The metro New York tennis community has some of the sport’s finest facilities, both indoor and outdoor, and best coaches in the world. With this wealth of talent available right in our own backyard, New York Tennis Magazine recently took the opportunity to pick the brains of some of these top coaches. What you will find below are some of the sport’s top instructors sharing their ideas and strategies on health and fitness of today’s athletes, 10 & Under Tennis, the role of the parent, the current state of the local scene, and much more.
Gus Alcayaga is a former world ranked Argentine ATP Tour and junior player. He has worked closely with junior tennis for the last 25 years. He currently works with National- and Eastern-ranked junior players and is the Junior Program Director at The West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, NY.
Damir Basiric is a High Performance Coach at CourtSense-Bogota Racquet Club, and holds the highest level coaching license in Croatia. Born in Osijek, Croatia, Damir was the top-ranked tennis player in every junior age division in Croatia. Prior to joining CourtSense, he competed on a professional level and achieved ATP rankings in both singles and doubles, and after that, spent time coaching at the IMG Nick Bolletieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla.; the Niki Pilic Tennis Academy in Munich, Germany; as well as privately coaching top 100 WTA players including Anja Konjuh and Donna Vekic. At CourtSense, he is working with juniors and adults from all different levels, including many nationally-ranked players.
Vinicius Carmo is Tennis Director of The Ross School Tennis Academy and Coach of the Boy’s and Girls’ Varsity Tennis Teams. As a player, Vinicius was ranked among the top five junior players in Brazil and played several international junior tennis tournaments. He attended the University of Tennessee for four years on a full scholarship.
Born in Chappaqua, N.Y., Lisa Dodson is a 40-year teaching professional and former world ranked player. Having spent 20 years in Northern California, Lisa returned home to Mt. Kisco, New York in 2013. Lisa is now the seasonal Director of Tennis at Shenorock Shore Club in Rye, N.Y., and professional at The Saw Mill Club in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. Lisa is a former WTA player with a world ranking of 270th in singles. She played basketball and tennis for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating in 1979 with a BA in Political Science. Lisa also competed on the Eastern United States Volleyball travel team and went to Olympic basketball trials while at Horace Greeley. She has held sectional rankings in women's singles and doubles in the Eastern, Florida and Northern California Sections and has been a USTA Nor Cal 35s, 40s and 45s sectional team player.
Tony Huber is the Director of High Performance Tennis at the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning. Tony began his career at the world-renowned Van der Meer Tennis University in Hilton Head, S.C. as the “Right Hand Man” of founder Dennis Van der Meer. Tony has coached numerous professional players in 15-plus years on the WTA Tour. Tony, and his wife Liezel Huber, have celebrated tremendous success on the courts with 199 weeks as the world number one doubles player, two Olympics and seven Grand Slams. Tony is a Master Professional with Professional Tennis Coaches Association, a PTR National Tester and has been awarded Coach of the Year on the ATP and WTA tour. Tony has a knack for finding the most efficient way to help players at any level improve their game, whether its technical, tactical or mental.
Lawrence Kleger is recognized as one of the top developmental coaches in the United States. He has trained more ranked juniors than anyone in the history of the USTA/Eastern Section. His students have won numerous National and Regional Championships, and 18 USTA Eastern Year-End Sportsmanship Awards. Lawrence is the Director of Tennis of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, which makes its home at Sportime Randall's Island in Manhattan.
Ed Krass coached the Harvard Women’s Tennis Team to four consecutive Ivy League titles from 1986-1990. Ed is the Founder and Director of the Annual College Tennis Exposure Camps, which are taught exclusively by all head college coaches for high school-aged players (15-18). Ed is also the Founder of One-On-One Doubles tournaments, which have been played at USTA, ATP, ITA and USPTA national events.
Chris Lewit, a former number one for Cornell and pro circuit player, coaches in the New York City area and also runs a high-performance boarding summer camp in Southern Vermont. He specializes in training aspiring junior tournament players using progressive Spanish and European training methods. His best-selling book, Secrets of Spanish Tennis, has helped coaches and players worldwide learn how to train the Spanish way.
