Alan Jones, tennis coach who guided Jo Durie and Jeremy Bates to Grand Slam doubles titles – obituary

Alan Jones and his co-coach Jo Durie, right, with their charge Elena Baltacha after the British player beat Amanda Coetzer at Wimbledon in 2002
Alan Jones and his co-coach Jo Durie, right, with their charge Elena Baltacha after the British player beat Amanda Coetzer at Wimbledon in 2002 - PA/Alamy

Alan Jones, who has died aged 75, was among the most influential and popular tennis coaches of his era and shaped the careers of generations of top British players. During the 1980s, he guided Jo Durie to No 5 in the world and the semi-finals of two majors, as well as the Wimbledon and Australian Open mixed doubles crowns partnering another of his pupils, Jeremy Bates; Jones was also notably critical of what he regarded as the Lawn Tennis Association’s stuffy attitudes, and despite three stints as national coach, was always happier when coaching independently.

Alan Leonard Jones was born on October 1 1948 in the north London suburb of Wood Green into a proudly working-class family to Eileen and Henry. His father was a painter and decorator and money was tight, but Alan, the younger of two children, a bright, sporty boy with a passion for football, dreamt of following in the footsteps of his uncle, Reg Bennett, who played for Tottenham Hotspur.

A fleet-footed striker, the youngster was on Spurs’ junior books but rapidly tired of being hacked down from behind by chunky defenders determined to stop him at all costs. Aged 15, a pupil at Glendale Grammar School, he accompanied a friend for his first taste of tennis on public courts, where he discovered a natural gift for the game and was immediately hooked. A few weeks later, he was talent-spotted and invited to join a club – to his family’s astonishment, as they considered tennis the preserve of a privileged elite.

Jones made astonishing progress, practising hard, observing the club’s best players and constantly asking questions about technique. Within two years he had qualified for the National Under-18 Championships and dropped out of school before his A-levels to fulfil his dream of playing in tournaments.

When he was 18, his father died, and with little money, Jones struggled to fund his tournament schedule and began coaching at the Hazelwood Club near Enfield and at nearby Hadley Wood. Within three years he had passed the coveted Part 5 qualification to become the youngest professional coach in Britain and he began building an impressive roster of players. He even bought his mother a stringing machine, enabling her to make some money stringing rackets for club members and his pupils.

A good, rather than world-class, player, Jones was nevertheless a tricky opponent thanks to his speed around the court, his swinging lefty serve and his canny tactical brain, and he made a single appearance at Wimbledon in the mixed doubles in 1970 alongside Diane Riste. A stalwart of the high-flying Middlesex side, he played 21 times at County Week in Group I, but realised early on that coaching was his real metier.

Jones at the 1990 US Open with Clare Wood before her second-round match against Martina Navratilova
Jones at the 1990 US Open with Clare Wood before her second-round match against Martina Navratilova - PA/Alamy

Influenced by the uncompromising methods of the great Australian coach Harry Hopman, he favoured a squad system and insisted on high levels of physical fitness and self-discipline, using a variety of brutal two-on-one drills to put the single player under relentless pressure.

As national coach at Bisham Abbey in the late 1970s he coached several teenage internationals including Jo Durie and her doubles partner Debbie Jevans, who now chairs the All England Club. When he stepped down to set up his own squad, Jo Durie joined him, realising that she needed a more intensive approach to fulfil her potential. The pair bonded immediately, and within six years she was world No 5.

“Alan helped me become more consistent from the back of the court, encouraging me to use my big forehand,” she recalled. “He instilled a strong work ethic and love of what we were doing and he was great at thinking up different drills. He’d say: ‘We’ll play a rally, and by the fourth shot you have to hit a winner.’ He was a hard taskmaster on court: loud, a bit brash and ‘in yer face’, but fun and cheeky, and he’d talk to anyone. When he began travelling with me on the circuit it was a huge learning curve for him, but he was like a sponge, learning from all the top players and their coaches.”

In 1983 Durie reached the semi-finals of both the US Open and the French – where, unseeded, she upset the fourth-seeded American prodigy Tracy Austin seed in the quarter-finals.

“It was a lightbulb moment for Alan,” said Jo Durie. “He was watching from the players box, and suddenly realised he was getting too involved in the outcome of the match, rather than analysing it. Afterwards he told me: ‘I was far too caught up in you winning or losing. It’s the player who must play the match. My job is to watch and see where I can get them to improve.’ ”

Durie was leading 5-0, 40-0 in the deciding set against Tracy Austin but shaking with nerves as she served on her first match point. “I did the worst double fault ever,” she said. “It was so bad, I just laughed and looked across to see Alan grinning at me. That relaxed me and I won it on the next point.”

With Mark Cox at the Federation Cup in Nottingham in 1991
With Mark Cox at the Federation Cup in Nottingham in 1991 - PA/Alamy

When she retired from tennis in 1995, Jo Durie and Jones began coaching together at Hazelwood Club and nearby Northwood. Their star pupils included leading British players such as Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, and Laura Robson, who won the Wimbledon junior event and is now a tennis pundit.

“Alan was one of my first coaches,” Laura Robson recalled. “He taught me so much, but most importantly he taught me how fun working hard and committing to something can be. He had such an infectious energy and passion for the game. You could hear his voice from several courts away, encouraging players from the first to the last session.”

Jones met his future wife Vicky, née Beveridge, a hairdresser, in a nightclub in Coolhurst when, exhausted from a day’s play and hoping for a lift home, he asked her if she had a car. She proved a hard-working, no-nonsense foil to him, utterly family-focussed and devoted to their two children. The elder, Laura, is now a paediatric physiotherapist, while Ryan, who only started tennis at 15 played at national junior level before following his father into coaching, and now works with current British players such as Jack Draper and Kyle Edmunds. He also continues his father’s legacy, running the Unique Tennis Academy which he founded at Hazelwood Club.

Although Jones spent two months in 1984 coaching the 15-year-old Steffi Graf and was often asked to train foreign players, he invariably declined, insisting: “I want to work with Brits.” He also mentored several notable coaches, including his son, as well as Jeremy Bates, James Trotman and David Felgate.

Alan Jones is survived by his wife and children.

Alan Jones, born October 1 1948, died April 7 2024

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