Aug/19

10

Boy’s 14’s Hard Court Championships from Mobile, Alabama

Lindsay Davenport is a big woman. I learn this as I walk past her here at the Mobile (Alabama) Tennis Center, the home of the 12’s and 14’s National Hard Court Championships. Her husband, Jon Leach, is even a bigger than Lindsay. They are stewarding their oldest child, Jagger Leach, as he plays in the 12’s National Hard Court championships. Jagger Leach is knocked out of the event in the Round of 16. Apparently, not even having a Grand Slam winner as a mother and a former USC star as a father entitles you to a long run in a Super Nationals event. Callum, my son, is in the 14’s event, and he asks Jagger who he knows how many slams his mother won, and he’s staggered to find out that he doesn’t even know. Three, Callum tells Jagger.

Mary Joe Fernandez is also here. Her husband, Roger Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick, is not. Fernandez sits on a bench behind the court for every match her son, Nicholas Godsick, the No. 3 seed in the 14’s, plays dressed in tights and a hat. I never see her holding a tennis racquet even once nor do I see Davenport with one. Godsick who has posted Instagram photos with Federer at the Australian Open, plays a fluid net-charging game much like the Swiss, himself, and he makes it into the finals of the 14’s event, taking down the No. 1 seed Yannik Rahman, in the semis.

Another former professional player-mom here is Linda Harvey Wild, who in the first round of the her first pro tournament, in her home city of Chicago, knocked off Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, she has a son in the 12’s and another in the 14’s. Wild does warmup and hit with her sons and I find it interesting that she remembers and relates all the points in the last two games of the Wimbledon doubles finals she appeared in with Liz Smylie as her opponent against Martina Hingis and Helena Sukova. Other than that, she’s not too talkative.

Where are all the former male pro players with aspiring junior offspring? They’re not here with the exception of Leach and I don’t recall him having much of a pro career. I sidle up to Yannik Rahman’s father after I see him warm up his son at a practice and tell him that he hits a nice ball. I ask him if he played college tennis and he says he did at Florida International University in Miami and that seems to be the gist of what he wants to say to me. I feel some parents are so competitive they don’t want to give away any info that could help an opponent, but maybe I’m just being paranoid here.

I see a number of fathers all week long hovering around their highly-ranked sons (as I do my son, but he’s unseeded in this tournament). One father is a squat Asian man who I’ve been told is an acupuncturist and after his son’s matches he’ll stick needles in him and do cupping. most of us were players of some level, maybe even decent college players like myself, but none of us as far as I can tell were Lindsay Davenport’s or Mary Joe Fernandez’s. Our dreams are that our sons will do what they did and we did not.

That’s why I show up with my son in Mobile, who’s in the 14’s draw ranked no. 161 in the 14’s national rankings (this is only Callum’s fourth Super National event; there are four a year, the Clay’s, the Hard’s, the Winter’s and the Indoor’s), on Wednesday after flying into New Orleans, The Big Easy, and driving across Louisiana and Mississippi to get to Alabama (Geography lesson, I learn that Pensacola Florida, is only an hour drive away from Mobile, that’s four states in the span of a few hours. There are supposed to be nice white sand beaches in Pensacola. I never get to see them). We check into our Marriott hotel room and hit the courts and find out that we’re the only one’s practicing for the Saturday start of the tournament. Otherwise, all 60 courts are pretty much all empty. I start to hit with my son, but the pace of his ball is more than I’m used to these days. Every third ball hits off the frame of my racquet and much to Callum’s chagrin, veers off the court.

I look over to a bench in the shade and see an old man with a young boy. The boy looks to be 8, but I say anyway, “You want to hit with my son?” He grabs his racquet and jumps out onto the court. I think it’s just going to be a hit and giggle for Callum, but the kid turns out to be a special player. His name is Marcel Latok and he’s from Chicago too and happens to be the No. 1 ranked 10-year-old in the United States. He looks like McCauley Caulkin from “Home Alone,” but he gives Callum a good run. Callum beats him 6-2 in a set, but the boy hangs in every rally and Callum who has no siblings, loves jabbing with the boy, kidding around with him, verbally.