Oleg Mironchikov is the Assistant Director of Operations at Tennis Innovators Academy, located in White Plains, N.Y. He received a BA from Delaware State University, where he played top singles and doubles before earning his master’s degree from Florida International University. He has experience with players of all stages of development.
Andy Stuber is Director of Tennis at Gotham Tennis Academy at Stadium Tennis Center. Andy grew up playing his tennis on European red clay courts and brings a tremendous work ethic and passion to the courts at Gotham Tennis Academy. Andy has been known to use his European work ethic to teach and inspire our juniors. Andy is comfortable teaching all levels of players, including the munchkin, JDP, ATP and adult levels.
Khrystsina Tryboi is currently the Director of Marketing for MatchPoint NYC. She is a former Division II tennis player from Belarus, and is currently working for MatchPoint NYC in their QuickStart tennis program and is leading their marketing team. She is highly involved with USPTA and USTA to help grow the game.
Todd Widom is a former Top 200 ATP Professional in both singles and doubles, and Owner of TW Tennis, South Florida’s top small group/private tennis training geared exclusively for the high-performance junior, collegiate or professional tennis player.
Mike Williams is the Tennis Director at Roosevelt Island Racquet Club (RIRC). He captained the Clemson University Tennis Team and played on the Satellite Tour following his collegiate career. He won the Men’s Open Doubles Championship in 2013 and has more than 20 years of coaching experience, dedicated to helping players of all levels by focusing on the fundamentals of the game and designing programs that will help each individual reach their highest level.
What is the most effective type of fitness regimen for tennis players?
Damir Barisic: In my opinion, fitness preparation and training for tennis players should be a continuous process. It should be planned, programmed and executed professionally, over a long period of time. It should also consider and respect specifics of the player involved in the fitness program, such as age, gender, stages of development, etc. Furthermore, it should consider and respect specifics of the sport of tennis.
Andy Stuber: There are a ton of different regimens addressed, but if I have to pick one, I would focus on overall quickness and agility. These skills can be achieved by doing short sprints and using a jump rope.
Mike Williams: Tennis players need stability and flexibility. Strength training should be focused on the development of a player’s legs and core. The best players in the world tend to carry most of their weight in the lower body, while their upper bodies tend to be comparatively smaller. This is not by coincidence. Also, flexibility exercises like stretching and elastic band stretches are vital to the development of a winning player.
Tony Huber: In regards to low compression balls and the training of juniors, there are definitely some great benefits. In my experience, young players have an easier time starting to play tennis with a lower skill base because of the low compression balls. A general rule of thumb for me is if the player can serve the ball in play without “beating themselves,” then they are ready to start match play. Now, if you are a coach and have a player willing to take the extra steps on instruction on the front end of playing, the long-term result could likely be the same or may even be better. I believe that good high performance coaches can teach under both scenarios and need to find the right fit for the particular player. I am a data guy, and right now, I haven’t seen solid data to make me draw the line in the sand. With that being said, low compression balls provide a great entry way for learning. We have designed a junior pathway at the Cary Leeds Center to welcome recreational and high-performance players along that path and the low compression balls give you a little more time at each stage.
Khrystsina Tryboi: I think with the introduction of youth progression, we can attract more children to the game and finally shift the scale to our advantage. Unfortunately, right now we are engaging and attracting the same number of new tennis players as they retire from the game. The game has been aging for a while now, and it’s up to us to change that.
Do you feel more is learned from wins or from losses?
Gus Alcayaga: In general, we all learn from our losses more so than we do from wins and that is true. I believe you can learn from both. Success is not only measured by wins, but the journey it takes you to reach the top. As Serena Williams one said, “If anything, I think losing makes me even more motivated.”
Tony Huber: Learning is the key no matter what, so win or lose, the player who can properly evaluate the last match will be the better player in the long run. In my experience coaching and being around some of the best players in the world, I have seen the great champions hate losing even more than winning. There are quite a few champions still holding onto that one big loss. A player’s winning ratios are important to maintain for the player’s psyche, and as a general rule, staying in the 4:1 win to loss ratio yields both confidence and new skill learning. I will tell you the best get angry after a loss, so I always allow my players to take a little time and then recharge and get at it again! We have built a team building concept at the Cary Leeds Center to help the players push each other along through the tough times–and I see that working very well.
