Remembering Sol

Photo credit: Melanie Rubin

One year ago today, I got a phone call from my friend, Melanie. Usually, when Melanie calls, it’s to chat and catch up on our kids and our lives. Not this time. This time, Melanie called to deliver some devastating news: that our dear friend, Sol Schwartz, had died.

Sol’s sudden death took everyone by surprise. This man was the poster boy for fitness and healthy living. He worked out religiously, ate well, avoided drugs and alcohol completely, and was one of those people who spread good karma wherever he went. To say he was beloved is an understatement as evidenced by the SRO at his funeral and the fact that his long-time place of employment, Holabird Sports, actually closed shop for the day to honor his memory.

So, now a year has passed and a lot has happened. Sol’s daughter graduated from high school and started her first year in college. Sol’s son is thriving on his high school baseball team. Sol’s wife has surrounded herself with friends and family who are helping her live in a world without her husband. And, we, Sol’s friends, have found many ways to remember him and share his legacy.

For me, that way is #theSol junior tournament.

I won’t repost the details of our first #theSol event (you can click here to read about it), but I do want to talk about what the tournament looks like as we move into Year 2.

Because of the success of our first go ’round, we were able to secure additional sponsor money – HUGE thank you to 10sballs.com! – to kick off our next round of events. UTR is continuing to be a major part of the tournaments and has helped connect me with tournament directors in various cities who will be hosting their own #theSol tournaments in 2017.

The first confirmed event will be played at Georgia Gwinnett College just outside Atlanta July 17-19, 2017 with tournament director David Stolle running the show alongside GGC head coach Chase Hodges. David runs numerous UTR events throughout the year, so I feel good about putting #theSol in his very capable hands!

We are hoping to have Sol’s tournaments in the Baltimore area, one in Florida, and one in Texas, but those events are still in the negotiation phase as we work to secure venues and dates. Of course, as we nail down the details, I will share them here and on the ParentingAces social media outlets, so please keep these tournaments on your radar as you plan your junior player’s schedule for the remainder of 2017.

We are working to attract additional sponsors so we can continue to provide a top-notch tournament experience to the players and their families. My goal is to have #theSol be a true reflection of all that Sol wished for junior tennis. It’s a tall order, but I’m confident in our small but highly dedicated committee and the tournament directors who have expressed an interest in being part of this special series.

It looks like we have found a way to continue Sol’s work to #SaveCollegeTennis as well. We will be establishing a fund – using some of the sponsor dollars and net proceeds of the events – through a 501(c) non-profit organization that will award grants to college tennis programs at risk of being cut. I was hoping to partner with the ITA on this part of things, but there are too many hurdles for that to happen this year. Maybe in future years we will be able to conquer those hurdles and work with the governing body of college tennis – I think it’s a partnership that makes perfect sense.

As is fitting, I spent my morning playing tennis, wearing my Holabird long-sleeve that Sol included as a little treat in an order he filled for my son shortly after we first met. For the record, I won my match which, I’m convinced, had as much to do with my Forever Cheerleader Sol as it did with any so-called skill I exhibited on the court. Like all who had the privilege of knowing Sol, I am missing my friend today.

In my religion, we remember and honor those who have left us on the anniversary of their death. It’s called observing yartzeit, a Yiddish word equivalent to yor year + tsayt time. Today, I am remembering and honoring Sol by sharing him with all of you. I hope you will help me continue to honor him by participating in #theSol events, either as a participant or sponsor or volunteer, and by supporting your local college tennis teams. I will be cheering on my favorite team this weekend and will know that Sol is smiling down as he watches his legacy live on.

My Year-Long Rollercoaster Ride with Tennis

I love Tennis.

No, really, I LOVE Tennis.

But this year has been a rollercoaster ride for Tennis and me. We almost had a permanent break-up, the kind you don’t – can’t – ever recover from.

And, believe me, I get it that things happen in relationships and that sometimes you just have to roll with it, forgive and forget, blah blah blah. I’ve been married to my husband for 31 years, so I know whereof I speak. This wasn’t that.

2016 started with a startling announcement from someone close to me. Tennis had failed him. All of his hopes and dreams and expectations had been sullied then slashed. He was done with the game, probably forever, and that broke my heart.

More than that, though, it made me furious at the sport for letting down someone I love. How could Tennis do that? Where were the checks and balances to keep this from happening? Where was the “court of appeal” when we needed it? How could something so beautiful turn into something so vicious?

My anger and disappointment and heartbreak festered for several months. You may have noticed that I took a break from writing about tennis on this site; rather, I was writing about clean eating and publishing tennis pieces written by contributing authors instead. Thank goodness for Eric Butorac, Todd Widom, Ryan Segelke, and some Tennis Parents who asked to remain anonymous; otherwise, I’m not sure what you would’ve been reading on ParentingAces.com!

