Cal Has Monster Week and Wins Back to Back Level 1 12’s Event

IMG_0179For the second week in a row, Callum has won a top 12’s Eastern event. He did so this week in the cavernous indoor facility at Alley Pond in Queens without dropping a set. I was there for every match and the experience of watching him mow down five solid opponents was both exciting and nerve-wracking. All I can say about junior tennis now that I’m suddenly immersed in it and thinking about it quite often–what’s the best way to nurture Cal’s talents?; what’s the best tournaments to play?; how much tennis should Cal play? How good is he really? Could he play for a top Division I college or even go pro?

There’s a lot to think about. He clearly has some preternatural ability. I played Division III college tennis, but I had little to no junior tennis background and I remember when I played college matches, I would be scared and unnerved just by having friends and coaches watch as I played my matches. I remember once being in Rochester for the SUNY college championships, all New York state colleges, and sitting at the net post as the No. 1 player on my college team played his match, and I was amazed that he could concentrate and play so well with all his teammates gathered so close by and watching his match.

Callum has none of those problems. He’s been told by people who were pros, like Chris Mayotte, that he will play at Wimbledon one day. Chris still has the utmost confidence in Cal. When I texted him during the tournament of a tough opponent Cal was to face, he texted back, “Cal will adjust.” When Cal won the tournament, Chris texted back, “Match play is what it is all about. His game will fall right into place.”

Chris never doubts Cal, but I do. I thought from the first match he had in this tournament, a match against a very accomplished boy who when I saw him play when Cal was six and this boy was seven, I thought he was the best 7-year-old I’d ever seen play. He had and still has a one-handed backhand and his Swedish father, who is a tennis pro and said he only hit with his son, he never gave or had anyone give his son a lesson, the boy picked everything up by himself, had grown up playing with Stefan Edberg. Callum wasn’t phased much by this boy. They had some long rallies. When Cal was up 6-1, 2-1 this boy started arcing big moon balls and took the next game, but that was the last game he won.

In the next round, Cal played a boy who was no. 26 in the East and a disciple of the Israeli former pro, Gilad Bloom. My wife overheard the boy questioned about his next opponent before the match, and he said, “He’s only seeded no. 10. I should beat him.” And in fact, in the first set, it was 2-all and this boy displayed an impressive ability to come up to net even though he’s only maybe 5-foot-1 and hit winning volleys. But I remember when I played Satellite events in 1987 in France and Portugal that early in matches I’d have some success playing my chip and charge, serve and volley game until my opponent usually measured me up and started passing me left and right. And that’s what happened with this boy, after a while Cal passed him too many times for him to keep working his way up to net. And like the first boy, who had to be consoled by his father after the match with his dad’s arm wrapped around his shoulders (the dad seemed barely to be watching the match as he typed incessantly into his I-Phone, what my wife said was notes about the match), this boy reached a point in the second set where he just started half-heartedly missing because he saw the gig was up. 6-3, 6-1.

Cal and I were gearing up then for his semis match against the same Russian boy who Cal beat the previous week in a fierce battle 10-2 in the Super Breaker 3rd set. This boy, Enfant terrible, has lots of confidence, a big game for a slim kid, and he shrieks after he misses and after he hits winners. He came back against a crafty Indian boy in the Rd of 16 to win in the Super Breaker after dropping the first set at love. Callum had to play a Chinese boy from Queens who is a pretty big kid and fit, but his strokes looked elemental and he wore big black glasses so Cal and I both discounted the kid. Plus his parents, who are moving to Long Island so their son can be closer to wear he trains, were always coming up to my wife and I in semi-awe it seemed of Callum because among the Chinese players in the 12’s East, Callum is seemingly the king.

But we both underestimated this boy, he fought like a tiger against Cal and hit very flat hard shots and ran down balls like he was Noah Rubin and after dropping the first set 6-3, he came back from being down 2-5 in the second set to tying  it at 5-5. At 4-5, 30-all, he called one of Cal’s shots long and I thought I saw it actually inside the baseline. Callum hits his forehand with heavy top-spin and balls that appear to be flying long, often curl back into the court. I got up out of my seat and said, “No, that ball was good.” Callum came up to the net and questioned the call, but when the boy pointed to a mark that I did not think was the right mark, instead of having match point, Cal was down 30-40. But at 5-all, maybe with a guilty conscience, the boy suddenly played a very sloppy game, and Cal soon closed him out 6-3, 7-5.

