Dec/19

5

Cal’s 23-Match Winning Streak Snapped

When you think that I wrote a book with the player who holds the ATP record for most consecutive losses (Vince Spadea at 21), I thought it was pretty neat that Callum recently won 23 straight junior tennis matches in a row. From a September Super 6 Eastern Boys’ 14’s tournament (Super 6’s are events for the top 32-ranked players in the East in the USTA’s 14’s rankings) to a L1 Boys’ 16’s tournament in November, Callum went undefeated winning two Super 6’s, a Sweet 16 (the top-16 ranked 14-year-old’s in the East) and a National 14’s L3 in Hilton Head, South Carolina during this stretch.

His streak was snapped this past weekend in the finals of a Boys’ 16’s L1 tournament at the Point Set Club in Oceanside, Long Island, NY. Cal had reached the finals and won the first set 6-3 and then he did the unthinkable in my opinion, he took a bathroom break. I’ve told Callum never to do this when he wins the first set. It’s like giving your opponent a chance to take a deep breath and re-set the match, I’ve told Callum, jump out to a lead in the second set and your opponent really feels scoreboard pressure. But what teenage son ever really listens to his father, especially when I can’t beat him in tennis anymore and haven’t been able to for quite some time now.

I’ll never forget Spadea saying to me that tennis is unique in all sports scoring that even when you win the first set, the score goes back to 0-0 in the next set so even in these tournaments where a Super Breaker is played in lieu of the third set (which I hate too) it’s so important to get up early in the second set after you’ve won the first. Otherwise, you lose your advantage and dominant position.

But Callum is taking an antibiotic recently for his acne (when you’re 13 and have acne, I remember how paramount that is in a teenager’s mind) and the medication makes him go to the bathroom, thus the bathroom break. Of course, in junior tennis, the bathroom break is an art form. I’ve seen kids take bathroom breaks two, three times in a set. I asked one of the tournament directors recently how many bathroom breaks are allowed in a set and he said there’s no limit.

In this, tennis is unique and sad I think. I couldn’t take a bathroom break when I played high school basketball or baseball or ran cross-country. You could, but then you’d be out of the game or race. Anyway, Cal lost the 2nd set 6-1 to a boy three years older than him and who’s in his training group and who he hadn’t lost to in two previous tournament matches and then proceeded to lose the Super Breaker 12-10.

I am all about hitting big and getting in high-percentage first serves (even though the two might not go together) and playing attacking tennis, not playing safe. Three times in the Super Breaker, at 8-all, 9-all and 10-all, Callum had a chance to go up match point, but he either didn’t get his first serve in or he didn’t go for an attacking shot when he was up in the rally. But when he came off the court after losing the match, I didn’t berate him or tell him of his mistakes (at least, as I saw them), I praised him for his “effort.”

I heard a long time ago that a tennis parent shouldn’t talk about wins and losses, but rather the effort their tennis child puts forth. I’m often guilty of the former. In this match, Callum had let the momentum and score shift from his favor to his opponent’s (the opponent played well too and that had a lot to do with it), but I felt his desire and effort stayed stalwart throughout the match. Look, he left his sweat pants on for the entire finals match, something he’s done before and I can’t stand because I think it’s because he doesn’t warm up enough before a match so he’s sweating already and can take off his shorts. But I feel it’s also disrespectful to his opponent, so much as saying, “I don’t need to take off my sweat pants to beat you.”

He also didn’t want to go out to Long Island (for the third consecutive day) and play the semis and finals because it was supposed to snow a lot on that day–but never really did. And that is where I as the tennis parent and he as the tennis player, sometimes differ in opinion. He doesn’t want to play some tournaments or go to some practices and I almost always say, “I know you’re tired” or “I know you’ve played three tournaments on three consecutive weekends,” but finish strong here and then you can take a rest.

We played the 16’s tournament because now as the No. 1 player in the Boys’ Eastern 14’s rankings, there really isn’t adequate competition in the 14’s tournaments. He won his last four 14’s tournaments, including the Nationals Level 3, losing a total of 10 games in 4 finals matches. He beat a couple of boys who he had lost to when he was younger and had changed a lot of Eastern parents’ and coaches’ minds and fellow competitors too, who thought a boy who also plays competitive baseball, could not keep up or beat the top boys in the East who are either home-schooled or only specialize in tennis. But a recent segment of the HBO show “Real Sports” showed the detriment of young athletes playing only one sport in the form of increased injuries which often leave these boys and girls sidelined for long periods of time or just burnt out from their intense training and competition schedules.