More things started happening to compound how I felt. I was denied media credentials to events that had previously welcomed me. News was proliferating in the pro game about illegal betting and doping. I was getting more and more email about dissatisfaction with the way junior tennis tournaments were being run. Tennis was letting me down over and over, and I felt powerless and frustrated.

The biggest heartbreak of all, though, came in March: the unexpected and sudden death of my friend, Sol.

Sol was one of those people who, despite anything else going on in the world, made you feel like everything was going to be okay. I could always call him and know that I would hang up feeling hopeful. He was there to cheer me on and to be my sounding board and to keep me focused on what was truly important. And, just like that, he was gone. No warning, no time to prepare, just gone.

That’s when I think Tennis and I reached rock bottom. I was done. I had worked hard – we both had – but there was nothing left in this relationship worth salvaging. I began to find other interests, to focus my time and energy on activities and issues other than Tennis. I was moving on.

But then some things started happening to rekindle the fire. My loved one called me out of the blue to announce he was coming back to the game. He had come to the realization that his life was better when tennis was part of it. I had some heart-felt conversations with other Tennis Parents and heard their inspiring stories of their players’ success in and out of the game. I went to some college matches and remembered why Sol fought so hard to #SaveCollegeTennis. I found a way to honor Sol by combining forces with some colleagues to put on a fabulous junior tennis event. I met some amazing people doing some amazing work in our sport. I met coaches who work hard every day to inspire their junior players. I met kids who had overcome massive obstacles just so they could keep playing. I met and spent time with college coaches who are devoted to their role of helping good players become great people. I met and watched our young Americans pursuing their professional tennis dreams with passion and dedication. There was still a lot of good going on in this sport, and I still wanted to be on the front lines.

All of these things saved me from spending the rest of my life without the game I love so much. They healed me, inspired me, energized me to keep working at this relationship.

So, I think Tennis and I are going to be okay. I’m excited for what’s ahead in 2017. I’m ready to build on some of the small successes of 2016 and see how far we can go. Yep, I think my relationship is back on solid ground, and I’m prepared to fight for it if it ever goes off-track again.

Tennis Hero Sol Schwartz

14993407_10154735364138628_4277545365350693616_nThe November/December issue of Tennis Magazine is dubbed “The Heroes Issue,” and my friend, Sol Schwartz, is one of the many heroes of tennis featured (click here for the article). So, in light of everything going on around the world, I figured today would be a great day to re-run my tribute to Sol. He continues to be the model of a good, gentle, loving, caring human. (For more on the junior tournament we held in Sol’s memory, click here.)

 

Yesterday, I received the devastating news that my friend, Sol Schwartz, had died suddenly due to unknown causes. He was 46 years old. He was a husband, a father of two, a son, a brother, an uncle, a coach, a mentor, and a friend.

And here is where I could put on my “Journalist” hat and go through all of Sol’s accomplishments – both personal and professional – while pontificating on a life cut short.

But I can’t go that route. My heart is hurting too badly, and I need to share the Sol I knew and loved. Love.

I first “met” Sol in the way I “meet” so many people these days: via Facebook. He and I were both members of a tennis-themed group and both posted regularly, I about tennis parenting and he about college tennis. I guess it was our passion for the sport that first drew us toward each other. Sol began tuning into my weekly radio shows and calling in to ask questions and share his opinions on a regular basis. Soon, he and I started talking on the phone, discussing what we could each do to improve our sport.

In the spring of 2012, Sol came up with the idea of hosting a non-sanctioned open-age-group tournament with the winner receiving a one-year sponsorship from Adidas. He worked with his employer, Holabird Sports, and his contacts at Adidas to bring the tournament to life. He then invited me and my son to participate. How could we say no? Rather than telling you about our experience here, I urge you to read this piece so you can get a feel for what this tournament meant to my son and the other players.

That Holabird-Adidas tournament was the first time I actually met Sol in person. But when he picked us up at our hotel to take my son for a practice hit, it was like being picked up by an old friend. There was no awkwardness, no moment of hesitation, simply a connection that was already established because of our extensive phone calls and Facebook interactions. This man was genuine and good-hearted and took us into his city and into his home and made us an immediate part of his family.

We spent that weekend with Sol, his wife, his kids, his in-laws, his co-workers, and countless others who had the good luck to be impacted by this gentle man on a regular basis. Our friendship was forever sealed.

Sol became my biggest cheerleader. He would text me encouraging messages and post things like “Rockstar Tennis Mom” on my Facebook page. By that point, I knew what a big heart he had, but it wasn’t until Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern coast of New York that I got a real sense of what his big heart could do.