His coach’s name is Jack Sharpe and I learn by talking to him that he’s a guru of tennis. His own coach was the great Pancho Segura and he mentored under Pancho Gonzalez and Robert Lansdorp, who Jack says is in ill health. Marcel has gone out to Los Angeles to train with Lansdorp. Sharpe does not talk much. He doesn’t know how to enter my name into the contacts on his phone either, but I can tell he knows his tennis. He tells Marcel during a changeover to hit with depth against Callum, to go for both firm and soft angles, and to open up the court, move Callum off the court, before pulling the trigger on a winner.

He says Pancho Segura always said, “Wait for your favorite shot.”

For me, these tournaments are trying. There is a lot of getting my son ready to play, ferrying him to the courts, to a restaurant, back to the hotel, making sure he’s stretching, doing his band exercises and getting enough sleep. He likes to hang out with the other boys once they start showing up in the next couple of days, and playing video games on their phones. My son doesn’t have a phone because he rarely reads a book and I know if we bought him a phone, he’d be on it all the time. For dinner the first night we go to Wasabi’s a Japanese place. He gets the Chicken Teriyaki and I get the Sushi Special. The following night we go to a Syrian-Lebanese restaurant called 7 Spices in the back of a grocery store and we both get the Lentil Soup and hummus while I get falafel and he gets the beef gyro. He’d rather go to Chiplotle’s every night, but I drag him to Japanese, Middle Eastern and Indian places because I’m the one driving and paying the meal tabs.

The draw comes out Friday night and Callum is crestfallen. He believes he always gets unfair hard draws in Nationals. In the Clay’s a few weeks ago in Fort Lauderdale, he had to play probably the best non-seeded player, Benjamin Kreynes, and he lost 3 and 2. Here he gets Brady Hussey, the no. 1 Rising 8th Grader in Kentucky, no. 34 in the nation on CollegeRecruiting.net (Callum is ranked no. 1 in New York for Rising 8th Grader’s and no. 32 in the nation on the same web site), but Callum lost to Hussey 1 and 3 last summer in their only matchup.

The match starts on Saturday at 8 am. That means we go to bed at 9:30 pm and wake up at 6 am, have breakfast at the hotel and head for the courts for a 6:45 warmup. There is tension in the air. No wants to get “rounded,” the term that describes losing in your first round singles match, doubles match and singles consolation match and leaving the tournament with no wins. I walk to the bench behind Court no. 54 and a big blonde woman is sitting there with her even bigger husband.

I ask if I can sit on the bench as it’s the only place to sit close to the court. The woman has paraphernalia on the other part of the bench her husband and her are not sitting on.

“I’ve got two children who are sitting there,” she motions to a big college-age boy and a smaller boy who are not sitting on the unoccupied part of the bench. I walk away, but then I come back and say, “If you guys scrunch over there’s room enough for five on the bench.” Her other two kids weren’t even seated and there was room, but she gives me a look like “You’ve got to be kidding.” But I’m not kidding. I want to watch my son play his match and I want to be close to court so I can see it up close and give him encouragement.

Hussey is a big kid, probably 5-10 to Callum’s 5-5, and in warmup’s he hits his forehand real big with lots of spin. I’ve gotten good at watching warmup’s and being able to tell if a player thinks he’s going to win or not. Hussey’s thinks he’s going to win. Callum doesn’t hit the ball real hard in warmup’s; when Hussey comes to net for volleys and overheads, Callum chips back every return and lob.

The match starts and luckily it isn’t too hot. Callum starts taking Hussey’s big serve and slamming it back at him hard. While we were training in Miami before the Clay’s, a coach at the Royal Palms Academy said to me that Callum must have very good eyes because he gets his racquet back so quickly. I told him he has the same eye sight as Ted Williams did, 15/20 which means you see the ball five feet faster than someone with good eyesight of 20/20.

Callum starts picking on Hussey’s backhand hitting multiple balls in each rally into Hussey’s backhand corner. So many of these boys want to camp out in their backhand corners and dominate play, and Hussey lodges himself over to his backhand side daring Callum to hit a ball towards his forehand corner. But every time it looks like Callum will hit one to his forehand corner, he comes back and wrong foots his Hussey by hitting behind him to the backhand corner. This strategy pins Hussey most of the time in his backhand corner and he starts making mistakes and shaking his head. The really good players for the most part I’ve noticed, instead of shaking their heads and looking to their parents or coach, will take it as a challenge if they go down and play twice as hard.