Chris Lewit: Both of course. The key is for the player to learn, in general, and to have a learning mindset—also known as a growth mindset. This basically means the player is always asking, "What did I do well and what can I do better?" Responsible players with a growth mindset take notes after matches and have a good analytical review with a parent or coach. If a player is actively trying to learn from both wins and losses, taking important "nuggets" from every match, they will develop faster than players who are just playing and not really learning that much. Every match reveals important clues for technical, tactical, mental and emotional development. Players who view tournaments and matches as "learning experiences"—not just as opportunities for ranking points—have a very healthy perspective on junior tennis
Lawrence Kleger: Based on a parent’s totally rational and objective opinion about their child, the answer is “no” with every coach. Seriously, this is a tough one. What I tell parents when it comes to choosing a coach is to do their due diligence, but once you engage a coach that you have confidence in, do not micromanage that coach. Developing a tennis player is a long process … a marathon, not a dash. A parent should request a Developmental Plan for the player and that should answer many of the questions like, “When is my child’s second serve going to be reliable?” “What are the ranking/standing expectations for the next three months, six months, one year, etc.” In the end, a parent has to make this call and it is not always easy. And no offense to parents … but it’s not always right.
Chris Lewit: They usually don't know and that is why so many poor and ineffective coaches stay in the business. However, smart parents usually have an instinct that tells them their child is underachieving. If a player is stressed or anxious and not achieving their goals, it's worth checking in with another coach or two to see if there may be something missing in the player's training. In general, the parents I have worked with who are most effective are constantly seeking out expert advice for their child. This does not mean they are not loyal to one coach, rather, it means they seek the best advice from the best minds in the industry. Even one great coach does not know everyone or have expertise in every area of tennis training. Also, I think smart parents should invest in consulting with experts, even if it's expensive. If you want the best advice, you have to be willing to pay for it. I frequently see players underachieving because parents stubbornly refuse to pay more for better coaching and consulting, while throwing away money week after week to coaches giving bad advice.
Todd Widom: The child should feel like they are being challenged when they are in a training session. The junior player should feel and see that they are improving certain aspects of their game that is going to help them achieve their goals. Lastly, there is TennisRecruiting.net and Universal Tennis Rating which are excellent tools to see if your child is progressing in terms of their tennis tournament results. Results never lie.
What is a parent’s role in their child’s s training? What are some common mistakes you see from parents?
Gus Alcayaga: The parent’s role in their child’s training is to be “supportive,” as the “coach" will train and teach and the "tennis player" will fulfill their role by preparing under the coaches’ instruction. Parents, too often, want to be all three of the above. Most of the time, the biggest mistake is their focus on the outcome, rather than the process. Sometimes … no, most of the time, parents watching their child train and compete is too much for them to handle.
Lisa Dodson: Initially, find a good, reputable coach who will provide structure while having fun. If a child wants to take it further, provide regular instruction (as appropriate). The parent simply supports the child in their endeavor with structure, encouragement and organization. Parents show interest, but don’t coach and micro-manage, constantly ask how their lesson was or if they won a practice match. This is what should happen at all levels of play.
Oleg Mironchikov: On a competitive level, a parent frequently takes on the role of a manager, dietician and mental coach, on top of being a parent. Coaches, of course, aid in the development of an athlete, but parents are the ones who instill the needed value and qualities in children that determine the long-term success of a player. The most common mistake among parents is either being too strict or too soft with their kids. The key is in finding a perfect balance where children learn the value of hard work, yet enjoy the life-long journey in tennis.
Andy Stuber: Parents should be supportive and let the coaches do their job. Their primary role should be to be a good parent and stress good sportsmanship. A good tennis parent should use the game of tennis to teach life lessons. Some common mistakes I see are parents getting overly-involved in their child's tennis—focusing too much on winning, rather than the development of the child, and not showing enough respect for their child's opponent.
Mike Williams: Kids would benefit if parents could be an understanding and inspiring friend. Tennis can be hard on a child’s psyche. Although many parents are not versed in the game, they know the difference between right and wrong, the spirit of competition and fair play. At its best, tennis inspires, but at its worst, it can tear a kid down from the inside. It’s the parent’s responsibility to make sure this never happens. Parents forget that tennis is a game and that everything that happens before, during and after a tennis match or practice is an opportunity for your child to learn something new and extraordinary.
