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SALTWATER PORTRAIT

Dave Marshall coaches World No. 1 doubles team

Lewes coach leads Bryan brothers, Jack Sock to tennis greatness
October 16, 2018

Behind every great comeback story there’s a coach pushing a player or team to be great. 

For the legendary doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan, it’s Lewes’ own Dave Marshall. 

Marshall, who helped build the sterling reputation of Sea Colony Tennis before leaving to create Dave Marshall Tennis Academies at Plantations in Lewes, took over duties as the traveling coach for the hall of fame duo about a year-and-a-half ago.

Through hard work, the Bryan brothers regained the No. 1 ranking in the world. Then Bob went down with an injury just before the French Open. Mike soldiered on, teaming up with Jack Sock for the final two majors of the 2018 season, winning both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, the first time in 50 years a doubles team won both tournaments in a single season. 

The Wimbledon trophy sits on Marshall’s desk at Plantations clubhouse, soon to be joined by the U.S. Open trophy. The rest of Marshall’s office is laden with individual, team and coaching trophies, plaques and medals, displaying just how successful he’s been over the last 30 to 35 years as a player and coach. 

Marshall’s journey with the Bryan brothers began with colleague and friend Dave MacPherson. MacPherson had coached the Bryan brothers for more than a dozen years, but when he was named coach at Washington College and the personal coach of singles star John Isner, his time with the Bryan brothers became limited. 

“What we came up with is he and I would co-coach them together,” Marshall said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for the last year or so. I’ve been the one traveling with them.”

The Bryans had dropped to 11th in the world and had not won a major since 2014, quite a slump for a duo that had won 16 grand slams since 2003. 

Marshall got them together and had a collaborative meeting to make sure everyone was on the same page. 

“Quite frankly, when you have those conversations with hall of famers, they’re not easy,” he said. “It’s basically telling Michael Jordan that he shouldn’t settle for a jump shot.”

But being consummate professionals, they were all in, he said, willing to do whatever it took to get back to the top. They came into this season with a renewed sense of purpose and were extremely focused on their goals, he said. 

They reached the semifinals at the first major of the season, the Australian Open. They followed that with finals appearances in Mexico and Indian Wells, and wins at Monte Carlo and Miami. Then, after the brothers had regained the No. 1 ranking, Bob was injured in the finals at Madrid. 

“We regrouped and searched for a few different partners for Mike,” he said. “We decided Jack Sock would be a good fit.”

It turned out to be not just a good fit, but a perfect fit. After winning Wimbledon, Marshall said, they went on a “magical run” to earn back-to-back grand slams at the U.S. Open last month in New York. 

Although he doesn’t have much time to sightsee on his travels around the world, Marshall has been good about documenting his experiences. Mixed in with his dozens of videos of the Bryan brothers practicing are some pretty memorable moments. He has a video of Prince Albert of Monaco playing drums in the palace. He has another of Rafael Nadal wishing the Bryans a happy birthday. Other videos show lighter behind-the-scenes antics in the locker room.

“I’ve had a lot of neat things happen,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know pretty much all of the top pros, whether it be Nadal or [Kevin] Anderson. I’ve had conversations with [Roger] Federer.”

Tennis is a brotherhood, he said, with all the players and their coaches, friends and families interacting often. It’s especially common among the elite players who go deep into tournaments. The deeper into the tournament, the fewer players left in the locker room, which leads to more intimate conversations.

Marshall goes where the Bryans go. Next up is China. 

That’s a long way from Milford, where Marshall grew up and was one of the top juniors in the region. After graduating from Milford High in the mid-1980s, he moved on to Washington College in Chestertown, Md., where he had a successful tennis career and was part of a team that reached No. 1 in the country for small schools. 

After graduating in 1988, he took over nearly right away at Sea Colony in Bethany Beach. During his nearly two decades there, he coached more than 150 kids who went on to play collegiate tennis, including Jessi Robinson, who won a national championship at Duke; Kim Schiff, a No. 1 player at Vanderbilt; Shannon Buck, a former No. 1 junior and No. 15 NCAA player; and Madison Brengle, who’s been ranked as high as No. 30 in the world professionally and has taken down Serena Williams. 

“This is always what I’ve loved to do,” Marshall said. 

His coaching connections have even reached as far as his latest job with the Bryan brothers. As Mike Bryan and Jack Sock battled Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus in a five-set thriller in the Wimbledon finals, Marshall couldn’t help but think about the opposing coach, Stephan de Kock. Early in his career at Sea Colony, de Kock worked for him. Decades later, they were each on the brink of tennis immortality.

“It was five-all in the fifth and I was thinking about how I was going to handle it,” Marshall said. “If [I] lose, I’m going to allow them to celebrate and go over and congratulate him. But after we won 7-5, he kind of took off. When we were in the locker room later, he came in to find me. It’s tough because it was his first grand slam final. As a coach, if you win a grand slam it’s like winning a Super Bowl. It takes you to another level.” 

Back at home, Marshall has had his fair share of playing success in recent years. This year alone, he’s won both 45-and-older national tournaments he entered with doubles teammate Ellis Ferreira. He’s won a handful more over the years.

Ironically, he’s playing the best tennis of his life with little to no time to actually play.

“I’m playing better than ever because I’m practicing with these guys,” he said. “I want to go out and play, but I can’t. You can’t play the nationals in Philadelphia when you’re in New York for three weeks. These guys go so deep into a tournament that you’re there until the end.” 

Dave holds Delaware Open singles, doubles and mixed doubles championships. He has been USPTA Middle States Pro of the Year as well as Delaware Pro of the Year and has also led his men's team to win United States Tennis Association national championships in 2006 (5.0 level), 2007 (Open),  2008 (5.5 level), 2014 (40-plus open) and 2015 (40-plus open).

Marshall’s family also has a pretty good track record in tennis. His son Jordan was a top player at Indian River. He’s since joined the U.S. Army, serving as a second lieutenant at Fort Polk, La. Daughter Brittany followed his footsteps to Washington College, where she was a nationally ranked player. Marshall served as her coach as well as the men’s team coach. She finished her collegiate tennis career with a season at Delaware State University where she was all-conference and all-American. She now works for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C.

Marshall bought his existing space at Plantations in 2007 and moved there full time in 2009. 

He was inducted into the Washington College Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Delaware Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006.