Many of us get our start in sports by looking up to an older sibling and Sebastian Sec, the top-ranked junior in New York for the Class of 2022, is no different.
Sec can recall starting to play tennis when he watched his older brother, Richard, and other family members begin playing.
“When he started playing, I got drawn into it,” Sec recalls. “It wasn’t forced or anything, but I watched him play and really wanted to try it. I would play with him a lot, and he was way better than me which really pushed me to try and get better. I also have older cousins who play, and I wanted to play with all of them, but I wasn’t good enough at the time. That was definitely the motivating factor for me.”
That drive has paid off as Sec is now one of the area’s top-ranked junior players, helped out by the fact that since he was around 10 years old, Sec has been training with Lawrence Kleger at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at SPORTIME Randall’s Island.
“I just love the balance they provide,” he said. “The whole coaching staff is terrific; they make time for you and do whatever they can to help you get better. I’ve been with Lawrence ever since I stepped foot in there, and I’ve never thought about the idea of changing. We work really well together... I think anyone committing to tennis full-time would have the same experience at JMTA, whether it’s with Lawrence or a different coach. They help with the travel aspects of tournaments, and the facility is so nice. They have some of the best tennis coaches and athletic trainers in the world, in my opinion, so you are really getting a balanced training regimen.”
While Sec would briefly play ice hockey and also oftentimes play basketball with his brothers, tennis was always at the forefront for him. Embracing the individual challenge of being a high-level tennis player has always been a crucial part of his approach, and continues to be one of his strongest attributes.
“I never had any pressure to only focus on one sport, but once I started playing tournaments, I think that’s when I realized I only wanted to play tennis,” he said. “I just enjoyed playing matches so much. It’s an individual sport, and for better or worse, it comes down to you. I think the independence factor is something that makes it both more enjoyable but also tougher. You have to focus on every shot during a match, and that really forces you to stay in it mentally. I enjoy that part.”
Kleger, the Co-Director of JMTA who has worked with numerous top juniors in New York throughout his career, says Sec has the mental toughness and determination you want to see in a player.
Sec, pictured right, captured the title at the San Diego ITF Grade 5 Championships back in November.
“I have had the privilege and pleasure of coaching Sebastian since he was 10 years old,” said Kleger. “Sebe has gone through two significant injuries that kept him off the court for months at a time just when he was making good progress. Some kids in that position might quit out of frustration, but he came back from each injury more committed and more determined to reach his tennis goals. As a result, he has not only become an elite player, he has become the emotional leader of, and role model for all players at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy.”
Like many other top junior players, Sec has been doing his schooling online for the last couple of years, attending Laurel Springs, to allow more time and flexibility to continue and build on his tennis training.
“Last year as I started doing well in higher-level tournaments, we discussed and ultimately decided to go fully virtual. We knew it would help me improve a lot,” said Sec. “We have a group at JMTA during the day for players who do online schooling, and it just gives me more hours on with my coach, and practicing with other top players. Some are higher-ranked and some are lower-ranked than you, but being able to practice against players at your level who have different styles gives you a different look, and it pushes you to try to pass them in the rankings.”
That environment continued to drive Sec and towards the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, he began seeing the fruits of that labor with success at some high-level National tournaments, even competing on the ITF tours. But when COVID-19 hit, like many people, Sec’s tournament play was put on hold, and it left him in a strange situation as he tried to figure out the best way to continue improving during the layoff.
“It was definitely mentally challenging, and I was anxious a lot of the time,” he said. “Mainly because prior to COVID shutting everything down, I was playing tournaments in back-to-back-to-back weeks while traveling a good amount, and that was the first time I had really done that. I was doing pretty well at those events as well, so when everything shut down it was tough. I played with my cousins at a nearby outdoor park, but still felt off about my game. It kind of gets in your head, whether or not you can sustain the level you were at before stopping. So you had to refocus and restart in a way.”
But as tournament play returned in the fall and winter, Sec has found his groove again, and started posting good results at tournaments. He was a finalist at the Eastern Super Six at Alley Pond Tennis Center in October, won the doubles title alongside Alex Karman at the Empire Cup at CourtSense Bogota, and recently reached the finals of the Grade 5 San Diego ITF event and the finals of a J5 ITF event in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Match play has always been a strength of Sec’s game, as he is a sound technical player who understands how to construct a point, and avoid giving his opponent any mistakes to capitalize on.
“I think I’m pretty consistent, and I try not to give anything to my opponents,” he said. “I am very good defensively, and I feel like I can play any position on the court. I do want to start being able to come to the net more comfortably, and finish off points more easily. I think I dictate really well, and it’s just about finishing those points off.”
As Sec moves into the latter part of his junior season and prepares for his senior year, his goal is to play high-level Division I tennis at a school with a good balance of both academics and athletics.
“His game is very solid in all aspects and he rarely beats himself,” added Kleger. “You really have to play over him to beat him. He is our most technically and tactically sound player. And every aspect of his game continues to improve. He is going to be a very tough out in college and, hopefully, beyond.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com