By Richard Pagliaro, 11/26/2002
The American and Australian flags perched prominently on Taylor Dent's left shoulder are a tattooed testament to his dual heritage as the American-born son of former Australian Davis Cup member Phil Dent. The 21-year-old Dent wears his roots on his shoulder and is intent on making his mark on the ATP Tour in 2003.
Eager to continue his climb up the rankings and into the top 25, Dent has parted company with Australian coach Paul Kilderry and hired American Brad Stine has his new coach. Tennis fans are familiar with Stine, who formerly teamed with Jose Higueras to coach Jim Courier to the No. 1 ranking in 1992 and later reunited with Courier toward the end of his career.
Stine becomes the fourth coach to work with Dent in recent years. Phil Dent, who was the 1974 Australian Open runner-up to Jimmy Connors, was his son's primary coach when he turned pro before giving way to former top 10 player Eliot Teltscher in February of 2001. Teltscher and Dent split last November and at the urging of his father Dent eventually hooked up with Australian Paul Kilderry last spring.
The partnership paid immediate dividends as the unseeded Dent captured his first career tournament championship with a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory over top-seeded James Blake in the final of the Miller Lite Hall of Fame Championships at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island in July.
Fittingly, Taylor made history on the Hall's hallowed lawns, etching his name alongside his fathers as the Dents became the only father and son to win ATP tournament titles in the Open Era.
"It was unbelievable," said Dent, who entered Newport with a 5-8 record on the season, in the aftermath of his first title. "Going into the tournament, I thought that I could sneak through a few matches, maybe, but I didn't think as far ahead as winning it."
A tremendous talent with a seismic serve — Dent blasted a blistering 144-mph serve in a five-set loss to Lleyton Hewitt at the 2001 Wimbledon — the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Dent appeared a prisoner of his prodigious power in the past. While his serve routinely rocked the radar gun in triple digits, his win total failed to reach double digits as Dent's descent deepened due to a recurring back injury early this season.
Third-round showings at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon bolstered Dent's confidence, a modified service motion has helped minimize the stress to Dent's back, while Kilderry has helped sharpen his shot selection and accelerate his agility. Under Kilderry's coaching, Dent concluded the season ranked No. 57 before the pair called it quits.
"People labeled him as a player who didn't work hard, but I was completely surprised by how hard Taylor works," Kilderry told Tennis Week while still coaching Dent. "Taylor has a lot of options on the court, so we've tried to simplify the game and make him realize he doesn't have to hit a winner to win every point — he can give the opponent a chance to lose the point. He's a phenomenal talent. I believe he can win every single match he plays. I definitely think Taylor is top 20 material."
The strong serve-and-volleyer recorded some solid results following his Newport triumph. Dent reached the round of 16 at successive Tennis Masters Series tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati, falling to French Open finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1, 7-6 (7-4) in one of the most exciting matches in the Cincinnati event. He endured a disappointing first-round U.S. Open loss to Raemon Sluiter, but bounced back at the end of the season, by reaching the round of 16 at Tokyo and Stockholm.
As Dent strives to reach his potential the two most immediate areas he must address are his conditioning and his return game. Though he expends effort in each match, oo often, Dent was content to simply block back his returns and charge the net on little more than a bluff, while his stamina sometimes seemed suspect at the end of long matches.
In hiring Stine, who helped outline Courier's rigorous training regimen when he reigned at the top of tennis, Dent appears to be making a concerted commitment to conditioning. Should Dent get into top shape it could help reshape the course of his promising career.