Without a doubt Peter Smith is one of South Australia’s most respected sporting figures, he has produced more world class players in Australia in the last 30 years than any other coach.
Smith has mentored thousands of young players and has had the Peter Smith Tennis Academy for over 20 years now.
He was SA Tennis’ director of coaching throughout an era that produced John Fitzgerald, Darren Cahill, Mark Woodforde and Roger Rasheed.
His finest success story though is arguably former world number one and two-time Grand Slam winner and current Australian Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt who he coached for nine years.
One of Smith’s other proteges was Peter Carter who went on to coach one of the world’s greatest ever players, Switzerland’s Roger Federer.
Smith also became the first coach in history to have coached three Davis Cup Coaches: Fitzgerald and Hewitt for Australia and Carter for Switzerland.
He was named the Australian Coach of Year in 1998 and 1999 and he still coaches a select group of young players today.
Not only was Smith a legendary coach, but he has also spent years as SA’s top ranked pennant player and interestingly though he did not initially have a passion for coaching.
A self-confessed late starter Smith said he moved down to Adelaide from the country to do year 12 and play tennis.
This was where he built a friendship with John James who has a victory over a world tennis great on his list of tennis achievements.
“I grew up in Strathalbyn and started playing tennis a bit later when I was 13 years old and moved to Adelaide when I was 16,” he told The First Serve
“I did year 12 at Adelaide High and we had the strongest schoolboy’s tennis team that anyone had known.
“The best player in the team was John ‘Jamesy’ James who I became good friends with.
“Jamesy toured full time and finished with a world ranking of 90 in singles and 30 in doubles and won two tournaments.
“He even once beat Bjorn Borg and at the Australian open and is now coaching full time in America.”
Unfortunately for Smith he got called up to the Army which he said stopped him from playing tennis internationally and eventually led to him becoming a tennis coach.
“I thought of nothing else than tennis, a month or two after finishing school, I then got called up to the Army and that put pay to the next four or five years.
“I had no desire to head to Vietnam and so I finished going to teachers’ college and put the Army off for a year.
“Unfortunately, though being called up to the Army after school meant that I could only play top level domestic tennis and couldn’t leave the country.
“When there was a change of government, I didn’t need to go to the Army so I was able to play semi-professionally.”
Smith went on to become a Secondary School teacher for 30 years and his playing career was cut short by injury which led him to become a tennis coach.
Smith started coaching Hewitt at six years old and said it was a bit of luck with regards to how the pair met which led to a very successful partnership where Smith coached Hewitt for nine years.
“It was a bit of fate I would like to think, Glynn and Cherilyn Hewitt were playing tennis and they decided they wanted their kids Lleyton and Jaslyn to play tennis as well so they were looking for someone to coach them.
“At the time I was coaching Louise Stacey and Steve Baldas who were the number one SA tennis players and semi-professionals and thankfully they both recommended me to Glynn and Cherilyn and that’s how it started.
“Lleyton is younger than most of the better players I coached in the younger days.
“I coached players like John ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald from SA and a string of other good players came out of that period like Roger Rasheed, Mark Woodforde and Peter Carter who I’d like to think gave players like Lleyton the confidence that it was possible to be a world class player.”
Smith said to work with Hewitt had been incredible and something he was extremely grateful for as well as the other players that had gone on to achieve success on the world class stage.
“I am sure everyone that coaches seriously over a period of time has a desire to work with and coach the best players,” he said.
“To work with the youngest number one in the history of the game has been a sensational experience.
“That was a really exciting period I was quite young by coaching standards but during that five-ten-year period we had quite a few players that went on to be a world class level and Lleyton turned out to be the best of all of them.”