Wimbledon: Caty McNally was one of the few female entrants at Wimbledon with a female coach: Her mother, Lynn Nabors McNally.
Mom does not travel full-time on tour with Caty — someone else she’s worked with for six years, Kevin O’Neill, does — but they use a two-coach set-up at the biggest events, including Grand Slam tournaments.
McNally, a 21-year-old from Ohio who was the runner-up in women’s doubles at the US Open each of the past two years, once alongside Coco Gauff and once alongside Taylor Townsend, wishes female coaches weren’t so rare at the pro level. There are just 13 women ranked in the Top 200 with a female coach; four of those coaches are the player’s mother.
Different vibe and different environment
It would be nice, McNally says, if there were more women around. She looks at her male counterparts — every man who was in the singles field at the All England Club is coached by a man — and thinks, “Why can’t it be that way for us?”
“There’s a different vibe because of it. A different environment. On the men’s side, the coaches are always in the locker room with the players, just hanging out. On the women’s side, you don’t see that; it’s only the players in the locker room,” McNally said last week after a session at the All England Club’s Aorangi Park practice courts with her mother and O’Neill.
“It might let the guys be more loose: The coaches are right there to help take things off their shoulders. On the women’s side, after a loss, a lot of the girls are like, ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to be by myself.’ You don’t see any female coaches hanging around in the locker room,” said McNally, who missed the French Open with a torn right hamstring and wore athletic tape on the back of that leg during first-round exits in singles and doubles at Wimbledon. “I do wonder what it would be like if there were more females coaches. Maybe the players and coaches would hang out and have group dinners more.”
Role of women coaches
McNally, a successful junior who is now 67th in singles and 26th in doubles in the WTA rankings, was one of just six of the 128 women in the singles bracket at Wimbledon with a female coach. The WTA is hoping to increase the number of women in that role at the highest levels of tennis, in part through a Coach Inclusion Program that is in its first full year.
“It’s embarrassing how few of us there are, to be honest with you,” Nabors McNally said, sitting next to her daughter on a wooden bench near the practice courts. “It’s going to take a lot more time and effort to see the numbers where they should be.”
All in the family
Nabors McNally, a teaching pro after being a professional player in the 1980s and 1990s, and her daughter have been a tennis tandem for nearly all of Caty’s life. She started at age 2 by hitting a balloon over the couch at home with her older brother, John, who went on to earn all-Big Ten honours at Ohio State.
The next step was hitting balls in the driveway. Then there would be Sunday night all-in-the-family matchups: Caty and Mom against John and Dad.
“I would say, ‘Just make contact, Sweetie.’ And all of a sudden, she did,” Nabors McNally recalled. “And then we had rallies. And then we played points.”
From the time Caty was 7 or 8, she would spend 12 or more hours a day at the The Club at Harper’s Point in Cincinnati, where Mom has given lessons seven days a week for years.
Same story for Katherine Sebov
“I liked being around the sport,” Caty said. “I liked being around her.”
Katherine Sebov, a Canadian player who lost in qualifying at Wimbledon, has always been coached by her mother, too. Sebov picked up the sport after watching her parents play tennis and deciding to join in — uninvited.
“I 100 per cent crashed the party,” Sebov said. “Then they stopped playing, and it was all me.”
Both McNally and Nabors McNally say they are able to navigate the two spheres of their relationship: mom-child and coach-player.
No tennis talk at home
“It’s a very fine line, and you just have to find it. ... As I’ve matured, I’ve just realised to not take certain things so seriously, and (think), ‘Maybe she meant it one way but it came across in another,’” McNally said. “It’s just like probably any 21-year-old who at times doesn’t always want to be around their mom.”
Mom’s take? “We’ve had a lot of conversations about Caty being the CEO of her business. But you can’t have a bigger person in your support system than family.”
One rule they adhere to: no tennis talk when at home.
As a teen at the junior level in 2018, McNally was the singles runner-up to Gauff at the French Open — after eliminating current WTA No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals — and won doubles titles with Gauff at the French Open and US Open.
Her goals these days?
“I want to win Slams in (singles and doubles). And mixed, as well. And also be No. 1 in the world,” Caty said with a smile. “Might as well dream big.”
“Once Caty grabs ahold of the kite string,” McNally Nabors said, “I hope she can hold on for a long time.”