When Hussey gets wind of the fact that he’s going to get destroyed trying to win a baseline rally duel, he starts rolling in high balls and rushing the net. His strategy doesn’t work. Callum wins the first set 6-0. In the second set, Hussey starts to just blast away. A talented player can get dangerous when he realizes he’s got to throw caution to the wind and just tee off. Hussey gets the second set to 2-all by hitting high balls to Callum’s backhand which is flat and because he’s short and likes to go up the line with it, if he misses his target, his balls can start to land short and in the middle of the court. Hussey tees off on these ducks and comes to net to put away multiple volleys.

Hussey’s father hoots out, “This is what we do, Brady!”

His remark made me think. This is why–along with other issues such as I can’t come over my backhand very well and never had much of a baseline game–I never made it past being a Div. III college tennis player and got killed when I tried playing lower-level pro events. Often when I hear a comment I’ll start thinking about the hidden meaning of said comment. You can’t do this if you want to go far in tennis and Callum doesn’t do that. For the most part, as far as I can tell, he doesn’t get distracted that way. I start thinking, “What an ingenious remark that is.” It’s not coaching, but it borders right on the edge of coaching. It’s relating to his son to keep being aggressive and keep charging the net. It also connotes that now that he’s playing the right way, optimizeing his playing ability and game, he will come back and win.

Although, it doesn’t happen that way. Callum closes Hussey out love and 2. On the last point as I often do win Callum wins a big match and I feel an elation hard to describe, I cry out, “Way to go, Cal” and clap my hands with the enthusiasm of a Trump supporter in Alabama (I won’t go into the bumper sticker with Trump peeing on a Liberal and the fight I almost got into with a cashier at Costco’s). I get up off the bench purposely not saying anything to Hussey’s parents–usually I’ll say, “Good match” to Callum’s opponent’s parents and they will reciprocate the same– and wait for Callum to gather his stuff–in the extreme heat that’s often the case in the South in the summer, in preparation he’s got a freezer along with him that carries a wet towel, Pedialyte drink and regular water–to congratulate him.

Vince Spadea wrote in “Break Point,” “When I win, I feel so good. I feel omnipotent., there’s an immortal aura. I’m happy with everything. If I’ve been in an argument with one of my friends or family, I feel the need to call them right away, because I suddenly know everything will work out. It’s something to sit there and think, ‘I’ve just beaten a top player,’ It’s the closest feeling to paradise that I’ve experienced. It’s why Connors kept going and Navratilova, too.”

And even though I didn’t win the match; I didn’t beat a top player, Callum did and when you look at your son and know all the hard work he’s put in has gone into this victory, and his friends, his fellow Eastern players, at least two of them, come up to court to greet him and Callum is smiling ear to ear, it’s just about one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt. I can finally take a big fresh exhale. Callum won’t be rounded. He loses his doubles match later in the day in a third-set breaker after having won the first set 6-2 and Callum is very upset, but he says that this is just more motivation to win his second singles match.

It’s Groundhog Day again, match at 8 am, warmup at 6:45 am, opponent is now the 17th seed and the no. 1 Rising 9th Grader in North Carolina and former no. 1 12’s player in the nation, Nick Mangiapane, who’s like 6-feet tall. Usually, in Callum’s opponents, I sense a certain edge in the warmup’s, a malevolence at least it feels to me, that they have come to dispense with Callum in as quick and brutal a way as possible. Surprisingly, I don’t sense that with Mangiapane, in fact, he has almost an angelic quality to him, skinny, a little knock-kneed, a neoprene sleeve covering his right arm and soft brown curly hair on his head.

Callum jumps out right away 2-0 and I’m thinking, “Ok, this boy knows he’s going to win so he can afford to be a little sluggish at the beginning.” I see flashes of his skill, he’ll swing Callum to his backhand side and when Callum leaves his shot in the middle of the court or not wide enough to get to Mangiapane’s backhand, the North Carolinian will run around the ball and shoot a hard liner inside-in for a winner. Sometimes Callum doesn’t even chase after these winners which pisses me off.

I know that I am a lot like some of the other intense tennis parents I see at these tournaments, but in some cases even more so. If Callum hits an ill-advised drop shot–because I’ve learned at this level, shot selection is equally as important as the ability to hit a good shot–or tries to hit a backhand topspin lob over a net-rusher’s head instead of making his opponent come up with a volley or particularly if he muffs an easy volley or overhead, I can and often do lose it. I try to walk away from the bench I’m sitting at during these fits of fury I have and not show Callum my wrath, but a lot of the times he’s aware I’ve lost it. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to bother him or derail him much anymore.