Yesterday, I sat and watched one of Cal’s lessons given by his coach, Carl Thorsen, a former pro doubles player and Challenger-level singles player. Carl is a great guy and at 40 can still beat Callum sometimes in tie-breakers. He reached high rankings of Nos. 654 in doubles and 1211 in singles, according to the ATP web site. He’s not Chris Mayotte, who reached no. 83 or Fritz Buehning who reached no. 21 and was in the US Open doubles finals, but he is a very positive, technique-driven junior guru coach. Most of the best junior boys’ tennis players in Westchester County where we live outside of New York City, are either fully-or-partially coached by Carl.

He came over to me and explained in detail what Callum and he are working on with his backhand and forehand. I watched him drill Callum on numerous forehand feeds by his assistant where he stressed to Callum, “Get your elbow away from your body and and get the racquet up and down.” There was even a baseball-hitting term, “Squash the bug” on his backhand to get Callum to pivot his hips around more into the shot. Callum got a kick afterwards on the drive home, saying to me that Carl said to him, “Your strokes have improved a lot, but they’re still not close to where they have to be.” We both know it’s a long road and we’ve gone a considerable ways already, but as Frost said, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way,” there’s still a long ways to go and much we collectively both don’t know.

I’ve never been too technique-driven, but I understand at this level, as Callum is ranked no. 29 nationally in the Class of 2024 on https://www.tennisrecruiting.net/player.asp?id=862771, little footwork or swing deviations can possibly keep a player from entering the top 20 or 10, where Callum and I both hope he will get to when he’s 16 and 18. While I look more at his competitive fire and acumen and how big he gets and how fit he is as the drivers to his success, his coach looks more at the way his feet and racquet move.

The pressure gets to Cal I know sometimes, but he’s done very well in dealing with and managing those emotions. The pressure gets to me too, I ask myself, “Am I doing all that I can do to help and guide his tennis training and schedule-making?” while all the time worrying as David Foster Wallace pointed out in his article on Michael Joyce, that Cal’s focus and life is being too narrowly drawn by this drive both of us have for him to be a top-nationally-ranked junior tennis player.

When I need solace, I think back to what Chris Mayotte assured me soon after he first saw Callum play at the tender age of 7 and then play in one of his first tournaments at 8 and said, “It’s all going to be talk until he turns 17, but then when he’s 5-foot-10 and 175-pounds and hitting monster forehands, nobody’s going to talk anymore.” I wish it was that simple, but something tells me it won’t be.

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22 comments

  • Jon King · December 6, 2019 at 12:17 am

    Amazing read Dan. Its funny how all us tennis parents are going through similar things in some form or another.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 6, 2019 at 5:36 am

    We mostly are, aren’t we, Jon? We’ve been lucky so far that Cal hasn’t suffered any major injuries since he separated his shoulder and had to go easy for a couple of months when he was 9. It cracks me up or at least floors me now when he’ll sprain an ankle or pull a hamstring muscle, I”ll think of myself and think he’ll be out for at least a week, but then he’s as good as new the next day. Crazy youth!

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 6, 2019 at 8:14 am

    Fine result despite the loss he’s right there. Agree he should be more pumped up and sweating before the match starts. Be ready for the first point like it’s match point in the fifth set. Nadal does sprints and jumps all over the locker room. I think if Cal generated that kind of intensity before the match it would help him and it would intimidate opponents. Key is he has to generate that maximum intensity before the warmup. Most players don’t do that. First points of the match are very important and set the tone.

  • Jon King · December 6, 2019 at 9:19 am

    True Dan, they do recover fast at that age! Youe wondering on the narrow tennis focus is of interest too. Its tough to find any sort of balance and not fall behind in the arms race.