So we were all set to play this Russian boy again in the semis, but he ended up losing 4 and 5 to this 8-year-old wunderkind boy, a little Polish boy who’s mother was apparently top 100 and played in all 4 slams and a big dad who is an affable guy and a fitness trainer. This boy walked around the court like he owned it. He slung a new green Wilson bag over his shoulder that almost dwarfed him. I got to Callum’s match against this boy late, and by that time it was 6-0, 2-1 Callum. The boy was almost crying on the court. My wife told me that at every changeover he walked over to his dad and with tears in his eyes asked, “What can I do?” The father didn’t respond as you’re not supposed to talk to the players during the match. The boy had a nice backhand and serve for an 8 year old, but Callum’s weight of shot was sending him back 10 feet behind the baseline to the indoor court’s curtain. When Callum called a close ball out at 3-1 in the second set to make it 4-1, the boy ran off the court to get a lines judge, certain he’d been cheated. The father just turned and said to no one in particular, “It might’ve been good, but it doesn’t matter, the other boy is so much better.” 6-0, 6-1.

Finally, at 3 pm on Sunday, Callum played in his second finals in two weeks, against a boy he first played against when he was 8 years old and another Westchester resident, who’s father was no. 1 at Harvard and No. 349 in singles and No. 225 in doubles partnering with Geoff Grant. When you go on the ATP web site and look up this boy’s father’s name, his profile comes up showing he played a match, maybe his last doubles match, with Grant against Tommy Ho and Shuzo Matsuoka in Napoli, Florida in 1996 and lost 4 and 4. This boy can also be quite emotional on the court, yelling after making and missing on big points, and Callum and he have vied it out with a couple of other boys as being the best 11 year olds in Westchester County, New York. One of the last times they hit together, Callum was taking a lesson with this boy at his very ritzy country club and Callum and I got into it after the lesson because Callum was double-faulting again and again and I yelled at him and it escalated to the point where he threw his racquet boomerang-style clear across the net at me. I received a phone call the next day from the boy’s father saying that the club pro didn’t want Callum or me coming up to the club anymore.

So there was some tension involved, but also friendship. Callum said as they walked onto the court for the finals, the boy said to him, “What do you think? It’s 50-50 who’s going to win?” Cal said he nodded his head and said, “50-50,” but he was thinking to himself, “No, really 80-20 I’m going to win.” The first four games of the first set were tough. The boy did not back down from engaging in some long, east to west rallies with Callum. Callum’s game plan is pretty straight up. He usually kicks or slices his serves in and then controls the middle of the court with his forehand, hitting inside-out heavy balls until he gets a short one where he’ll go forehand cross court or inside in. The other boy better have his track shoes one and be able to go on the offensive too or play exceptional retrieving tennis or moon balls.

At 2-all, the boy started coming into net as he tired of the long rallies. At first he had success winning a few points, but by the fifth game, Callum started peppering him with passing shots. 6-2 was followed by 2-1. And then Callum grew tired himself and missed a couple of backhands in the middle of the net. The other boy had his chance and he tried to move forward again on a couple of short balls Callum hit, but with heavy top, and the boy missed badly into the net. The other boy’s father told me later that he saw his son put his head down in the middle of a long rally and he asked him what he was doing and the boy said, “I was playing by the back curtain and that got me really upset.” The father said he told his son, “But you don’t put your head down in the middle of the rally.” The boy’s father also told me that one time in the match, Cal unleashed his forehand, really fully struck it, and it was so big that his son got intimidated. He said Cal should hit a few of those really big forehands in the warmups just to let his opponent know what he’s got. 6-2, 6-2.

The road marches on. There’s a tournament next weekend at the Stadium Club in the Bronx and then a doubles event in Rochester, NY the following weekend. Lucky there’s no baseball going on in the winter as I don’t have to worry about balancing the two sports. Fritz Buehning, Cal’s coach, said he could take today off of his training and when Cal heard that, even though I suggested he play, he jumped at it. I guess when you’re playing six days out of a week, five matches in three days, taking a day off can be as appetizing or more so than walking out on the court again and playing.

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  • Hartt · November 28, 2017 at 7:53 am

    That is amazing about Cal. You describe his matches so vividly I feel like I am actually seeing them. And it is so interesting to hear what tennis in the land of 8 to 12 year old tennis players is like.

  • JG · November 28, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Cal must be up there in the Tennis Recruiting site

  • catherine · November 28, 2017 at 9:50 am

    Dan – are you still going to be yelling at Cal when he is 2 or 3 years older ?
    You seem very invested.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 28, 2017 at 2:35 pm


    I don’t recall yelling at him this past weekend. Sometimes I yell at him rightly or wrongly, like when he’s dawdling and late getting ready for training or if he goes over to his friends’ houses when he knows he has a match or training session coming up. I think for the most part, I’m a pretty chill dad, but he does have responsibilities choosing to play this tennis life and if he’s not going to own up to them, my wife and I are not going to invest the tremendous time and effort involved to make this life happen.