As soon as he heard about the devastation, especially to the area’s public and private tennis facilities, Sol initiated a fundraising campaign through Holabird to get the local coaches back on their feet. He solicited donations from all his industry contacts for things like cases of balls and hoppers so the coaches could get back to work. He took to social media and posted daily on the various tennis groups asking for donations of time, money, and equipment. He connected with the local USTA office so he could stay on top of their needs. When they asked for something . . . ANYTHING . . . Sol delivered. He was their angel during a time of real crisis.

It was during that crisis that Sol was introduced to Melanie Rubin (Noah’s mom) and decided that she and I needed to meet. He put us in touch with each other, and we became fast friends, talking on the phone at least weekly over the next several months.

When my 50th birthday rolled around a couple of months later – which also happened to be Sol’s 43rd birthday (how could we have NOT been friends when we shared the same birthday?!?!?) – I got a huge package in the mail postmarked from Baltimore. Sol remembered how much I had LOVED the area crabcakes when we were there for the Holabird tournament, so he had a case of them shipped to me. I think it was at that point that my husband truly understood why my son and I had become so close to this sweet man.

A few weeks later Sol called me up and suggested something waaaaay outside the box. He told me I needed to apply for media credentials at the

Sol's caption: At the opening with the ladies of ParentingAces fame #usopen2014 — with Lisa Goodman Stone and Melanie Siegel Rubin.
Sol’s caption: At the opening with the ladies of ParentingAces fame #usopen2014 — with Lisa Goodman Stone and Melanie Siegel Rubin.

upcoming US Open and have Melanie there as my assistant, two Tennis Moms sharing their experience through ParentingAces, me as a spectator and Melanie as the parent of one of the players. Never in a million years did I envision ParentingAces opening THAT door for me, and it NEVER would’ve happened without Sol’s belief and encouragement. That was his gift, though – seeing things in people that they wouldn’t dare dream of seeing in themselves. And it fostered a deep friendship that will live on, only with Sol smiling down from above instead of standing right there beside us.

Throughout the end of my son’s junior tennis years and college recruiting, Sol was there as a sounding board, not just for me but also for my son. He would check in with both of us on a regular basis to see if we needed anything. And periodically we would get little surprises tucked into our Holabird orders – t-shirts, hats, socks –  Sol took care of us on so many levels. He had a sixth sense alerting him to call or text me at precisely the times I needed to hear from him. And his words of encouragement always did the trick.

For my son, Sol acted as a mentor. He would ask the right questions or just listen if that’s what was needed. And my son was but one of many young people who had this type of relationship with Sol. Just ask the kids who play on the UMBC team (which Sol fought so hard to save when it was announced both the men’s and women’s teams would be cut after this year). Or the kids who train at the local indoor courts. Or the kids who come into the Holabird headquarters. Or, I suspect, the kids who play sports with Sol’s own children.

My heart is breaking. For myself, yes, but especially for Sol’s amazing wife, daughter, and son who have to find a way to honor his memory as they continue to live life without their rock. If I know Sol, he will come up with ways of

Sol, Dori, Evan, Ilene
Sol, Dori, Evan, Ilene

encouraging them to be the best versions of themselves, whether appearing in their dreams or on the wind or as a voice in their hearts.

Sol, my friend, I will miss our conversations. I will miss our debates. I will miss my little surprise packages. I will miss your passion for our sport. I will miss you.

I keep picturing you, tennis racquet in your hand, backward cap on your head, fighting the good fight from above. I would tell you to rest peacefully, but I know “rest” isn’t part of your vocabulary. Trust those of us you left behind to continue the good work you have started. It is how we can best honor the man, the gentle man, that is Sol Schwartz.

Jordana Klein Launches Tennis Itinerary from a Tennis & Media Background

jordana

At nine years old, you cannot truly understand how one decision could affect your life forever. When I picked up my first tennis racket, I assumed this game could be a fun, recreational sport to play at my neighborhood courts. Maybe I would join a junior league or hit around with a few friends, but what I did not know was that tennis would become my passion on and even off the court. As a former Captain of the Georgia Southern women’s tennis team, a 2015 journalism graduate, a writer with a background in blogging and media, and a passion for tennis, I launched Tennis Itinerary, a travel tennis blog geared specifically towards your needs, whether that be regarding relocation, vacation, seasonal leagues, local junior and adult clinics, and more!

