Apr/19

24

You’re Only As Good–According to the USTA–as Your Nationals Ranking

A couple of weeks ago, my son, Callum, had his doubles partner, accepted to the USTA’s National Training Center in Orlando week-long training camp. Callum, who is still 12 (you can’t go to these camps until you’re 13 because the USTA deems that the age where kids from across the country can come to Orlando and stay in the dorms on the national campus), but will turn 13 next month, was not accepted. I called up the coach at the USTA Regional Training Center at the US Open in Queens, New York and basically said, “What the deal? How come Callum wasn’t accepted when his doubles partner was?”

Callum is ranked no. 10 in the East in the 14’s, the highest ranking of any 12-year-old in New York and New Jersey and he’s been playing very well of late, reaching a Super 6 semis last month. The Super 6 is a tournament that only includes the top 32 players in the section. But we didn’t travel much to National tournaments in the 12’s because Callum also plays travel baseball and we’re not made of money. Callum’s doubles partner was no. 3 in the nation in the 12’s and the no. 1 seed at the Winter Nationals in November. He’s obviously had much better results at national events.

The USTA has a national coach for every birth year. Callum’s is 2006 and the Player Development coach is Jon Glover, a dread-locked fellow from Philadelphia who played at the University of Florida. When I contacted Jon about what Callum has to do to get accepted to one of these USTA national camps, he basically said, Callum needs to have better national results. So in Florida in March at the Amelia Island Level 3 Nationals, Callum won the back draw, beating four players and the no. 14’s player in South Carolina in the finals.

Last weekend we were able to drive to a nationals in Natick, Massachusetts, another Level 3. We got there Friday night and Callum hit on the fast hard indoor courts at the Natick sister club, also hosting the tournament, in Wayland. Then his first match was on Saturday at 10, against another 7th-grader, according to CollegeRecruiting.net, who is ranked no. 57 in the nation for players graduating in 2024. Callum is currently ranked no. 39 on the same rankings list. This boy is no. 1 in the District of Columbia; Callum no. 2 in New York.

As is often the case watching indoor tennis matches, the club opens up a side court for parents and coaches to watch the matches because the view from the club’s lobby is often non-existent. I warm up a bit with Cal for his 10 am match and then get another boy to hit with him who’s in the tournament because I don’t want to be blamed by Callum if he loses that I didn’t warm him up right. The match is close right from the start.

Callum trains at the John McEnroe Academy in Eastchester, New York and unlike the facility in Randall’s Island, the Westchester McEnroe’s only has clay courts. These courts in Massachusetts are hard and fast and slick. Callum had hit with Pat McEnroe the week before the Nationals (when you see PatMac walk onto the court you’re hitting on at the end of your hour, me, as the father, and hitting partner of Cal, say to Pat as his daughter does her warmup exercises, “Hey Pat, how are you? I love your commentary. Would you mind hitting with Cal a bit?” And Pat was nice, he knows about Callum as he knows all the junior players on scholarship at the McEnroe Academies like Callum, and did, but afterward, he texted Fritz Buehning, Cal’s coach, and said Cal had good pop on his forehand, but his backhand is “funky.” When I hear my son’s backhand is funky, I immediately want to know what Pat McEnroe means by that. Pat McEnroe has really good two-handed backhand, but Pat didn’t tell Fritz anymore. So me being worried, goes out and spends $200 giving him a backhand lesson with a coach I know), and Pat had mentioned he wasn’t in love with Cal’s backhand. These kind of comments worry me.

The match is tight for the first set, but Callum as he often does, and more so of late, wins by putting his opponent into submission. Basically, he rarely misses, but he does not hit too many winners. He puts pressure on his opponents hitting deep and sharp angles off both sides and makes his opponent miss on forced errors. The second set, Callum wins at love. He comes off the court, I congratulate him and get him to lie down on an exercise mat and stretch his hamstrings, groin muscles and quadriceps. Then he eats a Subway sandwich and two hours later, he’s facing his doubles partner in the Round of 16 at 2 pm.

Callum and this boy from New Jersey have never faced one another although they’ve played doubles together. This boy is a lefty, Indian, very nice boy, mature, a few months older than Callum (in junior tennis, most every parent knows every kid who’s competitive with yours and in the same age group’s birthday. I don’t follow this as closely as some parents, but it’s important because, say your son is ranked no. 15 in the East and a player in the 14’s Eastern Section only makes the main draw of the National Clay Courts in Fort Lauderdale in July if he’s in the top-11, then you want to know when the kids ahead of him will age out.) They are friendly off the court and the match is played with very good manners and no lines disputes. (On the court next to Callum’s, the no. 1 seed who trains at McEnroe’s in the city is playing against another McEnroe city kid and the match is played with such dispirit and controversy that the tournament director says he’s going to default both kids. He ends up not defaulting either one).