    We are in what will be a 20 month break from tournaments that will run until July. We decided to take a long break and work on a ton of strength and conditioning, my kid has put on 15 pounds of muscle so far during this break. We are doing a boat load of variety work, spins, angles, various serves, etc. She has always had extreme power so we are adding variety to the power game.

    We also are engaging in lots of non tennis activities. She has taken flying lessons, raced go karts competitively, trained in mixed martial arts, started a huge butterfly garden. The idea is that when she returns to tennis full time in July she not only moves up through the system quickly, but had lots of non tennis experiences while young rather than the maniacal tennis only focus most of her friends are on.

    Its a risky approach no doubt. We will know in a few years how it works out.

  • Hartt · December 6, 2019 at 9:44 am

    It is always enjoyable to hear how Cal (and his father) are doing. Dan, you do a great job of making s feel that we are there with you. I look forward to the next post.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 6, 2019 at 9:53 am

    Very interesting, Jon. I’m curious, is your child homeschooled? The tennis-only dynamic that so many of these kids are on seems not only counter-productive to a degree, but limiting. I don’t get the chance to talk to too many of these kids and as Callum and I go to more national tournaments I will try to reach out to more kids, but the one’s I know here in the East do seem to be more insular than the average kid.

    Some of these boys who are home-schooled I think are losing a lot of the diversity that comes from educating at a public high school where there are kids of all ethnic and economic backgrounds. And then tennis, to me, is a limiting sport to a large degree. It’s fascinating, don’t get me wrong, to figure out how to navigate and dominate your opponent within this rectangular court with lines. But it’s like playing a game of chess, after awhile, I think, its natural to feel like you want to pick up something different than a racquet and do something different than hit ad infinitum balls.

    But that’s the challenge of tennis and yet when Callum plays baseball, and is on the mound as a pitcher, there’s a spatial dynamic (baseball as we know is played on a big grass and dirt field) and a team element, when the ball is hit to the outfield and there’s men on base, where does the pitcher go to backup a throw?, that doesn’t exist in tennis outside of doubles. So I applaud your daughter and you for taking the time–because to me it feels sometimes like a zero-sum game, when Callum isn’t practicing or training, one of his peers is and Callum is falling behind–to explore other cool activities with the long view that your daughter when she returns to competition will be better off for her break than far behind.

    As for temperament coming into a match, Callum is my son, but very different from me. I played basketball most competitively and I loved the lay-up line prior to a game, where the fans were flowing in and I could slap the backboard on my lay-up’s (if I could’ve dunked I would’ve), and I looked over at the other team doing their lay-up’s and sized them up. I was pumped by the time we milled up in the center of the court for the opening tip. Tennis is different, though and Callum is different than me. He’s very nonchalant in his warmup and usually in the first few games of a match.

    Yes, I think he has to be more prepared and warmed up before and leading into a match, but I see some of these other kids, particularly the Russian and Israeli kids who are first generation Americans mostly, doing all kinds of jump-roping, heavy ball-throwing and stretching before matches and scream “Let’s Go!” when they hit their first winners, often pull out of matches with dubious injuries or take the three bathroom breaks during the first set, and maybe they’re too amped and pumped up.

    So while I encourage Callum to get warmed up, I realize he’s playing the match and has to feel comfortable with his decisions and disposition.

  • Jon King · December 6, 2019 at 10:29 am

    Yes, we do home schooling. Its a strange dynamic because we literally live right next door to the elementary school and middle school. No doubt there are pros and cons to either form of education.

    Yes, some of these kids have amazing warm ups, others not so much. My daughter’s first USTA match was just after her 8th birthday. We were in Boca waiting and waiting. About 10 minutes after the start time the director was getting ready to default her opponent. Then this 12 year old comes sauntering up munching on the biggest Subway sandwich I have ever seen. My kid won that match.

    Next match was a Russian girl with 2 coaches, her parents, and her grandparents who spoke to her in Russian the entire match. Her warm up was on par with any top pro and she was only 11. My girl lost that match!

  • Dan Markowitz · December 6, 2019 at 11:45 am

    Biggest sandwich I ever saw consumed as a sportswriter by a player before a game was Kirby Puckett in the Twins locker room before a game against the Yankees. Dude ate a sandwich the size of a Blimpie. Seems whenever a kid eats pizza before he plays Callum he loses. I love some of the Indian kids, they’ll have these home-cooked Indian dishes that are delicious. I have trouble with the pre-match meal when Callum is playing two matches in one day. He’ll order something like a Chicken Parm wedge while I’ll get a salad and brocolli rabe.

