Courtside … With CourtSense Tennis Training Center

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That is the mission statement at CourtSense Tennis Training Center and is something its management and staff try to live up to every single day across its multiple locations throughout New Jersey. With its passion and enthusiasm coupled with the ability to embrace the newest form of modern sports science, CourtSense has become a staple of the tri-state area tennis community.

The first CourtSense club came to be in 2006, when Gordon Uehling bought Tenafly Racquet Club, but its origins date back to about 2002.

Uehling, a former player on the ATP Tour, began teaching with Carlos Cano and Jose Higueras but eventually the program became too big and required its own facility, and in 2006 CourtSense bought Tenafly Racquet Club.

“Gordon bought Tenafly in 2006, and after about a year-and-a-half, he asked me to come for a year at a time and help him further establish the programs that he has envisioned,” said Ognen Nikolovski, the general manager of CourtSense and director of Tennis at Bogota Racquet Club. “It’s one thing to be passionate about tennis, and it’s another to make it a self-sustainable business. My kids were very young at the time and my wife and I thought it would be a good time to come and see how it would work out for a year or two. All these years later, we are still here.”

The relationship between Nikolovski and Uehling goes back years, when the two were roommates and teammates at Division II Rollins College in Orlando, Fla. The two would go on to play on the pro tour together after college, but Nikolovski stopped after about two years.

“I went back to Macedonia, and I had my own tennis club there,” recalls Nikolovski. “I captained the Davis Cup Team, later managed the Federation and ran my club for about eight or nine years. Gordon was still playing on the tour and trained in Europe sometimes; we always stayed in touch.”

A few years later, in 2009, CourtSense purchased Bogota Racquet Club and has since expanded by managing the tennis programs of Alpine Country Club and Englewood Field Club, and also added a summer location at Ramapo College at Mahwah, N.J.

“There are a lot of challenges to running multiple clubs and locations,” said Nikolovski. “Especially when they are close to each other. The tennis world has a lot of ego involved; being tennis players, we’re automatically inclined to think about ourselves first, that is just the instinct. But I think we’ve come out of it much stronger because you see who is a team player and who isn’t. We have a history now operating the way we have been for 10 years, people see that. Most of our coaches and staff have been with us at least for five years or more, there hasn’t been a lot of turnover and we therefore we are able to provide continuity. It’s taught us how important it is for everyone to work together as a team for a common goal of making sure that our players/clients get the most out of their time with us.”

Much of CourtSense’s success over the years is a byproduct of the enthusiasm from the top as well as their willingness to stay on the cutting edge of the tennis world. A major example of that is its partnership with PlaySight, installing smart courts on 13 of its courts which has taken their coaching to the next level.

“I think the software is unbelievable, the technology is off the charts,” said Nikolovski. “Any coach who truly wants to achieve something with any player, whether it’s somebody who is playing tennis for the first time or a 16-year-old trying to play college tennis … what you can do with this is just incredible.”

The smart courts have allowed coaches to isolate specific targets, shots and strategies that an individual needs to work on and can more easily work on it. CourtSense is also working on producing a coaching manual for its coaches, with the goal being to get every coach that works form them to go through the same protocol. After going through the training, the coach can take their teachings the way they want to but it will have the same foundation that CourtSense prides itself in.

CourtSense also has Magnus Fitness trainers at its facilities, which provide players with specific and individualized training regimens from some of the top instructors around, which lays the foundation for the success of its tennis players.

The tennis-teaching philosophy is based on the Spanish-Australian system, viewing tennis in three components: Your mind, your feet and your hands. You learn with your hands first, by having the correct grips and swing paths, and transfer of energy, then you move onto footwork and then into decision making and the mental aspect of the sport.

“We view the head, your mind as the most important part of everyone’s game. You have to be ready to compete and problem solve,” said Nikolovski. “Tennis is a game of problem solving. No situation is the same; you’ll never get the same ball twice, you’re always playing different people and in different conditions. You have to be able to adapt, especially if you’re going to play at a higher level. I think this is the key.”

Some of the world’s top players have used CourtSense facilities which only enhances its reputation as being on the cutting-edge of the modern tennis game. Novak Djokovic, winner of 12 Grand Slam titles, trains at CourtSense during the U.S. Opens, and American Christina McHale spent many years there while growing up in the USTA Eastern Section.

While Nikolovski has lived in New Jersey for many years now, he has a unique perspective on the tennis landscape in the Tri-State area having come here from Europe, and sees both the pros and cons of the current state of the sport.

“I think the level of tennis being played in this area is very high. There are a lot of knowledgeable people who understand tennis and create excitement for it,” Nikolovski said. “However, I think there are two disadvantages. One is that here tennis is an indoor sport, and if we are talking about a higher level of development, it’s tough when you have to play seven or eight months of the year indoors. The other issue, and we at CourtSense are part of it, is that the tennis business has made the sport too much of a per-minute business. One hour of practice, 45 minutes of fitness, etc. Whereas in warmer climates tennis is more of a culture, here it is like getting a massage. You go to your club, punch the clock when you get in and punch out when you’re done. There doesn’t seem to be the same attachment. I think that’s a big problem in why we can’t produce as many players as we would like. You can’t do it by the hour.”

But CourtSense is just one of many clubs in the area looking to continue to grow the excitement of tennis and create a more sustainable culture, something that will benefit the industry as a whole.

“Gordon and I, being from the tennis world, have good relationships, and part of our vision is to change the tennis culture in this area,” Nikolovski added. “The old guard was very closed off and competing against one another. Now, do we compete against one another? Of course. But I don’t view it as a competition. For me it is great if the other big clubs are doing great. It means that I have to look at myself and see how we can do things better in order to keep pace, and vice versa. We have heard from other clubs in the area who say they are doing better because of our presence. I think we help create excitement about tennis and people get the hook, and that trickles down to other clubs.”

CourtSense has done great things in the decade it has been around and will continue to develop and be innovative with its methods with the overarching goal of creating excitement for the sport. It plans on expanding its Tenafly and Bogota clubs, while also leaving open the possibility of expanding into new locations, as well as branching out into the tennis management and counseling business.

In the meantime, it will continue to build on its foundation and what has made it so successful up to this point.

“We are in this for the long haul. We are in a situation where we can do what our passion is and surround ourselves with people who are in the same boat,” concluded Nikolovski. “We love being on court and love working with kids. And that’s when you can do something special. We’re trying to create our own little utopia; we’d love to have multiple places in different countries in the world so if you go to Spain, Columbia, Bulgaria, China, etc. they all have the same feel with the coaches teaching the same way and representing the same values. That is our goal. We aren’t in a great rush but we keep taking strides forward. Until then, we’ll keep improving on what we have.”