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Meet Florian Zitzelsberger, the performance coach bringing new mom Naomi Osaka back to Grand Slam shape
"She wants to get back to world No. 1, she wants to win Grand Slams," says the Integralis co-founder.
Published Nov 08, 2023
From a young age, Forian Zitzelsberger was fascinated by movement.
“My father was a big influence,” he told me over the phone last Friday. “He was a sports teacher, and he started very early to help me understand biomechanics. My father also played a lot of tennis, a lot of racquet sports, and imparted on me the importance and meaning of athletic movement.”
Growing up in a sports-mad family, Zitzelsberger turned that fascination into his life’s work, becoming one of the most sought-after performance coaches in tennis and co-founder of Integralis Physiotherapie, which he co-founded with fellow trainer Daniel Pohl.
“We called our company Integralis because we integrate everything into achieving maximum performance: strength and conditioning, physiotherapy and osteopathy, sports mental training.”
Having worked with Top 10 stalwarts Kevin Anderson and Petra Kvitova, his latest project will be to bring Naomi Osaka from maternity leave and back onto the Grand Slam stage.
“Where she is today is what makes working with her so inspiring,” he said of Osaka. “She wants to get back to world No. 1, she wants to win Grand Slams. She gives me the impression of someone who is totally balanced and happy with herself. She’s very much grounded, mature and embracing the beauty of motherhood.”
Zitzelsberger last worked with Osaka in 2022, before the four-time major champion left the tour to give birth to daughter Shai. Together, the pair are hard at work unlocking this once-in-a-generation ball striker’s true athletic potential.
“She’s obviously a great offense player, but I think things have changed in the game over the last half-decade where defense is getting more and more important. We’re working to make Naomi into a player who can transition more effectively from defense to offense. That way, even if she’s getting pushed into a defensive position, she can still strike an offensive shot.
“To reach highest performance, we start by returning stability within the kinetic chain, which is typically lost somewhat during pregnancy and birth. The kinetic chain runs through the core, stomach and belly, and for a long time, her chain wasn’t playing tennis; it was growing a baby!”
The cornerstone of Zitzelsberger’s athletic philosophy is that of General Physical Preparedness—or “GPP”—the baseline from which development can begin.
What I love about working in tennis because it’s a super honest sport. You need unbelievable mobility, strength, endurance, crazy hand-eye coordination, cognitively and emotionally strong. There are so many different aspects that for me, this makes it the most honest sport in the world. Florian Zitzelsberger
“Once that base is attained, we work on specific movement skills, whether that’s acceleration or deceleration, change of direction. The main objective is always strengthening to make the body strong, in addition to improving conditioning and mobility.”
It is a philosophy he first began honing on himself as a young athlete competing in soccer and skiing.
“I was motivated to train my body on my own. I was already doing mobility, movement and strength exercises when I was as young as 12 or 13. Very early on, I gained a keen understanding of movement.”
Though an ACL injury ended his own competitive dreams, he was then able to pursue his burgeoning passion for sports medicine in 2015. Working as a physiotherapist in Germany’s Bundesliga tennis league, he met former WTA No. 37 Chanelle Scheepers, who enthusiastically recommended his services to fast-rising countryman Kevin Anderson.
“An hour later, Kevin calls me and 12 hours later, I’m in London to watch him play Andy Murray in the Queen’s Club final. We worked together three or four days when Kevin said he wouldn’t let me go and I started traveling with him. Sometimes you’re in front of a door and you don’t know whether it’s big or small. We, as young people, have to open them no matter what.
“From this moment on, I had the chance to continue educating myself to improve as a strength and conditioning coach, as an athletic coach. I did all my education while also getting the chance to learn from other athletic coaches on the tour.”
Anderson’s work with Zitzelsberger culminated with a first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open that same summer. A year later, the performance coach began working with fellow German Julia Goerges, who needed a restart after four years outside the Top 40.
“Within two or three years, we had her in the Top 10, which was obviously a big thing for me,” he said of Goerges, who won the 2017 WTA Elite Trophy and reached the 2018 semifinals of Wimbledon through a wildly successful partnership.
“What I love about working in tennis because it’s a super honest sport. You need unbelievable mobility, strength, endurance, crazy hand-eye coordination, cognitively and emotionally strong. There are so many different aspects that for me, this makes it the most honest sport in the world.”
The challenge comes with adapting his methods to each player’s individual style and situation so that each can achieve a state of GPP.
She wants to get back to world No. 1, she wants to win Grand Slams. She gives me the impression of someone who is totally balanced and happy with herself. She’s very much grounded, mature and embracing the beauty of motherhood. Florian Zitzelsberger
“On the tennis tour, everyone is hitting the same yellow ball, but they’re all totally different movers, so you’ll have hard hitters and others who grind like crazy and everything in between. So, the first thing when I work with a new player is to screen them in order to create an athletic profile, and from there we create milestones to track the player’s development. On one side, you have to strengthen strengths while also look for weaknesses so that you can help improve those, as well.”
Back with a client who has no lack of strengths, Zitzelsberger is confident Osaka will return to action as a very different athlete—one who is eager to make big moves in a field she once dominated.
“She’s super motivated and I’m super pumped to help her. She inspires the whole team with this champion mindset: she just wants to go for it.
“I’m hoping her opponents will read this and get a little bit afraid of her!”