New York tennis teaching professional Ron Rebhuhn was recently elected to the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame. I met with him this month at his home in Westbury, N.Y.
Ron directs 14 USTA-sanctioned senior tournaments each year at Jericho-Westbury Indoor Tennis in the winter on Long Island, and at The Tennis King in Roslyn Estates in the summer. He now specializes in teaching senior tournament players. A long-time local boy, he attended Great Neck North High School for the first half of every year, eventually graduating from a high school in Florida. He went on to a competitive collegiate career at the University of Florida.
It was at the University of Florida where Ron met Bill Tym, a man he credits with having a powerful influence on his life in tennis. Tym was team captain and he stressed the importance of strategy and the mental aspect of the game. After competing on the international tour, Tym coached the Vanderbilt University men’s team from 1987-1996.
Rebhuhn believes he can teach 50 percent of tennis in his living room. Ron says “students must be taught the mechanics of body movement that are universal to all sports.” He maintains that students must learn the principles, commit to them, and then take them onto the court. He has been teaching Tai Chi and Chi Kong for many years, which explains the spiritual foundation behind much of what he says.
“Many players are unwilling to work on their weaknesses; they are not ready to be taught.” He continued saying that “the mindless practice of just hitting balls without specific purposes is pointless.” Ron told me that before every collegiate match, he would read a segment from the Bill Tilden book, Playing Better Tennis. He was always able to take some fundamental principle from the book onto the court with him.
He has been designated a Master Professional by the USPTA, a distinction held by only one percent of USPTA members. Ron believes many of today’s teachers would have difficulty passing one of the original USPTA tests, which required applicants to describe their comprehensive plan for taking a student from beginner to champion. His combined experience in Asian arts and tennis compels him to criticize the modern trend toward unorthodox strokes, believing that they can damage the body. Ron’s voice joins the chorus pointing to Roger Federer’s mechanics as the main reason for his mostly injury-free career.
While Ron and I were sharing our tennis experiences, his longtime friend and doubles partner, Oklahoma born Bob McKenna, joined us. Their lifetime record as partners is 132-8, and they won the 60 and Over National Parks Tournament in 2005. Both have been highly-ranked players and tennis teachers for 50 years. It seemed natural to ask how they first met.
“Bob had just finished beating me love and love. This was in 1985. He informed me that I was to become his doubles partner in New York. Bob told me I knew the game, never missed, and knew when to get out of his way.”
The friendship is obvious when McKenna continues, “Ron has a great brain, had a bad foot and hip, and no ego about who hit the winning shot. Plus he had great lobs, which set me up to hit winning overheads and volleys.”
Since my time with these two professionals was coming to a close, I thought I would solicit some great technical tips to better my own teaching. McKenna suggested I work on young students’ attitudes, and not allow potty mouths and tantrums about picking up balls.
In over 50 years of competition, only two people he has beaten have asked Ron for suggestions about how to improve. So, not surprisingly, he advises that people should develop humility and surrender.
“This simply means that you follow a plan designed by the teacher, not the student. I live my life based on God’s plan for me, not mine.”
The title of my article was taken from an old Buddhist proverb. Feeling somewhat like the Grasshopper character from the 1970s television series “Kung Fu,” which popularized Asian spirituality in America, I reluctantly returned to the world of grips, contact points and string tension.
Richard Thater is a long-time teacher and player on New York City courts. He is PTR-certified in both Junior and Adult Development, and has played in senior tournaments in the Greater New York area. Richard currently teaches at the West Side Tennis Club. He may be reached by phone at (917) 749-3255 or e-mail RichThater@aol.com.