Boris Chernov: ”To become the most successful tennis country in the world, first of all we need to define the criteria of success.”
Tell us a little bit about your background. Why did you decide to come to Finland? What have you been doing here?
I was born in Saint-Petersburg, Russia and lived there till the age of 18. In 2011, right after school graduation, I got an offer from Smash-Kotka Pasi Ahti to move to Finland. My duties included coaching of all level players from juniors to adults, taking care of private coaching and representing the club in league matches as a player. Due to some success I’ve got an invitation from Federico ”Fede” Ricci to join Jarkko Nieminen Tennis Academy coaching team and after 3,5 years in Kotka I moved to Helsinki, Tali. That did a massive impact on my coaching career, since I had a pleasure to work with the best finnish players and coaches, learn through the process, travel around the world and discover different development stories. I continued the job at JNTA for 3 years, before the academy finished the activity and I became a full-time coach of Patrik Niklas-Salminen. We had a cool 2 years cooperation with Patti, where he grabbed his 1st pro singles title, 12 doubles titles and boosted the ranking from above 1000 to 423 in singles and 255 in doubles. That work has taught me human relation skills which is important when you spend so much time together, and how habits and long term activity turn into results, as well as how the world of futures and challengers is living.
Also from December 2018 I started the work with Harri Heliovaara. Obviously I find this cooperation unique, since getting an opportunity and a trust from a person who is older than me, highly educated off-court, with huge experience in sport and with a specific requirement such as doubles tennis, has definitely made me thinking a lot. Few things helped me such as having a luck of seeing Henri Kontinen practising and sharing the court with us, while he was one of the best doubles player in the world, as well as having Louis Cayer and LTA team helping Harri, and of course Harri’s great human skills and ability to describe and analyse. From the begging of our cooperation Harri has won 10 challengers, 3 ATP titles, played twice quarters of a Grand Slams and improved his ranking from 160 to 14 in the world, which seems to be not the onliest achievements which he is going to have as a doubles player.
Meanwhile the work with Patti and Harri, I coached dozens of junior player, cooperated with STL and several clubs, and became a co-founder of Tennismesta tennis club in 2020. From 2021 I’m working at HVS and from August 2022 also at valmennuskeskus.
How do you see the Finnish tennis culture?
Finnish tennis culture is a very interesting topic for discussion. Culture is such a thing which based on people’s choices, values and standards for many years. I definitely respect it a lot, and I find it positive for development. However I do believe that competitive tennis and it’s value is seriously underestimated in Finland. Competitive sport and international success is – an image, a direction, a believe, a motivator, an example for thousands of people around the sport. We all love and support our player/team on the biggest international events since we feel as part of it, no matter is it hockey, football, Markanen at Utah Jazz, or Ruusuvuori at Grand Slam.
I think now ”tennis as hobby” is dominating too much over competitive tennis inside the culture, and that is the biggest reason why tennis doesn’t grow in terms of junior tennis development, facilities, service, success outside of the capital region, coaching culture (their salary, well-being, education, development), female tennis and global position of Finnish tennis in the world.
How do you see Finnish tennis at the moment? Advantages/disadvantages compared to other countries?
Finnish tennis is in decent state at the moment. On one hand we do have some international success; more senior players; fully-booked courts in PK-seutu which many find a success (not me). But on the other most of the smaller clubs (especially outside Helsinki, Tampere, Turku) aren’t doing well in terms of producing players and coaches, developing the game, living up to date standards; we are not having enough space for junior tennis in Helsinki, and not having space is not always a success especially when there weren’t a lot of new facilities open in the past 10 years. If we compare Finland to Saint-Petersburg (in terms of population, geographical location, community), Finland is very successful tennis nation. But if we compare Finland to Estonia, Sweden (in terms of geographical location), or Serbia, Croatia (in terms of population) we are pretty much behind in many aspects. I think tennis wise, as geographically, Finland can take the best from Eastern bloc countries such as discipline, to Western bloc such as modern thinking. But I don’t see any reason why Finland can’t become one of the most successful tennis country in the world. Many would say that climate is an issue in Finland, but back in the days when Sweden had dozen of players in TOP-100 it wasn’t warm and sunny all year around either 🙂
Could you describe your coaching philosophy? How has it changed during the years?
