Last year, Luka Butera came to a decision that many top junior players often have to make. He began home schooling, and committed to training at the Centercourt Performance Tennis Academy full-time.
“I played both tennis and soccer very competitively starting at a young age,” said Butera. “This is my second year at Centercourt, and my second year of playing tennis full-time after I stopped playing soccer to focus on tennis. I’ve already started to perform better at tournaments and am seeing those results.”
Butera began playing tennis when he was around four-years-old, after seeing his mother teach his older sister how to play, and wanted to emulate that.
“When I was young, I would stand in front of the television and imitate Roger Federer,” Butera said. “And when I began playing matches, I tried to do the same thing.”
One of the many aspects of Federer’s game that Butera has incorporated into his own play is the famous one-handed backhand.
“A big strength of my game is my backhand because it’s a one-hander. It’s different than most players my age,” noted Butera.
That hard work and his commitment to tennis training on a full-time basis have paid off with impressive results over the last year-plus. He works primarily with Adrian Contreras at Centercourt Morristown, who is the program’s Director of High Performance Tennis.
“Adrian has taught me how to play the game,” said Butera. “Just understanding the different strategies on court, the mental side of the game and how to act when on the court—that has really helped me in tournaments.”
Earlier this year, he captured the title at the L1B Mountainside Racquet Club February Challenger, winning five consecutive matches in straight sets. A few weeks later, he took home the title at the L1A President’s Championships at Midtown Tennis Club where, as the top seed, he dropped only a couple of games en route to the championship.
But perhaps one of his best tournament performances came last winter at the 2018 Eddie Herr International in Bradenton, Fla. Butera entered the qualifying draw, and won all three matches to secure his spot in the tournament’s main draw, including a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 comeback victory in the second round of qualifying. And while he would drop his first-round main draw match, being able to compete and win multiple matches on the national stage in one of the country’s most prestigious junior tournaments boosted his confidence.
“I had a few tough matches during the qualifiers. And I thought I had a chance to win some matches in the main draw. There were 64 of the best players in the world, but I thought I had a chance,” said Butera. “But it was a great experience overall. I got to see the actual level that the best kids in the world in my age group played at, and it showed me that there are still improvements I have to make to my game in order to reach that level.”
Butera certainly has the motivation and desire to continue to grow his game, and at 15-years-old, he has a couple of years to continue to develop as he hopes to attain one of his goals which is to play college tennis.
“I love the intensity when you step out onto the court to compete. I want to win … whatever it takes,” Butera said. “I am trying to get better overall, and am focusing on my serve for now. I am a little smaller than most kids my age, so my serve is really key. And with that, my return game as well, and being able to absorb the pace of the ball from some of the bigger players.”
Off of the tennis court, Butera still plays basketball and competes in a rec league. He notes that his time spent as a high-level soccer player before committing full-time to tennis has helped his tennis game flourish.
“Playing basketball, and also soccer up until recently, has really helped my footwork,” he said. “I played soccer on a junior national team, and it greatly improved my stamina.”
Butera continues to work on his game, and wants to improve his play on the clay courts. He has plans to go to Croatia this summer, where his family is from, to train on red clay as he hopes to continue to build his impressive game.
“I’ve been working with Luka for a year or so as a full-time program player,” said Contreras. “He is an all-court player with great hands and really good footwork. He’s quick on the court and is able to win a lot of points at the net. Luka is a student of the game. He works very hard, and is just a great kid from a great family.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org