In the middle of the first set, the boy’s mother delivers a Cliff bar, an energy gel and an electrolyte drink to the back of his court. I find this somewhat odd because again its not so hot and it’s only in the first set. I think he can’t be this hungry or dehydrated yet, but as a parent, I realize there’s a helpless feeling watching your son get beat and you try to do anything you can to help him out.

It doesn’t work, Callum wins 6-0, 6-1. He’s just played two matches, one against the no. 17 seed and dropped a total of three games. Callum is very excited. Boys come up to him who he barely knows and congratulate them. When you’re playing on this national level with junior gods like Godsick, Rahmen, Joseph Phillips and Cooper Williams, an Eastern boy who later goes on to beat Godsick, his doubles partner, in the finals, and you make your own breakthrough, it’s a tremendous high of a feeling, a sense that you belong with all these junior legends you’ve heard about.

That night we have dinner with a number of Eastern parents and players at Caribe’s, one of the chain restaurants most families at these events populate (later in the week, we even went to an Olive Garden, never again!). A couple from Houston and their son, Alexander Frusina, join us. The parents sit at one table, the kids at another. The mother I find out is Romanian and plays violin in the Houston Symphony, the 10th best in the U.S., she tells me, not boastingly, but clearly proud. She tells me that she told her son and daughter, a champion swimmer, that they could try anything, but whatever they chose, they had to take the sport (as it turned out with both of them) seriously. I get the picture there’d be no dabbling or half-hearted efforts.

Alexander is home-schooled I learn, like many of the top boys, and at 13, he spent four months this year already training in Barcelona. When I tell my wife this story later upon our return from Alabama and the tournament, she laments that this is one of the reasons she doesn’t like the elite junior tennis culture. There’s such a premium put on becoming a champion tennis player that academics, a social life and any other activities a child might want to explore are seemingly shelved. I tell her that some of these kids seem pretty intelligent and do well at school and also play musical instruments, but she doesn’t buy it.

Callum gets a break when the seeded player he was supposed to play in the third round drops out. Still, Callum’s opponent is a lanky Texan named Meethre Barot who has a serious whip forehand. He goes up 2-1 right away and Callum has to adjust since he’s only dropped three games total in two matches coming into this match. Barot is having none of my periodic claps and “Come on, Callum” exhortations. When he hits a big forehand winner, he often looks back at me and gives me a half-smile as if to say, “It doesn’t matter what you do. I’ve got this.”

But there’s a crack I’ve learned in all players except the very best ones and Callum starts to elicit errors from Barot. Callum does not dress in the fanciest tennis wear. He always sports a John McEnroe Academy shirt and usually some shorts that are too baggy and socks that are more like the anklets Mardy Fish used to sport. He turns his blue Nike tennis hat backwards on his head. I notice Godsick is outfitted in the latest Nike garb and many of the other boys, particularly the top kids, are obviously sponsored by Yonnex and Wilson and Athletic DNA. I think some of his opponents assume he will be an easy mark because he’s unseeded, he’s on the smaller side and he walks around like a baseball player playing tennis, not so polished a look to the top players’ well-postured struts. Callum closes Barat out 6-3, 6-3.

Callum is suddenly in the Round of 32. He has to play the no. 25 Rising 8th Grader in the nation and no. 1 in Illinois, Nikita Filin. This boy reminds me of the young Jimmy Connors. His parents speak with some kind of accent–as many of the tennis parents at Nationals do–but this kid, being a lefty, smaller and skinny like Jimbo, just rakes off of both sides and often screams after hitting a big shot. Like Jimmy, he is unabashed fury and desire on the court. Callum goes up 4-1 right away. Filin, who can “slap” at the ball (amongst juniors, saying a boy “slaps” at the ball, particularly his forehand, is somewhat of an insult. It connotes that a boy is lucky and doesn’t have the skill to rightly “shape” a ball), is making a lot of errors. Suddenly, he gets hot and starts rifling balls into corners behind Callum’s reach.

Filin wins the first set 7-5, but Callum recovers and wins the second 6-2. The winner will move on the Round of 16. Both Callum and Filin are only two of eight 13-year-olds who have reached the Round of 32. At 2-all in the third set, Callum reaches a break point. Filin though small has very good hands and volleys and he charges the net. Callum hits a perfect backhand topspin lob over Filin’s head, but somehow he races back and retrieves the lob with a lob of his own. Callum has not charged the net off of his topspin lob.

