WATCH: Tennis Channel's Original Series, Academy Life - Trailer

Advertising

From the moment Alizé Lim learned to play tennis in Paris, she dreamed of traveling to a premier tennis academy, where she might emulate the likes of Andre Agassi, Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova.

“When I was little, I would ask my parents to enroll me in [Nick] Bollettieri’s,” she recalled over the phone on Tuesday, “because I believed this was the way I could become a great champion. I even managed to go for a weekend once when we were on holidays but it was too expensive to take on any kind of full-time commitment.”

Lim would later become a staple of Patrick Mouratoglou’s eponymous academy in France, and channel that experience into an unprecedented opportunity to visit the world’s top training grounds for Tennis Channel International’s new series, Academy Life.

“What these academies all share in common is hard work, focus, dedication,” explains Lim, who cracked the Top 150 in both singles and doubles. “They’ll describe it in different ways or mantras, but it all boils down to the same idea to me: rigor, aiming high, employing self-belief and being tough on yourself in the name of achieving results. You find this everywhere.”

Academy Life follows Lim across Europe, starting at Mouratoglou’s academy in Nice, which has undergone a major evolution in the last decade to host the likes of Serena Williams and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

“I first started training at their facility in Paris, which was so much smaller and more like a little family," says Lim. "When they moved to Nice, it was heartbreaking for me at first because I felt nothing could replace what they had in Paris, but when I finally visited I had to admit just how amazing the new site is. The weather is much better, so it was unquestionably a smart move for him to relocate from Paris. The space and facilities make everything easier for players to go.”

Alongside established pros are up-and-coming players like Holger Rune, who pushed Novak Djokovic to four sets at the US Open, and younger athletes looking to one day make their mark on the pro circuit.

“It’s a big evolution but I’d say Patrick has maintained the family atmosphere," says Lim. "All of the coaches are really close and talk all the time. Everyone is friendly so you can approach anyone and have a conversation, even through the fence while someone else is practicing. That’s impressive because that’s the very thing you risk when you go from a small academy to a big one. It’s such an interesting environment now with players of all ages, whether it’s the best six-year-old in the country who comes to train for a week or Tsitsipas. You get to see champions of all ages.”

From Nice, Lim takes viewers to Sweden to visit Magnus Norman’s academy in Stockholm; the former ATP pro coached Stan Wawrinka to three major titles and runs a training facility that matches his home country’s quieter sensibilities.

“The mentality of the country dictates the atmosphere, and you find that a lot of these cultural clichés are based on some truth," says Lim. "For example, I felt a very Eastern European, intense sort of energy at Janko Tipsarevic’s academy; there wasn’t a ton of joking around there, whereas at Mourataglou, you see players laughing during practice or talking between courts. Everyone in Serbia was super focused, and there was more of a balance at the German National Tennis Center in Munich; everyone was calm, on time and well-organized.”

Whether it was Norman, Tipsarevic, or even Rafael Nadal's academy in Mallorca, Lim came to understand that there is no secret formula to elite-level success and that while academies can inspire greatness, the best players require more individualized attention.

“I think it’s a little bit of a false belief you have when you’re a kid, that you look at these academies and think they’re the best because of all the big players who’ve come from there," says Lim. "What actually happens is most big players use the facilities and work with their own coaches. This was my own mistake when I was little, thinking Bollettieri’s was some kind of machine that makes a champion out of everyone. It’s just not that easy because every player has their own path where they may work with an academy coach for two years but it quickly becomes about private coaches and the people surrounding you.

“The really good players will go to where the sun and great facilities are, and that attracts more people to go there, but you can’t think you’ll just sign up for a program and become a champion. You do get to train closely with those people and observe how they handle their careers, and that’s a positive.”

Check out new episodes of Academy Life on Tennis Channel International.