    Like right now I have a day off and I’m waiting for him to come back from school so I can make sure he does his homework and I’m making him a burger with cauliflower because he has tennis from 5-8 pm. Look, if he didn’t say to me that he wants to play for Stanford (my father went to Stanford and I lived in Palo Alto and used to go to a lot of Cardinal matches and tell Cal about them and we hit on the Stanford courts about five years ago) and he wants to be top 100 in the world something male player from Westchester County has ever been, I wouldn’t push hard at all.

    But at least one parent has to be invested in a junior’s tennis big time if he’s going to play at the highest level. If he shows that he can’t play at that level, I’ll take the foot off the gas. If he says he doesn’t want to try to play at the highest level or doesn;’t want to play competitive tennis at all, honestly, a part of me would be disappointed, but another part of me would be relieved.

    I’m super competitive, but so is he. So we both better be invested.

  • catherine · November 28, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Yes, I understand that. It’s only you mentioned the incident where you yelled at Callum because he double faulted and then he threw his racket at you and I pictured this happening more than once and wondered how he would react when he is older.

    I remember, probably a year or so ago, you wrote a piece questioning yor committment to developing Callum, whether you were too involved etc and the problem you had controlling your emotions when things didn’t go right.

    Maybe by the time Callum is becoming a teenager this will have sorted itself out.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 28, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    Quite possibly. I think it’s sorting itself out as I type. It’s an ongoing process. Yes sometimes like the time you cited when he double-faulted a lot, I have gotten very angry with him. I overreacted, but at the time, he was going for a scholarship at McEnroe’s and I could just envision McEnroe and Fritz seeing Callum do that again and again and just walking away saying, “This kid’s not that good.”

    As I see him coming up big in these bigger events, and I see him getting mentally stronger, I don’t react as vehemently. What sets me off is if I don’t see the effort or the passion because I think to a certain extent, you can control those two areas, while you can’t always win, obviously. But Callum marches to his own drummer. Right now, he’s wearing six bracelets on his right hitting wrist as he plays. I say to him I would think they get in the way or might weigh down his wrist, but does he take them off? No.

    By the way, Callum is now #58 on the national list for 6th graders. The kid he beat in the semis, Sebastian Bielen is No. 2 for–get this–3rd graders in the USA. Cal beat him love and 1. His mother Anna Bielen, I’ve never heard of her, I guess is his coach and on her bio it says she was top 150 and played in all four slams.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 28, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    Wow. Cal continues to show he is a player with potential, a lot of upside potential. When people like Fritz Buehning and Chris Mayotte are singing his praises and he backs it up with these big wins, it doesn’t get more exciting that that. It’s exciting just to read about these results. The journey. That kid with the mindgames that it was a 50-50 match – Cal handled that well. Just hope he stays on this path and keeps improving and learning new tricks and shots.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 28, 2017 at 7:26 pm

    To show the opponent a huge forehand blast in the warm up just to show him what you’ve got. Wouldn’t it be better to hide the weapons in the warm up and show it at the right moment, when the shock and awe surprise of it will be more impactful? If Cal shows his forehand nuke in the warm up it could also intimidate the opponent. Maybe Cal should leave that decision to be spontaneous. Play it by ear. If the opponent sees the forehand blast in the warmup he can structure his tactics around it. Perhaps offsetting it. If Cal saves the big forehand till 3-3 in the first set it could be more damaging on the opponent psychologically. For my Facing Sampras book one player in juniors said Pete would soft serve in the warm ups, very slow. But the first point of the match he blasted the serve and the guy said before I could even split step it was down the tee already past me. Just a thought…

  • jg · November 28, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    Agree with Scoop here, don’t give it away in the warm up, maybe Cal will play at the Eddie Herr next year or Orange Bowl?

  • jg · November 28, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Speaking of, Scoop are you covering those tournaments this year?

  • catherine · November 29, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Coaching carousel – watch out Angie, Donna Vekic has hired Torben Beltz. On Stan’s advice ? Or was Torben the only top coach left lying around unclaimed ?

    I love the ritual exhanges :
    new client: ‘ I’m very excited and thrilled to be working with XX in the coming year….’
    new coach: ‘I’m looking forward tremendously to be working with such a fine talent as YY in the coming year..’

    Then: ‘ We’ve decided to part amicably. I’ve very much enjoyed my time with blah blah…and wish him/her all the best…’

    New hitting partner for Serena as well.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 29, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    jg; I’m still up north working on some stuff. Think I will miss Eddie Herr this year unfortunately because it’s one of my favorite tournaments.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 29, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Catherine; Who is Serena’s new hitting partner? Robby Poole was dismissed?

  • catherine · November 29, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Serena’s new hitting partner is Jarmere Jenkins, whose brother apparently works with Venus.
    Don’t know what happened to Robby.

    Latest is Serena’s not confirming AO at present although she’ll be working with Patrick in Dec in Florida.

  • catherine · November 29, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Sorry – didn’t see your new post re Serena.



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