The point is re-set and Callum loses it. Filin goes on to win the game and the match, 6-3 in the third. I am irate, apoplectic. If there’s been two things in Callum’s sporting life I have emphasized over and over again it is never to take a called third strike when batting in baseball and never not follow up a lob over your opponent’s head in tennis without charging the net.

When he comes off the court, I can’t help it. I greet him with, “Don’t you have confidence in your overhead? You were an overhead winner away from breaking serve and going up 3-2 in the third set!” Callum distraught over the loss, rightly retorts, “First thing you say when I come off the court is a criticism. Not ‘good match” or “You fought hard.’ No, you just want to make me feel worse than I already do. Thanks Dad.”

I am rightly put in my place. I feel bad that I have made Callum feel worse about his loss. I feel bad I can’t hold my tongue. I feel bad that I question his play without first prefacing my remarks by saying how proud of him I am by the way he’s played this match and the three others in this tournament. He will learn, I think, and so will I, probably he quicker than I as it’s harder to teach an old dog new tricks or behavior. The fire burns bright in both of us and the road ahead for Callum seems filled with more steady improvement, confidence leaps and big victories to come.

We have both survived another Super Nationals tournament together and there isn’t another one till the Indoor Nationals in Chicago in November so we both have a lot of time to recover, re-commit and re-energize.

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20 comments

  • Hartt · August 11, 2019 at 2:37 am

    Dan, once again thank you for telling us about Callum’s journey (and yours).

  • Stan · August 11, 2019 at 8:59 am

    Great write-up! And congratulations on what seems like superb performance.

    What are the primary factors to which you attribute your son’s success? Talent? Hard work? Drive? Intelligence? Good coaching?

    I have a seven year who has shown precocious ability and may decide to attempt the same path. Is there anything you wish you had done differently along the way? Any other advice? Thank you.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 11, 2019 at 9:06 am

    Loved reading every sentence of this, another excellent insight into a different sub culture of the tennis universe and Cal keeps on progressing and achieving very good results. How did the kid he lost to do in R16?

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 11, 2019 at 9:15 am

    Pretty funny the kid didn’t even know his mom won three majors. I guess she never talked about it, like Vilas who never told his bride who he was, when they arrived in Buenos Aires airport with a big media greeting, she had no idea what was going on or that Vilas was the former best player in the world.

  • George · August 11, 2019 at 11:15 am

    “No, you just want to make me feel worse than I already do. Thanks Dad.”

    Love reading your blogs on junior tennis, mainly because of the honesty. You are aware of the elation of your son winning and the opposite feeling of his losing.

    Just remember that tennis is a sport where 99% of the time you lose with only one player winning the tournament. Constant negative reactions to losing will burn him out, and most importantly, ruin your relationship with your son.

  • Andrew Miller · August 11, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    Special writing. Thanks, Dan! Enjoyed this big time. Only got to experience this when playing tennis against juniors in Florida, New England, Virginia. This took it up a notch, showing life on ground in Mobile at a tournament. Thankfully you both feel at home on a tennis court no matter where it is in the world.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 11, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Dan gives a really good sense of the mood and atmosphere with the other parents and the nuances of these tournaments and how the kids present themselves. Excellent reading and hopefully Cal will keep going and being successful so you can keep posting these articles because this is a point of view that is rare in tennis, a quality writer with a super talented son sharing a cool view into an intriguing world.

  • jg · August 11, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    I thought slapping the ball was my term! I hate it when opponents slap at the ball, very annoying and effective in that it really pisses off the opponent. Interesting Dan, I have to think ( having boys myself) that the girls are two years ahead of the boys ( At the same age) in terms of maturity, but in terms of playing Dan how would the best 14 year old girl match up against the best 14 year old boy, the girl who won the 16s is 14 and I can’t imagine the boy being much better ( but I have no idea)

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 11, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    Well jg, I know the level of the 14-15 year old girl who lost that final yesterday in SD and after I hit with Cal soon I will be able to compare the levels. The girls are UTR 11.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 11, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    Stan,

    Good luck with your 7-year-old son. If he shows talent I wouldn’t wait. 7 is when Callum really start to play tennis more seriously. If you play tennis, try to hit with him as much as possible. Callum said recently, because I’m pretty tall, that when he was younger he couldn’t imagine playing against someone as tall as his daddy, but now he’s accustomed to it.

