious choice," explains Jones.
"He has a very unique set of skills including massage therapy, strength and conditioning, and diagnostic and rehabilitation expertise. He'd also had a lot of experience with higher level sportspeople, so when you combine that with his skillset, he was an easy person to recommend."
For his part Gooch, who had earlier knocked back a fulltime position with Jones, was a little surprised to be offered such an enticing opportunity.
"I'd turned them down previously because I had a young family and was moving to New Plymouth [from Auckland]. Typical of Aucklanders they thought I was crazy moving to a Hicksville town like New Plymouth but it was my home town obviously," he remembers with a wry grin.
Gooch, a Spotswood College alumni who has set up a practice in New Plymouth, remained on good terms with the Joneses, offering advice from afar and recommending therapists they could use, so when Anderson's trainer needed to take a break GD approached him once more.
"This time it was with Kevin, ranked 38th in the world at the time, and in the main draw at the grand slams they were inviting me to and little did I know but in the time we were together he was going to move to a high of 19 after his success at the French Open and Wimbledon," says Gooch.
Anderson made it to the fourth round, or the last 16, at Roland Garros, while he went out a round earlier at Wimbledon.
His results in Europe resulted in Gooch being offered a further six weeks in North America, culminating in the US Open and this time partner Carol and 10-year-old son Ollie were invited to the New York leg of the tour.
Although Anderson went out in the second round, hampered by injury, there were other benefits to being in the Big Apple.
"To be in Times Square and go to one of the Broadway shows with the family was an amazing experience, and to be working at the US Open at the same time was certainly a dream I wouldn't have ever thought would be possible," remembers Gooch.
But there was more than the allure of working at the world's major tennis tournaments and the obvious tourist trappings that attracted the former Central League footballer to the job.
His programme, which included 12 days in Paris before the French Open, the Queens tournament before Wimbledon and a solid buildup to Flushing Meadows, gave the co-writer of the NZ College of Massage's sports diploma curriculum plenty of time to work with Anderson and to observe other trainers' processes in action.
"There's a lot of down time in tennis. You could be waiting five hours for your player to get on court and I spent a lot of time in the gym observing some of the renowned strength and conditioning trainers on the circuit like Serena Williams' and Andy Murray's trainers.
"I even got to see top golfer Rory McIlroy train because his girlfriend [now fiance, former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki] is on the tour.
"The thing is you can get clinical experience but then you can get field experience and this was too big an opportunity to turn down in that regard."
And Gooch should know, his impressive CV includes time working alongside All Blacks at the Auckland Blues in the late 90s, attending the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics as part of New Zealand health teams.
He was also sports therapist to former world champion and Olympic silver medallist kayaker Ben Fouhy and seven-times New Zealand Ironman champion Jo Lawn .
Gooch, who'd be the first to admit he's no tennis expert, is circumspect about the fifth-seeded Anderson's chances at next week's Heineken Open where he's been reunited with his original trainer.
"Kevin has got the ability . . . but the Auckland field is really strong for a second tier tournament so if he makes the semis it will have been really successful.
"The thing is, it's early season and he should be over his injuries and it's really all about the Australian Open and if he makes the last 16 of that it will have been a successful period."
One thing the 27-year-old South African can be sure of is that Gooch, who he helped open the doors to the work trip of a lifetime, will be rooting for him.
1996 – graduated from NZ College of Massage
1997 – establishes Bodysmart practice
1999 – the Blues massage therapist
2000 – Sydney Paralympics health team member
2001-07 – head of NZ College of Massage 2000hr sports therapy diploma
2004 – Athens Olympics health team member
2009 – moves practice to New Plymouth
Robin Martin is head of journalism at Witt.
Taranaki Daily News