  • Jon King · December 6, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Ha, yes the prematch meals are interesting. My kid is a vegetarian so lots of smoothies for protein. Good thing about smoothies is you can sneak in plenty of healthy things!

  • Dan Markowitz · December 7, 2019 at 9:53 am

    I’m intrigued by all the home-schooling being done by junior players. I hear of kids 15 years old, seemingly too old to resurrect a junior career, being home-schooled. For what? These are kids, some of them, who are not even probably going to be D1 players. What are they home-schooling for?

    I know of a father who sent his son out to California to work with a private coach and to play ITF tournaments around the world who couldn’t even win Westchester County high school matches. There seems to be a mania with home-schooling tennis players and I don’t think this happens nearly as much in any sport. It’s like tennis is the Holy Grail and everything else must be sacrificed: school, a teen’s social life, diversity of contacts, being part of a school and it’s academic, sports, theater elements. What about meeting girls or boys who don’t have anything to do with tennis.

    This to me sounds like a real narrowing of a teen’s life and if the tennis doesn’t work out, it could be harmful in terms of academic standing, social connection and just overall well-roundedness. We saw a boy last night, a 10th-grader who started a couple of months ago home-schooling and attending an academy in Florida. He played an Eastern match last night and lost to a boy who’s very low-ranked. His father said the academy is re-tooling his son’s strokes, but come on, if you’re attending an academy, basically training like a pro player would essentially, you can’t come back East and beat even a low-ranked player?

    Something’s wrong in the stew here. It’s like parents and kids even of players who haven’t shown much promise, think by home-schooling their son or daughter and sending them to an academy, they can suddenly produce a high-quality player. It might work that way, but I sincerely doubt it.

  • catherine · December 7, 2019 at 10:49 am

    Tennis is a sport where it’s possible to achieve in the pro ranks at an early age. Long before school leaving age. So I can see the temptation. I imagine Gauff has been home schooled. And probably a few others. Or they leave school as soon as possible.

    But I think it’s a big gamble – as you say Dan, there’s a lot kids miss out on if they don’t go to school. And learning becomes harder as we grow older.

    I remember Petkovic saying that her father would only let her turn pro if she did her exams and then left school. In Germany Julia Georges also stayed until the normal age I think, but I’m not sure Kerber did.

    There are arguments both ways but I assume decent home schooling is expensive and I don’t see how any but the better off parents can afford it.

    Chris Evert stayed to graduate from high school – I know that was a different time but she could have left – except I doubt Jimmy Evert would have thought it a good idea.

  • Jon King · December 7, 2019 at 11:46 am

    I think there is a huge misconception on homeschooling. I have had experiences in both systems, public schools and homeschooling.

    Homeschooling is so varied that the experiences are vast. First off, perhaps the homeschooling is not done solely for tennis, some homeschool for religious or other reasons, school shootings, etc.

    But setting aside the reasons, homeschooling can be isolating or the total opposite, just like public school. Many kids who are outcasts are totally isolated even at a large public school. So public school is no guarantee of anything social.

    Homeschoolers have many, many activities and groups. We have met for study groups, zoo trips, cruises, and many other activities. The internet and social media changes everything, no need for any homeschooler to be isolated at all.

    Homeschooling can in fact offer opportunities not available in public schools. Older kids run study groups for younger kids. We have homeschoolers who intern at local companies, learning all sorts of skills. Several have given presentations to a room full of adult executives.

    So stereotypes can be very misleading. We have many kids from public school and homeschool in our circle and there is simply no way to tell one from the other in terms of social skills, degree of happiness, or any other metric.

  • Jon King · December 7, 2019 at 11:49 am

    In regards to cost of homeschooling, again, the internet changes everything. You can get an award winning curriculum, complete with video classes and real teachers to review work assignments, for under $50/month.

    Homeschooling today is 100% different than it was even 15 years ago. All major colleges, even Ivy League, are starting to give precedent to homeschoolers in the admission process because on average, they outperform kids from traditional schooling.