    What has driven Callum to being a national-level player? All of what you mention. I was a tennis teaching pro and I taught kids from five years old and up and I noticed right away that Callum had fine eye-hand coordination. But I’ve seen boys who couldn’t hit a baseball when they’re six or seven become great hitters so I don’t think it’s natural talent that produces a tennis prodigy.

    What I did with Callum is I brought him along when he was young to a lot of my hitting sessions with my friends. He hit with Scoop, he hit with my friends, he hit a lot. I do think there is an intelligence involved. He seems to know how and where to hit the ball in the midst of deep rallies. Did that come from good coaching? He’s had a lot of good coaches from former pros Chris Mayotte to Fritz Buehning. But foremost, I think you have to see if your son loves hitting the ball. Callum clearly does and Mayotte when Callum was seven made sure that Callum hit lots of different shots, forehand slices, backhand slices. I would get angry at Callum when it looked like he was goofing around, but Chris would encourage it saying you have to let a kid use his imagination when playing. Yes, he would do drills with Callum where they tried to hit 100 shots in a row without missing, but he also wanted Callum to try lots of different shots. And I think to this day, this is why Callum is so good at hitting angles off both wings.

    My one rule with Callum since he’s been seven and started playing tournaments at 8 was to always find the best kids where we live and try to get him into groups with those kids. I fully believe that if a kid is talented and has a good competitive spirit, his game will rise when he faces the best players. It’s okay once in a while to hit with kids who aren’t his level, but mostly, I always did my best to put Callum on the court with the best kids.

    I’m a big believer in playing a lot of tournaments especially at the beginning. Callum learned how to win matches this way and not shy away from competition. If I had to do one thing differently, I would’ve tried to entice Callum to do more jump roping and ladder and track sprints because being fast and fit is paramount if you want to be a high-level player.

    George, you can never go into a tournament like a 14’s Super Nationals and think, well it’s okay if I lose because only one kid is going to come out the winner. That’s a loser’s mentality and I mean that 100 %, Callum believes he can beat anyone in the nation in the 14’s. Can he right now only 13 and 3 months old, no, but if he doesn’t believe it, in say 18 months, when he’s possibly playing the no. 1 14’s boy in the nation in the Easter or Orange Bowl, he’ll have no chance.

    Maybe I’m copping out here, but I fully believe that kids like Callum don’t have “negative reactions” to losing. They look at it as an opportunity; something they use as motivation, so the next time they face a player who beat them, they’re more keen on winning. Will they win all the time? Of course not, and losing has to be reckoned with if you’re playing top competition and I am learning not to shove his mistakes in his face after defeats too.

    Scoop, the boy Callum lost to in three sets in the Rd of 32, easily won his Rd of 16 match and then lost to the eventual winner of the tournament, Cooper Williams, 7-6, 6-1 in the quarters.

    JG, can Callum beat any 14-year-old girl in the country? Well, let’s put it this way, I’ve seen him play against the no. 2 player at Yale who I imagine can pretty easily defeat any 14 year old girl and at least in baseline rallies, he is able to hit very comfortable with this Yale player. I’d have to see them square off. I’d like to think in three years when Callum is 16, he’d be able to beat any junior girl in the country if not the world. Callum’s UTR now is above 10, I think he said it’s 10.2 and now as you say, these girls are physically more mature than Callum, but as Chris Mayotte once said about Callum and I still believe, he said when Callum was like 10, “It’s talk right now. But when Callum is 17 and 5-foot-11, 175-pounds and hitting monster forehands, he’s going to be very difficult to beat.”

    Am I cocky? Yes I am, probably more so than Callum, but I’ve always thought that if I show Callum I’m confident in him, if I tell him I know he can play at a top Division I tennis school then it gives him more confidence. Ultimately, it’s up to him, but I try to help him as much as possible and right now his goal is to one day play in the US Open Qualifying Tournament.

  • Stan · August 12, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    Dan, many thanks for the thoughtful response. When did your son begin specializing in tennis? I’d like my son to keep playing soccer and baseball as long as possible—not only is he very skilled at both, but they seem to help his tennis game. However, not sure there are enough hours in the day for all of this…Nobody is vigorously training baseball for 3 hours a day, but that seems like the bare minimum in tennis for some reason.