Callum’s doubles partner takes the ball early. He makes the trip from New Jersey three days a week to the USTA center in Queens to train on the hard courts there with the top regional coach at that center, who is also Indian. The American style of play when I was growing of age in the world and in tennis in the 1970’s was that of John McEnroe’s, Tim Mayotte’s, Vitas Gerulaitis’s, Arthur Ashe’s and Roscoe Tanner’s. You took the ball early, played attacking tennis and finished often at the net. It has changed now of course, the Americans are trying to copy the Spanish who’ve had such great success in the last two decades, and play more of a grinding, heavy spin game, a la Sam Querrey or France Tiafoe. Indian players and apparently their coaches–even here in the US–teach the quicker attacking, finish-at-the-net game more, at least that is my observation.

When attacking the net though, especially now at the 14’s where boys like my son, who plays the more conventional American-style game now of grinding, hitting angles and spin, a player has to do so with discretion. Callum’s doubles partner, maybe wary of engaging in long rallies with Callum, hit his approach shots too quickly in the rallies. As a result, Callum started to make him miss on his volleys, and after a tough 6-3 set for Callum, started to pass his opponent, often on shots I used to see Spadea hit off his backhand, that are angled so sharply and acute that the net-charging opponent, doesn’t even get a racquet on the passing shot. The second set goes Callum’s way easier, 6-2.

There’s a feeling when winning a nationals tournament match or any big match of getting away with something that very easily could have been taken away from you. Callum explained the feeling afterward by saying, ” Every point is so important. If you lose a game point, on the next point, you can be facing a game lost point. I realize how important even 15-all points now are.” When you win a tight match against a nationally-ranked player, you feel elated, but also in junior tennis, like you’re way of training, the path you’re following, is somehow being vindicated. And that’s a tremendous feeling–at least, for me who often has to make the choices of how to train, where and with who and what tournaments to play and how much.

We eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Wellsley where Hilary Clinton went to college and was Grant Hill’s mother’s roommate. Most of the other players and their parents eat at places like Chick-Fil-A or the Courtyard Marriot’s hotel bistro. My wife always researches the nearby restaurants and being a foodie, picks a nice place. I sometimes get angry if we have to wait for a table or the service is real slow, saying, “You know Callum’s first match tomorrow is at 10 right?”

Callum’s first match after doubles at 8 is at 3 pm, but his style doesn’t work well against the no. 4 seed, a boy from New Jersey, who’s home-schooled and about two years older than Callum, about to turn 15. Callum runs his around the court, but this boy has answers for almost everything Callum does, and his speed of foot, touch and heavy forehand and big serve are too much for Callum. He goes down 2 and 2. I know like Wayne Bryan says in his book about how to develop champion kids, I should not tell Callum everything he did wrong right after the match. Sometimes I am able to hold my tongue, but on this night I can’t and I say something to him that afterward when I hear myself say it back to myself in my mind, I’m embarrassed I said. “I’m disappointed in you, Callum. I expected you to do better.”

Sometimes I forget how hard it is to play these nationals matches against these opponents who all good and hungry and uber-trained. This boy was also super-motivated because Callum had beaten him in doubles two weeks prior in a tournament in Long Island and when Callum had hit the winning forehand past this boy and his partner at the net, in my exuberance, I yelled out, “Yes!” Apparently, some of the other tennis parents didn’t like that.

I hope Jon Glover has taken note of Callum’s good plays and wins in these last two nationals events. The tour does not stop (Callum has played 25 tournaments in the past year). In two weeks, there’s another Nationals 14’s, Level 3, on the West Point campus in Goshen, New York. Hopefully, Cal will be ready and I will be more circumspect.

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9 comments

  • George · April 24, 2019 at 9:46 pm

  • Dan Markowitz · April 24, 2019 at 9:56 pm

    George,

    Thanks for posting this interesting article. I don’t know if I agree with the analogy of the article that trying to make it as a pro tennis player is akin to trying to make money by gambling. My son played a high school match today and afterwards, a man who’d been watching the match asked me if I was Callum’s father and I said I was and he said, “Your son is going to make a lot of money one day.”

    And I was like, “How’s that?” And he said, your son’s 12 right?” And I said, “Yes,” and he said, “He’s definitely going to get a scholarship to a college and he’s going to make a lot of money.”

    Now I think he meant because by the time Callum goes to college in six years a four-year private college education at a place like Virginia will probably be $500,000. So in a sense, that is a lot of money. Even if he doesn’t play any pro tennis, getting a college scholarship to a good college is akin to making money and you don’t take the risk of losing money like you do if you try to make it as a pro player.

  • Dan Markowitz · April 25, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    George,

    Also, no one at my son’s age and level is playing to be a pro tennis player and make millions of dollars. At this age, you’re not even playing for a college scholarship although Callum just broke the top 40 on the college recruiting list: https://www.tennisrecruiting.net/list.asp?id=1245, so I guess someone or some web site is calculating the top prospects.