  • Jon King · December 7, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    Dan, if the criteria is some parents homeschool for tennis when their kids are not very good and won’t play tennis in pros or college, I will give you that. But to me that is no different than when parents fly low ranked kids all over the world for ITFs praying for a weak draw or a withdrawal…..or buy kids expensive racquets and apparel week after week….or send a below average kid to IMG where they pay huge tuition.

    We have the Little Mo international in town and its amazing how much money is spent. Just watched a kid from another country play a bit….$230 entry fee, plane tickets, hotel, new racquets, $500 tennis outfit…and she could not get 2 balls in a row over the net.

    So homeschooling is not the only thing parents do for kids with no hope of playing tennis at a higher level.

  • Hartt · December 7, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    I hope these young players finish high school, however they achieve that. FAA had success as a pro at such a young age that he was still in high school. His mother is a teacher and his parents put a high value on education, so he finished high school, probably by taking courses online. I read that his father has insisted that he continue to take courses even after completing high school.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 7, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    Jon, thanks for the insight into home-schooling. I have a masters degree in high school English and taught in public schools. I know that teens learn many different ways so learning from a computer is not an anathema, but I do think that one on one or group classroom learning and discussion for English is very beneficial.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that parents put their average kids in national tournaments for what? The competition, the experience, the travel, but just because you’re playing national events doesn’t mean you’re a national-level player. I know of one boy from New England who last year lost in the first round of the Clay’s and Hard Courts and every other National L3 we saw him at, but his mom is still sticking him in the Nationals because the New England region is weak and you can get in on your Sectional ranking. I think it would be better to play smaller events, regional, have success and then go back out and play Nationals when you have more confidence and game.

    Maybe Ivy League schools are giving more credence to home-school students, but from my experience in education, it’s important not to be isolated when learning. It’s important to interact with other students and educators and even those kids who are isolated in public schools, they still have a place to go and a chance to socialize. Tennis kids are fine, but I wouldn’t always wanting to be talking about tennis if I was a teen.

  • Jon King · December 8, 2019 at 12:54 am

    Dan, this phenomenon of playing all over the place baffles me too. One of my daughters friends who we have known since age 7 last played a tournament in the area 3 years ago. In S. Florida we have level 7 and 6 tournaments every weekend, large fields, plenty of good players, several options within a 40 minute drive.

    But once they get some ranking points, its like playing these events is beneath them. This girl flies to events every other weekend, ITFs or USTA sectional or nationals. She has not gotten to the semi finals of a tournament in 3 years, usually is out by the 2nd round. She plays enough tournaments so she eventually will get an easy match or two, or an opponent won’t show up and she gets just enough points to be able to still get into these higher level events.

    I totally do not get why you would spend all that time and money to fly all over rather than playing closer to home, especially since the competition is great here. And how does it help a player to lose 3 out of 4 matches they play? Strange deal to bypass local events to go far from home to lose….because its a higher level tournament.

    So many tennis kids and parents enter tournaments they have zero hope of winning or even getting to the 3rd round, with the hope of getting a lucky draw or an illness or injury to the opponent and getting easy points. To me, if your kid should be dominating local competition before going to the next level.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 9, 2019 at 8:19 am

    Catherine,

    In regards to Gauff, you better believe she’s home-schooled, but I’ve been impressed by her intelligence and how well-spoken she is in interviews and I remember her mother at Wimbledon said she was going to take a day off by studying. So this is an example where a home-schooled tennis player does seem to be a good student.

    Chris Evert I’m sure was not home-schooled as neither was Jimmy Connors or John McEnroe. But Chris and John at their academies both have home-schooling. I know a kid who’s being home-schooled at McEnroe’s in the city who told another boy that his mother does all his home-school work. I don’t know if this is true or not, but what’s the sense of going to Harvard a large part because they want you to play tennis there, and you can’t keep up academically because you’re not prepared to handle the workload?