  • Vijay · August 12, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    Dan, thanks for the thoughtful, vivid, and extremely honest description of your time in Alabama.

    I’m a little surprised that you would mention Div I college as a goal. Could you go into that a little more? Not sure if you know this, but college athletes aren’t encouraged to get a good education. And the history of top college players becoming good pros isn’t strong.

    His goal of playing in the US Open qualies seems to be more in line with what I’d expect a competitive kid to have.

    Good luck to you and Callum and your family on your journey.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 12, 2019 at 10:38 pm

    Callum is one of the few outliers of boys in the 14’s who play another sport seriously. He also plays travel baseball and is an excellent pitcher. His hitting suffered this summer season because of how much tennis he played. Other kids and parents in these national events who are from the East and know Callum plays travel baseball think it’s a joke that he still plays another sport other than tennis. Even McEnroe’s the other day when we talked about his scholarship asked me if he’s going to continue to play baseball. I know of one other boy who’s a wrestler and he only plays a couple of times a week during wrestling season except for when a big tournament rolls around.

    Look, I would never have a 7 year old play only tennis. He’s got to develop his athletic skill set and by playing soccer and baseball he’ll do that. I’ve been told baseball is not a good sport to play alongside tennis because a player hits a baseball much differently than he does a tennis ball and it can screw up his stroke. I’ve seen it the other way around with Calllum; his tennis stroke has hurt his baseball swing because of he opens up (steps in the bucket) too much when he’s hitting.

    Will Callum continue to play baseball? He wants to be seeded at next year’s Clay’s and Hard’s and that means he’s got to get in the top 30 to get a good seed so the baseball might take a backseat. But it’s up to him. My wife wants him to keep playing baseball because she thinks the tennis world is too dog eat dog and everyone out for himself and she doesn’t like that dynamic.

    Vijay, Callum is going to go to college. A pro career is such a long shot, but a college career at a top Div 1 school seems imminently attainable. You can make the argument with guys like Izzie, SteveJo, Mac Mac and and Giron that playing college tennis is better for an 18 year old than jumping out on the tour like Kozlov, Mmoh and Rubin.

  • HK · August 13, 2019 at 12:53 am

    Dan,

    Thank You for a great article on your son’s experience in Alabama. Articles like these are of great help for folks like me who don’t have a tennis background. Good luck to your son and please keep sharing your experiences like these. Thank You again.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 13, 2019 at 8:52 am

    Thank you HK for reading the piece. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I suppose I will continue writing about Callum’s and my experiences on the junior circuit because I find the events compelling and ripe for observation and writing.

  • Vijay · August 13, 2019 at 10:10 am

    Dan, I’m curious now. What does a college career get one? Financially, career-wise, or as a stepping stone to something else? Are you viewing it as a preparatory league before the pros? You seem to have something in mind. Would be good to know more.

    My concern is that not all Div I colleges are the same. Going to UCLA or Stanford is very different from going to UNC or Alabama from an academic point of view. So if the tennis career doesn’t work out, the latter two won’t mean nearly as much as the former. Then there is the question of coaches’ incentives. They aren’t guardians of the kids, and don’t do what’s best for them. Not sure what motivates them, but it’s not welfare of the kids.

    I could go on, given that I am now a college professor and am intimately familiar with the dark side of college sports, but that is probably best as a private conversation.

  • Winston Smith · August 13, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Dan

    I always look forward to your write ups on your experiences with Callum at the National Championships. Congratulations to Callum on a very solid Hardcourts! Congratulations to you for some of the best written pieces I have come across on this topic. (hope you’re keeping a diary, perhps a book could ensue.)

    Your writing really captures the overall atmoshphere and emotional roller coaster that the parents and players sign up for in the the crazy world of high level competitive junior tennis. There is quite an adrenaline rush that comes on once that final point is won by your child. It’s quite addictive.

    I just got back from San Diego, where the Girls 16s and 18s Hardcourts take place every year, feel sorry for the boys…Mobile and Kalamazoo don’t quite compare.

    A few observations and thoughts:

    -I saw Reece Brantmeier (Girls 16s champion) play 2 years ago in Rome, GA (14s Hardcourts); she caught my eye as a real talent, athletic and dynamic, might go on to big things.

    -Once you get to Hardcourts (especially in the 16s-18s) there are no easy draws! My daughter’s 16s draw was 5 star, 5 star, blue chip. She only won the 2nd one.

