When Shawn Mitchell Yon was in the first grade at P.S. 295, he was introduced to the game of tennis through a program run at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens.
“I was one of the few kids selected to try out for the program,” he recalls. “The school transported us to the site and I’ve loved the game ever since.”
With his love of tennis established, Yon continued to pursue the game, and began playing with New York Junior Tennis & Learning (NYJTL) soon after that, playing under one of its coaches, Christian Goerges.
“My tennis game has improved tremendously,” he said, talking about NYJTL and The Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning’s instruction. “I’ve started to fully understand the game of tennis, and have really become a student of the game.”
And so for the last several years, he has been training and playing at The Cary Leeds Center in the Bronx, learning from the facility’s coaches and instructors such as Liezel and Tony Huber, who have a wealth of knowledge thanks to their experiences on the professional tour.
“There are professional coaches here that played on the ATP and WTA Tours, they’re always preparing us daily and teaching us the strategies and techniques on court,” said Yon. “They give us the inside scoop on how to be a successful tennis player.”
A hallmark of the programs there, and something that Yon takes very seriously, is the blend of tennis and academics, and making sure that you pay attention to your school work. He says tennis has helped him become a better student, and has helped him establish future goals for himself, which include becoming a tennis pro and possibly even opening up his own tennis facility to help impact the lives of others.
At last year’s Mayor’s Cup, NYJTL partnered with UTR powered by Oracle, and UTR took submissions for its inaugural Impact Story Award, which was granted to a player who shared a story highlighting the impact that tennis has had on their lives.
Yon won the award and talked about how the game has helped become both a better student and person, and hopes to pass those same impacts on to more players as he gets older.
“Being honored with that award totally changed me,” he said. “It meant to me that everything I was doing wasn’t a waste of time, that it was beneficial to me. It inspires me to keep working hard.”
On the court, Yon has used his instruction and love for the game to become a really good junior player. He has great speed on the court and a powerful forehand, and loves to dissect the strategy of the sport in order to improve his game.
“I want to work on being different from other players in terms of strategy,” said Yon. “I want to have my own creative style, and that will take time to work on but I am prepared for that.”
That work has helped produce better results on court and he has already captured a number of titles in USTA tournaments this fall. At the first-ever Hector Henry Championships, which were created to honor longtime NYJTL coach Hector Henry, Yon won all of his matches in straight sets, knocking off the top two seeds in the semifinals and finals to win the title.
He followed that up by traveling to Long Island to win an L1B Bethpage Park Challenger in the Boys 14s Division. And earlier this year at the Mayor’s Cup, Yon won four matches en route to reaching the tournament’s Middle School Singles semifinals.
His passion for tennis is evident when you speak with him, or watch him play, as he recognizes the doors that have opened for him as a result of tennis, and knows the game can open doors for people from all different backgrounds.
“What I enjoy most about tennis is that it’s a sport that everyone of any shape and size can enjoy,” he said. “Even people in wheelchairs or disabilities of any kind can play! It gives people the chance to be themselves.”
Yon takes great pride in his play as well as his academics, both of which will help grow as he continues to get older.
“My goals in tennis that I hope to accomplish are to stay on track and keep doing what I have to do to guide me in the right direction,” he said. “I hope the sport takes me to a professional career, I think I have all the tools to become a great tennis player.
I don’t want to be the next Federer, Serena, Nadal, Djokovic, etc.; I want a person to watch me and say, ‘who is that kid, I want to be just like him’. I want to be known and make a name for myself, and be the best Shawn Mitchell Yon I can be.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org