    Right now, at 12-15, you’re playing most likely because you love playing the game and it’s exciting to win matches and climb in the rankings and play national events. Otherwise, in my son’s case, he’d put his attention and effort into baseball, video games and watching the Celtics and the Red Sox.

  • George · April 25, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    Tennis is hobby, period. You are too wrapped up in his results as typical of the tennis parent living through their kid.

    College athletics is an absolute joke. How can you take real classes and play sports? Impossible. There is only 24 hours in a day: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/gray-matters/article/college-athletes-academic-performance-graduation-13308008.php

    Your kid would would be better off financially as an adult with an useful degree in engineering than play tennis for four years and get a degree in kinesiology to become a trainer at 24 hour fitness.

  • George · April 25, 2019 at 11:42 pm

    trainer at 24 hour fitness: https://www.mlive.com/wolverines/academics/stories/2008/03/athletes_safe_harbor_is_genera.html

    You are going to get sucked in, especially as your son gets bigger and better. You won’t see that the chances of earning a living are infinitessmly small.

    I do enjoy your writing about junior tennis, which is a fascinatingsubculture. Bjorn Borg mentions it in this interview: https://www-m.cnn.com/2016/06/15/tennis/bjorn-borg-crazy-tennis-parents/index.html?r=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Fsearch%3Fq%3Dbjorn%2Bborg%2Btennis%2Bparent%26ie%3Dutf-8%26oe%3Dutf-8%26client%3Dfirefox-b-1-m

    I have a five year old who is in weekly tennis camps. The pros are constantly asking us to to give him more lessons and camps. My response to them is: why?

  • Dan Markowitz · April 26, 2019 at 2:52 am

    I wholeheartedly agree that I’m too wrapped up in my son!’s results as a tennis player. That’s partially why I write about his and my experiences as a junior player: to demythologize his journey. I’m a tennis junkie trying not to overweight the importance of his tennis. This is true.
    But I’ve seen too many athletes like Bill Bradley who were also scholars to believe that with proper time management and an appreciation of both academics and sports, a high-achieving stiudent-athlete can’t do both. If my son was the run-of-the mill tennis player, I wouldn’t push him to play more tennis than a hobbyist would, but he’s a top-40 Player in the nation now so if he wants to pursue the game at the highest level and can keep his grades high too, ive got no problem with him playing to win if it brings out the best in his ability.

  • catherine · April 26, 2019 at 3:14 am

    Bill Bradley surely was exceptional. I’ve just finished re-reading John McPhee’s book about him (well, long article) and I don’t know much about sport in the US – but how many athletes in any field have come up to his standard ?

  • Dan Markowitz · April 26, 2019 at 9:02 am

    I love Bill Bradley. He’s a noble American. I won’t make any analogies to the present president, but I think it’s a shame such a impressive person on so many levels ran for the presidency and because he was deemed “boring,” had no chance of winning the office.

    One can make the argument that great athletes are very smart and know how to martial their time well so they can do their sport(s) and still have the time and concentration to do something else at a high level, like a Bernie Williams or Heisman Trophy winners who also were Rhode Scholars.

    Look, my position is that if you’ve got a talent, it’s a wonderful feeling to train diligently and try to reach your full potential. For example, my son was playing a match at the last Nationals that he lost, but a parent came by during it and asked me how he was doing, and I told her she was down 4-1. And she said, “Don’t worry. Callum’s a problem-solver.”

    And tennis teaches you that when you play the game at a high level and you’re really challenged, to be a great problem-solving which is a nice skill to have in life.

  • Dan Markowitz · April 26, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for posting the Borg article about the “crazy” tennis parents. It’s true there are definitely “crazy” tennis parents out there because of the level of commitment and financial stakes involved. My wife, who’s never played competitive tennis and never actually played a tennis match, finds it funny/sad that so many of these parents who’s kids are good, but not that good, think their kid is going to be a huge success. She can’t understand why they travel to so many national tournaments and hover around their sons (we don’t see the one’s with daughters that much) like they’re some kind of prodigy.

    I never played junior tennis and only played Div. III tennis (I did go out on the pro tour to play Satellites for a while in my mid-20’s) so I was never anything but a decent player. So yes, I do live through my son somewhat and pinch myself over how good he is because I’ve seen the other side, players who either didn’t have the talent or training and no matter how much they played, they were never going to be anything but decent players completely overwhelmed when they played someone like my son.

    It’s easy to get intoxicated by a string of good results and have thoughts of grandeur about how good your son is and might become, but I think it’s also pretty cool to have worked on something like Callum has since the age of 6 when he started taking lessons, and see the efforts of your training resurrect you into being one of the 40 highest-ranked 12-13 year-old’s in the country. It’s hard to say like I’m the 39th best parent in the country or the 39th best yoga teacher, but Callum can actually say he’s the 39th best player in the country according to tennisrecruiting.net’s list for 2024 graduates.

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