I’m hearing often on different coaching philosophies, I’ve been thinking on it and I always wonder why do we need one. For me philosophy sounds as a pretty old-style word, which means a guidelines of principles which you bring in no matter when and with whom, to make a positive impact on development. And in my case I prefer to have values which I bring in and share with others, since that is more clear reference point and consolidation tool at least for myself. Regarding the question if it is changed, I definitely say yes, since at the begging of coaching I thought that hard skills own the majority of values, but nowadays I do believe that soft skills is the one. I find that hard skills is a “transport” and soft skills is an “environment”, so basically the efficiency of your transport fully depends on the environment which it is used at. So here are some values which I carry on – passion, effort, competitiveness, professionalism, honesty, positiveness, discipline, creativity. Lately we’ve also created in our HVS Girls program “coaching culture” of care, develop and demand. Maybe I’m too young for a having a finalised philosophy, since I feel like I’m learning and adjusting my views on tennis every day.
If you weren’t a tennis coach, what would you like to be?
I love working with young people, I love challenges, and I love creating solutions.
Also on a spare time I enjoy watching passionated professionals, such as cooks, pilots, woodworkers, entrepreneurs, artists and etc.
Not sure of my profession outside of the court, but for sure it should fit the requirements above.
Your Finnish is quite good, how did you pick it up so fast?
I have to say big thanks to those little players who didn’t understand a word of English when I’ve started my coaching journey in Finland 🙂 Environment and life situation has taught me that. Also I’ve enjoyed listening and wasn’t ever afraid of talking Finnish. No doubt I can get better in it and this is one of my long-term goals 🙂
You mentioned above that you don’t see any reason why Finland can’t become one of the most successful tennis country in the world? Can you tell more about how?
To become the most successful tennis country in the world, first of all we need to define the criteria of success. To me it’s several factors such as – quality of service and an outcome.
Quality of service is the chain of processes which starts from the firsts day with tennis. Where do you hear first about tennis? Why tennis should be interesting for you? How easy is to start playing? How easy is to contact the closest club? How easy is to find a group for your level? How exciting is your tennis pathway? How good is the development process? How can you help the sport when you evaluate?
Outcome is the amount of people and the level of those who are passively and actively involved in sport. By the level I mean what do they GET (competitive income) and what do they GIVE (ability to do their job well in comparison with other countries). Cleaners, stringers, physios, shop and cafe keepers, hall owners, managers, club leaders, referees, organisers, coaches, players, volunteers, fans and etc.
Another thing is coach education. Which doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in a class room and reading the book, but mostly getting an opportunity to travel inside and outside the country, meeting different professionals, talking to them, looking what are they doing and how, gaining new experience and developing global view on the game.
Another part of national success is – better physical condition and development of the kids by the age of 10. My subjective opinion is that kids should start diverse activities earlier so they are physically better prepared for the demands. Such kind of things as smartphones, e-sport, COVID pandemic and etc. affects on their physical and mental shape, and amount of activity they do by a certain age. And it of course affects on the quality of learning and coaching, since for example while a coach should teach player how to make swing volley (tough coordinational task), coach teach player how to catch a ball.
And of course the last and very important is mass. We need more kids to the game by the age of 7. We need to find the way how to bring them in. We need to find and learn from those who has achieved some success in this task, both in tennis and other sport.
Do you want to send greetings to the Finnish tennis community/players?
I want to send warmest greeting to those who made my work and development possible here in Finland – Pasi Ahti, Federico Ricci, Saku Siivonen, and to all the people who share the values and support the work I do. It’s very important for me. Tryout working period in Kotka turned into 11 year journey with many great memories in past and even greater in future.