How do you prepare a junior player to be mentally tougher on the court?
Damir Barisic: In my opinion, developing good habits could help a junior tennis player to be mentally tougher on the tennis court. Some of these good habits include a good work ethic during practices and matches, fair play, enjoying the competition more than the outcome, etc.
Vinicius Carmo: The preparation comes from daily habits that coaches implement in the routine of training such as: Determination and being goal-focused, sticking with the plan under pressure and always striving for the goals; Toughness in embracing challenges and going all in with everything we have; Resiliency and the ability to bounce back when struggling; Engagement and immersing at the moment; Confidence in believing in themselves; and Happiness in doing what they love and enjoying every moment.
Lisa Dodson: Encourage them how to be well-rounded, self-sufficient and sure of their ability to produce dependable strokes. Then, they can concentrate on how to form and change strategy. A shaky stroke is always somewhere in the back of a player’s mind and ready to become a negative factor when the going gets tough. If any player has a firm confidence in their technical ability, then they will naturally have a path to become mentally more secure.
How would you describe the current state of tennis in the metro New York area? What are the pros and cons?
Andy Stuber: Tennis is on an upswing in general because of modifications in equipment, teaching methods and accessibility. At the same time, there’s always more that can be done to offer more playing and learning opportunities. We are trying to do our part to create even more opportunities for play at all levels and for all ages.
Khrystsina Tryboi: I think as a Section, we are getting stronger and attracting new players to the game. There are more facilities opening with a wider variety of programs, ranging from community, NYJTL, to tournament training. This is helping tennis to be more affordable and attract players who otherwise would not have played. There is a lot of talent out there, we just need to properly attract, identify and mentor.
Vinicius Carmo: I do believe that it is beneficial, but it should not take time away from the tennis practices. Coaches today should also implement other physical exercises that will supplement tennis players. The fitness could be playing soccer, baseball or playing flag football. Tennis today is different than 10 or 20 years ago, as today, it is much more competitive and physical.
Ed Krass: I think it is important that our young tennis players get exposed to playing at least one other sport in their formative years, ages 10-13. I know that I played flag football, JV basketball and Little League baseball, leading up to playing tennis full-time at the age of 14 going forward. I do think that the athletic skills one develops playing other sports can help transfer over to tennis. However, with tournament tennis being such a demanding and technical game, one should think about "specializing" in the sport at around the ages of 13 or 14, as the quantity of time invested will often dictate the type of quality results a junior player will receive.
Do you think top juniors should play for their high school varsity teams?
Tony Huber: Once again, I will not tell you what to do, but I will say there is data out there. Currently, around three percent of Division 1 college players played on their high school teams. So, it seems that with all the hours it takes to make a college player, the current ones couldn’t fit playing high school tennis into their schedules. It really is a shame though, as I consider college tennis the happiest time for a player and the high school tennis experience is a close second. I played in high school, and I loved being on the team and I got better. In short, make your decision and stick with it, I think you can make both scenarios work.
Oleg Mironchikov: While it looks good on a resume when applying for colleges, top junior athletes should focus on national and international level events to get the needed exposure and experience to successfully compete on the highest level. Consequently, this exposure may lead to gaining sponsorships and endorsement deals–something any professional athlete needs for the duration of their career.
Mike Williams: Because top juniors are usually the best players on their respective teams, I believe they should play high school tennis from eighth until 10th grade. After that, they will most certainly need to find more competitive tennis environments to keep pace with other higher level junior players.
Vinicius Carmo: The Eastern Section is one of the strongest Sections in the country. There is enough competition and we have good academies with schools in the Eastern Section. The academy schools, in general, are also better up north. I don't advise anyone to leave home and their parents at an early age if you can find a good tennis academy and school close by. Of course, if you don't have a good school or academy around, you have to leave and find what fits the best. Also, people say all of the time that the weather is better for tennis in Florida. Do you know how many days of practice you miss because of rain? Also, your practice is much shorter when dealing with humidity and warmer temperatures.
