Sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know. For Ole Miss men’s tennis All-American Robbye Poole, it was both. Working in Chicago as an elite pro for Score Tennis and Fitness, a phone call from a friend back in April changed his life.
That friend on the other end of the phone call was ATP world No. 18 John Isner, who Poole knew from his junior and college tennis days. Poole lived with Isner after graduation while he was playing on the pro circuit, and Isner was beginning to climb up the ATP ranks.
When Serena Williams was looking for a new hitting partner, she asked Isner if he knew anyone who might be interested.
“Isner recommended me to Serena,” Poole said. “I lived with him after college while I was playing (on the pro circuit). Obviously I applied for the assistant’s job at Ole Miss, and he knew I wanted to still be around tennis, so he asked me if I would be interested. I told him I would, and the next thing you know, I was on a flight to meet her.”
Poole flew to California to meet the world No. 1 for the first time and admitted to being nervous.
“It was pretty nerve-racking,” Poole said. “I met her at UCLA at the courts and we hit for the first time. Even though I was kind of star-struck in the beginning, I had to realize I was there to do one job — hit the tennis ball like I know I can.”
Their first tournament working together also happened to be a big occasion for Williams. She was returning to Indian Wells for the first time in 14 years.
“I knew it was her first time playing Indian Wells in a long time, so I felt a lot of pressure to make sure I did everything perfectly,” Poole said. “I was really focused, because I didn’t want to miss at all. She helped me out and was great during the tournament.”
Following Indian Wells, Williams won the Miami Open and then headed over to Europe for the clay court season. She played two warmup tournaments before the French Open, reaching the semifinals at Madrid.
Four times during the French Open, Williams lost the first set, and each time she came back to win the match on her way to capturing her 20th grand slam.
“It was amazing to witness,” Poole said. “It was a stage I will never be able to duplicate with anybody else. She is such a champion. She is on a different level. She always finds a way, she never quits and she never feels like she is out of it. Every time we thought she was down and out, she came back and found a way to win against great players. I am working with one of the best tennis players of all time, men and women.”
Williams duplicated her French Open feat by winning her sixth Wimbledon title this past weekend and achieved her second “Serena Slam”, as she now holds all four grand slam titles at one time. The talk will now shift to New York and a chance for Williams to capture the calendar slam with a U.S. Open title.
“We just take it one match at a time,” Poole said. “I don’t think she even thinks about that, she just goes in and plays each opponent and hopes that she does her best. We are still a long way from that.”
Poole never envisioned himself in this position as a kid playing tennis.
“When I was growing up I was hoping it was going to be me one day [playing professional tennis]. After playing tennis in college my biggest dream was to become a college coach, but I guess you can say another job came open and now I am hitting with one of the greatest players ever. This is my wildest dream. Imagine looking up and seeing yourself sitting in the box at Wimbledon and you are just like wow I was watching this on TV a year ago now I am actually here.”
Poole lives in Palm Beach, Florida where Williams has a house and a condo. He stays in the condo and travels to all the tournaments she plays. In fact, he said Williams has basically adopted him as part of her family.
As for how long he’ll be working with Williams, Poole says he’s under contract and hopes to stay with her until she retires.
Story By Kim Ling, Associate Athletics Media Relations Director
Story and photo courtesy Ole Miss Sports