    -The transition from Girls 14s to 16s is huge, as girls mature earlier than boys. I contend that the Girls 16s is more competitive across the board than the 18s. (The Boys may be different, with the 16s to 18s being the “big leap.”)

    -There is a lot of talent out there! These kids can really play. I watched a good bit of a 3 set round of 32 match which went 3 hours and 45 minutes; every point was a big hitting 10-20 ball rally. A good sized crowd had gathered on the outside court by the beginnig of the 3rd set, 50 people.

    -Chaired officials on every court really helps! Kids really behave themselves and are able to focus on playing their best. Good sportsmanship prevails. The officials are top notch, much better than you will see at sectional tournaments.

    -It’s very tricky to project out from the younger ages to where the kids will eventually end up…in the 12s-14s many of the kids have significant advantages from an early start in tennis. The benefit of starting serious tennis at age 6 eventually dissipates (or evens out) by the time kids are 15-16. For boys the real challenge is around 16 when they start to physically mature.

    -There’s a lot of children of high level athletes playing tennis. I have met Mike Tyson, an olympic silver medalist (400m), numerous MLB players’ kids…Wayne Gretzky’s daughter played a friend out ours in CA. Some of the kids are quite talented, more are just OK. The Olympic sprinter’s kids are very good, very athletic. The genetic recipe for atletic success is still a mystery, seems to be more or less randomly distributed. Kids of tennis champions may have some advantages, but since tennis pros are typically not the best athletes (aside from the very top, Nadal, Federer, and the ilk) the sons and daughters of tennis pros are unlikely to become champions themselves.

    Looking forward the the next update on Callum, these are the very best pieces in Tennis Prose!

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 13, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Nice post Winston, I agree with all you say, Dan’s writing and point of view are very interesting and revealing, and it’s a rare perspective. Junior tennis is just as exciting and interesting as the pro tour and the quality is comparable, these are the best of the world. And they deserve more coverage and recognition for what they are doing but then again, maybe it’s not good to overexpose kids talents. But after seeing some Herr, some junior ITFs, winter nats, Orange Bowl, these tournaments are fantastic appealing events. I would rather watch junior tennis than pro soccer, MLB, NFL or NBA of golf or most boxing. It’s real and the kids are mini pros. It’s amazing how good they are and how fine a line the journey is, how careful and precise the development process has to be, how hard it is to find the right coach(es). Dan is a very talented writer and his work on junior tennis life showcases it to the max.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 13, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Watched the Brantmeier vs Xu 16s final on TV and was stunned by the big full house crowd watching. It was better attended than many pro events where you see nothing but empty seats. Brantmeier was very impressive. Pro game, power to strike winners,set up shots. She overpowered the talented consistent Xu.

  • Dan Markowitz · August 13, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    Thanks Winston for the praise. Wow, yes San Diego is a nice destination, although my son’s doubles partner’s brother played his first year in the 16’s this year and he’s from Atlanta and he said it was a big thrill to finally play at Kalamazoo, which is a special destination for US tennis. Said it was very cool.

    By the way, a few of you ask how competitive are these Super National events. My son’s doubles partner’s mother is the sister of Bobby Reynolds. You might remember him, out of Vanderbilt, reached a career-high of no. 63 and he’s only 37 years old. Bobby thought he could still win the 14’s and possibly the 16’s even now, but no way the 18’s and possibly not the 16’s. He’s the coach of Auburn now.

    Congrats to your daughter for winning a match at the 16’s and you’re absolutely right, having an umpire in the chair for matches makes a huge difference. I just got an email that Callum got a code violation in his last match, the Consolation Draw match. He was out of sorts after having played a 3-hour + match in his Rd of 32 loss and he left the court on a bathroom break after the first set of the Conso match and apparently never went to the bathroom. Which is really odd when I think about it. I don’t know where he went if not to the bathroom and how did the official know he didn’t go to the bathroom? I didn’t know.

    IN the juniors, there’s what my wife calls, FOMA, Fear of Missing Out. That’s why the first night most of the Eastern kids got to Alabama, we were supposed to go out to dinner together as it was raining, but as soon as it stopped raining, all the kids and mostly their mothers, who had accompanied on the trip, were out at the courts practicing and hanging out. It’s like they couldn’t stand the thought that they didn’t get their practice in–even though the tournament wasn’t even starting for two days–and some other kid had gotten his practice in.

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