Building a Team to Win
Coach John Lloyd is ready to take on WTT with his powerful Aviators Squad
“I’ve got four players that come to the table with a lot of artillery.”
In a word: lucky.
That’s how Aviators Coach John Lloyd feels about his roster this year. After protecting Naomi Broady, who joined the Aviators in 2017, he knew it was likely going to be all new players rounding out the team for the upcoming season. Having a late pick in the draft posed very real potential challenges for Lloyd and Aviators GM Jim Ault. “The way the draft is, you get penalized when you have a successful year, as we did last year. We had the fifth draft choice so you’re kind of hampered by that because you can draw up a list of the players that are available and you can have your ideas, but then the players are taken away from you before you get a chance to get them,” he says.
But one by one, the team came together exactly as he’d hoped. Or more accurately, dared to hope. “I was really surprised that we managed to get Anna-Lena Groenefeld,” he says. “I couldn’t believe that no one took her before we got her so it was almost like I put her down [lower] on my list because I just honestly didn’t think we’d get her — that was almost like a fantasy. We’ve played against her and she’s one heck of a doubles player. I’m very happy that she’s on our side of the court and not against us.”
The addition of Marcus Willis was equally exciting for both Lloyd and Willis. “He’s a perfect team tennis player because he likes the quick action and fast points, he’s got a big serve, and he’s a big player,” says Lloyd. “We played against him last year. I watched his attitude and he loves the concept and he thrives on team events, so to be quite frank, I didn’t think we were going to get him and we almost didn’t get him.” Before the draft, Lloyd called up Willis to gauge his interest. “If I had a sense that he wasn’t as fired up as I would have liked I wouldn’t have gone for him, but he was so engaging on the phone and excited that he had a chance to play for our team.” Willis was ready to jump in with both feet until Lloyd had to pump the brakes just a little. “I said ‘well hold on a bit — we don’t know if someone else is going to get you before I can and then we have no choice,’” he laughs. “He said, ‘I want to do this. I hope you draft me. I hope it works!’ And it did!” he adds, almost incredulously.
The Aviators’ new men’s doubles specialist, Marcin Matkowski, was on Lloyd’s radar from his days as Great Britain’s Davis Cup coach. “He beat us in doubles when he played for Poland, so I know him pretty well,” says Lloyd with a laugh. “He’s a very talented doubles player. He’s another one, to be quite frank, I did not think we would get, and I couldn’t believe again that we were able to pick him up with our draft [position].” Lloyd appreciates Matkowski’s experience as a former Davis Cup player, which gives him valuable experience in team environments. According to Lloyd, Matkowski heard firsthand how fortunate he was to land on the Aviators roster from someone who’d know quite well: four-year Aviators men’s doubles specialist, Raven Klaasen. “I know the first thing he did when he got drafted was phone up Raven Klaasen and ask him about our team, and Raven told him ‘You hit the jackpot, and you’re in the best team in the league!’” says Lloyd proudly.
Add to these new Aviators the return of Broady, who Lloyd says “did a fabulous job and she’s a very good team player,” and he’s very optimistic for the upcoming season. “I’ve got a powerful team,” he says. “I’ve got four players who have big serves and are big hitters. I think in teamtennis, it’s a very short format of quick-fire tennis with first-to-five, no-ad [scoring], so you need players with weapons, and I’ve got four players that come to the table with a lot of artillery.” He believes that teams across the league are relatively balanced with no overwhelming favorite this season. “I think you could pick any of the six and put money on them and think you’ve got a decent shot at winning,” he notes. “I don’t think there’s any standout where you go ‘wow, this team is completely loaded.’”
Lloyd notes that even with big marquee names sprinkled in rosters who’ll step in and play some matches, winning in WTT comes down to how each team performs as a whole. “I look at it and think a lot of it is just going to do with team balance; which team meshes the right way and gets off to hopefully a good start and gets the format down well,” he says. “And I think we’ve got a good shot this year.”