Khrystsina Tryboi: First, we have full-time opportunities right here in New York, and second, home walls always help you. You can get the support, training and mentoring right in New York of the same quality, plus you don’t have to move away from your family and friends. I am a big believer in having a strong support network for players.
What effect do you think the recent success of the American women at the U.S. Open will have on American tennis?
Lisa Dodson: Hopefully, this success will inspire more coaches to teach women a varied and effective game, rather than just standing them on the baseline to see who can hit better groundstrokes. The rest of the world has been working on this for ages. The current top women are serving more effectively and have more variety, along with power and speed from the baseline. They are being encouraged to use their athleticism, speed and smarts to play a more well-rounded game. As it should be.
Ed Krass: The recent success of our American women at the U.S. Open was very inspiring to see! I think that these amazing results show our American women (and men) that if a player has great motivation, talent and opportunity, that the sky could be the limit! Any time an American player wins a Grand Slam, it’s reassuring to know that our country's top players are truly the best in the world!
Chris Lewit: The U.S. is lucky to have so many great, young American players coming up, while still retaining some older legends. I think we will see even more participation and diversity entering the sport, especially on the girl’s side. I attribute much of that success to changes at the USTA and in Player Development. Ola Malmqvist, Head of Women's Coaching, is an unsung hero and has done an amazing job, while remaining virtually unheard of. Jose Higueras has revamped the entire coaching curriculum to model the best practices from Spain. The USTA Team USA concept is fantastic and has allowed better partnerships with private high performance coaches like myself and others. The results speak for themselves. We currently have the best country in the world for female tennis, and more and more girls are rising up the ranks.
Gus Alcayaga: The Net Generation initiative should help our tennis players receive more exposure through different channels. There are so many junior tennis players with so much talent who sometimes fall through the cracks. We need to ensure that there is a place for their continued development. As an industry, we need to identify these young athletes, making sure they are receiving full support from the USTA as they become America’s next generation of champions. We are working with local schools and hope to discover the next Serena Williams or Roger Federer of the tennis world.
Damir Barisic: I think the Net Generation initiative that USTA has launched could be very useful in making tennis more available to a larger audience. I also think that the Net Generation initiative will help bring together a stronger tennis community of parents, players, coaches, etc.
Oleg Mironchikov: My hopes are that the USTA achieves its goals in creating a perfect platform where coaches, players and tennis organizations can work together and inspire new generations of players to try out the sport. The introduction of interactive and creative curriculums will stimulate interest among players and accelerate their development. I would like to see tennis clubs and academies investing more time and resources in expanding 10 & Under programs. After all, these players are our future.
Todd Widom: The Net Generation Initiative sounds like a great way to bring young tennis players of all skill levels together to promote a healthy competitive environment. This program may be able to mold some great kids in the New York area into tennis players who may have otherwise not had these resources. I would love to see more young kids playing tennis and continue to play throughout their junior career and on into college.
What are some tips to help a high-level player secure a college scholarship?
Lawrence Kleger: I think it is rather simple in concept: Get good enough at tennis. As far as the process, once you are good enough, that would take more space than I am allowed for my answer, but what I say to my students is this: Start the process early and decide on the importance of the academics and the tennis. This will help you compile a list of universities that would seem to be a good fit for you. Be thorough in evaluating which school and tennis program would be right for you. The school has to offer the academic major you are interested in pursuing. Do you believe that you will be comfortable with the coaching staff? Do you see yourself fitting in with the players on the team? And last, but certainly not least, do you have an excellent chance to play in the top six? I might even put that last one at the top of this list.
Ed Krass: For a high-level junior player to secure a college tennis scholarship, they must be tremendously dedicated to achieve at the highest level. The topics of setting goals, creating your vision, making a game plan for achievement, alongside getting exposure to top college coaches will all help in a player's goal to receiving a college tennis scholarship.
Todd Widom: The best tip I can tell you is to peak and play your best tennis when you are 16- to 18-years-old. To do this, you and your coach need to be organized about the development process, make sure you are playing in the correct tournaments, and perform well at those tournaments. Of course, make sure to do well in the classroom as well.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 print edition of New York Tennis Magazine.