When he was around seven-years-old, Julian Joaquin Vasquez can remember his aunt giving him an old tennis racket and he begin hitting balls against a wall.
“I hit for about an hour, and then when we were supposed to leave, I didn’t want to at all,” recalls Vasquez. “This made my parents realize they should look for a place for me to play tennis.”
This is where Vasquez’s love of tennis began, and almost a decade later, that passion and desire to play has not wavered.
“I love the individual aspect of playing tennis ... that I kind of get to escape when I get onto the court,” he said. “I’m in control of my actions, decision-making and emotions. I also enjoy the physical exercise involved with the sport ... being able to work out and push myself to be in the very best condition I can be in.”
Julian began playing regularly at the Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program, and then at Gotham Tennis Academy before he met Gilad Bloom, who was working at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at the time.
Bloom, a former pro on the ATP World Tour who had a successful professional career, would soon launch his own program, of which Vasquez has become an integral member.
“About two years ago I was a practice partner for one of the kids he was doing a private training session with, and that’s how our relationship began,” said Vasquez. “I started to play at his academy, and we’ve grown very close over these last couple of years. What I really like about his program is that it’s small, and he puts a lot of attention on technique.”
And so for the last couple of years, Vasquez has been training with Bloom at the Riverdale Tennis Center in the Bronx, N.Y. When he arrived at the program, he was a big-hitter with an aggressive style of play, and through Bloom’s tutelage, Vasquez has worked to harness that aggressiveness on the court.
“At first, my idea of getting better was just trying to grind out balls and hit winners,” he explained. “But throughout the years and training on clay courts, Gilad has taught me how to develop points and play more strategically. I learned to hit heavier shots to make my opponent move around the court more. I’m very aggressive when I play, but he has taught me to be aggressive in a more intelligent way, to develop a variety of shots and make wiser decisions against my opponents.”
Developing an all-around game is a crucial aspect of the foundation of a successful tennis player, and Vasquez has been more than willing to put in the time and work in order to achieve that goal.
He trains for four to five days a week during the school year, but is out on the court training nearly every day during the summer months.
Making sure to establish a consistent serve was also a point of emphasis, Vasquez said. He had a somewhat inconsistent serve toss and motion, but has since trained rigorously to establish one that works for him:
“I’ve done many different serving drills to help me jump more into the court, and attack return balls of the serve and hit better volleys.”
As he has developed a more consistent serve and has improved his volleying, those aspects have only complimented his already strong play from the baseline with both his forehand and backhand. With that balance and all-around game, Vasquez has started to see the fruits of that labor as he competes in tournaments this summer.
“For the past few months, I’ve really been getting into tournaments, playing up in the 16s Division; I’ve been playing tournaments almost every other weekend,” he said. “Since we’ve been working on more volleys recently, I’ve been trying to come to the net a lot more in matches, and it seems more natural to me now. It doesn’t feel as stressful as it once did. It’s just serve, come to the net and put the ball away.”
The constant work he has put in comes from his desire to be on the court whenever he can, something he has felt since he picked up his first racket all those years ago. Vasquez is an incoming freshman at the Dwight School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he plans on playing for the school’s tennis team, something he is very excited about.
“My old school didn’t have a tennis team, so I’m looking forward to being part of a team,” explained Vasquez.
Before that, though, Vasquez concluded his summer as part of the 2019 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where he will serve as a ballperson for the first time.
“It’s my first time ever doing it. I had watched some videos beforehand to sort of see how it works, and just went in and gave it my best,” he said. “I got a call back after the first tryout, went back again, and they told me I made it and to come in for training. I’m really excited about it.”
He will be up close and on-court with some of the world’s greatest tennis players, and may even be on-court with players like Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev, who he says are his two favorite players on tour.
Vasquez will continue to grow as a player and person, both on and off the court, and has a great coach and trainer in his corner in Bloom. As his love and desire to play and practice remains a part of him, he hopes to take his tennis career into his college years and beyond.
“Julian is one of those kids that any coach dreams of teaching. He has a great attitude, works really hard, and he’s a great athlete. He’s truly a great kid,” said Bloom. “He’s come a long way over the last three years in my program. His technique has improved immensely and his game has matured over the last few months. He’s starting to win some matches and do well in tournaments, which always helps. Julian has all the shots, and he’s now learning how to utilize his weapons and translate his talent into winning points. It’s a long process, but I’m sure he will reach his goals. We are certainly enjoying the journey.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com