    Also, for example, my son just lost in the semis yesterday of an L1 16’s when he was up 7-5, 4-0 and 5-2. I can’t imagine him going back to the academy he trains at and seeing only all the other tennis boys and girls who will just talk about that match. Luckily, he goes back to regular school today where nobody knows he lost a tough match and really nobody cares. I think this defuses or lessens the belief a lot of these kids have that tennis is their entire life. That’s important because for 99.9 of them who will never make a dime playing tennis, it should just be a small part of their lives.

  • Matty · December 11, 2019 at 12:56 am

    Both of my residences are minutes from an academy (JTTC/Sanchez-Casal). In my opinion the academy kids get the best training possible from fitness to match play. The absolute grind that these youngsters are willing to subject themselves to, ensures a pro career or at least a D1 free ride. I’ve been around Frank, Ore, Kudla & Tiafoe,and as nicely as they’ve turned out, I’d venture the Sanchez kids are even better at this stage…

  • Dan Markowitz · December 11, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Matty,

    These academy kids might be working hard and they might be subjecting themselves to all kinds of physical and competitive challenges, but going to an academy, I don’t care if its the John McEnroe or the Emilio Sanchez or the Stan Smith, doesn’t ensure a junior player of anything. The Div ! scholarships and pro careers go to the ones who have the talent, drive and quite frankly, the balls, to play at an extremely high level.

    My son has beaten Academy kids before and he’ll do it again; maybe at the upcoming Winter Nationals in two weeks in Tucson. Just because a kid plays at an academy doesn’t mean he’s good or that his game will grow. I know of a young man here who trains with my son. He went to IMG for a year and actually seemed to get worse. Believe it or not, sometimes all that training can be counter-productive because it can burn kids out or get them injured. It’s no guarantee of tennis greatness.

  • Jon King · December 11, 2019 at 8:33 am

    We are surrounded by academies within a 40 minute drive, large and small. Maccis, Evert, Kriek, Pro World, and many others. Also spent much time at IMG and Sanchez.

    Like Dan said, no guarantee of anything. At large academies they have a few kids they believe in, the rest are relegated to rookie coaches and back courts. Most academies have a few good players and a lot of mediocre players with wealthy parents willing to foot the bills. These kids hit with each other daily, hardly a recipe for great improvement.

    But time on court is not a thing. Grinding for hours at an academy is not a thing. Its not a thing because its the minimum. Every kid who wins is fit. Whether that comes from a private coach, parent coach, academy.

    Its usually a kid who has a parent coordinate the daily tennis that wins over academy kids. Academies have coaches with strengths and weaknesses. Sanchez-Casal is great for footwork and fitness but their girls have no power and our girls go to Naples and crush them. Macci’s kids have great technique but zero imagination and ability to improvise. Evert’s girls cheat even during practice matches and fall apart when confronted and not allowed to change scores or call balls a foot in as out.

    Do not mistake effort for achievement. Academies seem to compete as to who can put their kids through the silliest gauntlet of drills. Lets climb a ladder, do a flip, hop over 5 hurdles, close our eyes, use the force, then hit. Give me a break.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 11, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    Funny, but a lot of what you say sounds and I think is true. It seems almost a given that kids in tennis, high-level, academy or not, go to trainers and do all kinds of exercises, strengthening and agility/quickness. It might help it might not. My kid went through an hour training session yesterday and then I wanted him to jump rope. I want him to get to a level where he can jump without stopping for ten minutes, three rounds. Right now, he can’t even come close and he has trouble jumping off of one leg/foot. Jumping rope to me is the best exercise for tennis. When I had my short stint on the Sattelite Tour, every one of those fledgling pros had a jump rope and used it–a lot.

    After his two-hour nightly practice, Callum’s coach has the kids/teens run 220’s, usually 8-10 at full speed. Callum is fast, but not super fast and yet tennis isn’t a track meet and it’s not a gymnastics meet. While it’s good to have strength and speed, I’ll take a kid like my son who has all the strokes (a couple he needs to work on more), the mindset for the most part (that’s a work in progress too) and more importantly, knows how to construct a point and how to play an opponent, assessing their weaknesses and exploiting them.

    Look these parents who send their kids to academies, I hope they get what they’re looking for. But doing so just because the parent wants the kid to excel or the kid thinks he/she wants to go to an academy is not the answer. My kid wants to play video games all day long–but I don’t let him.

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