Tennis Itinerary targets a national and international audience with blog posts featuring tennis resorts, venues, and facilities around the country. By providing details regarding programming, leagues, getaways, and other specific information, Tennis Itinerary can be utilized by tennis players, fans, parents, and coaches. Tennis Itinerary can lead you in the right direction for your personal needs if you are relocating or traveling to a new city. My blog can be a key tool in finding that perfect holiday tennis outing or ideal summer camp you’ve been eager to find with navigation options including Junior Programming, Adult Clinics, League play, Product Reviews, and even navigation by region and state.

I know first- hand that you cannot take a long, family vacation without bringing your rackets, so Tennis Itinerary can be a key tool in locating a morning, junior clinic so that your teen can enjoy the beach with the family during the afternoon hours.

So, for a bit more background on me, I continued playing tennis in Alpharetta, GA with my family and friends, joined Junior Team Tennis and ALTA leagues in my neighborhood, and earned my spot on the middle school, JV, and then Varsity tennis teams at Woodward Academy. I began playing local Satellite tournaments and worked my way up through Southern and National level events, with a top 10 ranking in the state of Georgia. During this time, I also competed on Woodward’s middle, JV, and Varsity volleyball team and a traveling team. Balancing morning tennis lessons, an hour-long commute to school, a full day of classes, afternoon volleyball practice, and a full evening of homework while attempting to maintain a social life, and some sanity, proved challenging. Six State Championships from two sports that complimented each other allowed me to continue to persevere. I used both sports and a schedule that tested my time- management skills to earn a Division I tennis scholarship to Murray State University for one year, and then at Georgia Southern University for my final three years.

While studying Journalism at Georgia Southern, I found my passion for writing communications, social media, blogging and the like. While competing as the Captain of the GSU tennis team and engaging in several internships, I realized my true enthusiasm for tennis, writing, and even traveling. Upon my 2015 graduation, I accepted a job with USTA Louisiana as the Junior Tennis Director. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Baton Rouge, learned so much about the tennis industry, built strong relationships, and grew my love for tennis even more. But, I yearned for that communications aspect again, so I moved back to Atlanta, began freelance writing and coaching, and launched Tennis Itinerary, a travel, tennis blog. I truly hope Tennis Itinerary can become a resource for your family, your friends, and even your teammates and doubles partners. Please contact me with any feedback or inquiries you may have through the contact page at http://www.tennisitinerary.com/contact-us/.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Jordana during this year’s BB&T Atlanta Open. I was so impressed by her drive and professionalism and her hunger to learn from everyone around her! I love meeting young adults who have grown up in the sport and finding out what they are doing post-junior/college-tennis. It reinforces the widely-accepted notion that tennis is truly a sport for life. Please check out her new website when you are planning your next trip – it’s a great way to weave tennis into your travel, whether for yourself or your junior player!

Melanie Oudin Making A Comeback

One Love Melanie OudinJust a few short years ago, Melanie Oudin was the darling of the tennis world when she took out top player after top player at the 2009 US Open. Her name and face were everywhere as media touted her as the Next Big Thing in US Women’s Tennis. A huge billboard in her hometown of Marietta, Georgia, featuring a larger-than-life image of Melanie loomed large over one of the suburb’s biggest throughways.

Melanie’s twin sister, Katherine, chose a different route for her tennis, playing 4 years at Furman University and majoring in Health Sciences. Even though she was equally as talented as Melanie, Katherine was focused on life after tennis from an early age and knew that college and a career in the medical field was in her future.

Sadly, injuries have kept Melanie out of the top ranks for the past several years. She’s been working hard to regain her strength and on-court prowess and will continue her comeback as she returns to her long-time home court to play in the One Love Tennis Open at Lifetime Athletic and Tennis in Peachtree Corners for this $50,000 Women’s USTA Pro Circuit event.

Oudin reached the 2009 US Open quarterfinals and rack up wins over former No. 1 Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova. She peaked at No. 31 on the WTA Tour and won the 2012 Birmingham tournament in England by defeating another player who was the best in the world, Jelena Jankovic. The native of Marietta, Ga., also was the 2011 U.S. Open mixed champion with Jack Sock.

Oudin will play into the main draw of the tournament that runs Sept. 11-18. In 2014, she was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, a heart ailment that made her heart race up to a reported 230 beats per minute during competition. While surgeries helped diminish that condition, she also had a major hand injury last year. She began playing regularly again and has risen to 281 in the world.

In keeping with his support of college tennis, One Love Tournament Director Turhan Berne has offered a qualifying wild card to the two top college programs in the state. Johnnise Renaud, of Georgia Tech, has accepted the wild card. She was named a 2016 All-ACC first team in her sophomore year, following a 2015 All-ACC second team selection. She received an at-large bid to 2016 NCAA Singles Championship last spring after posting a 25-8 record.

Other top players in the main draw include 2012 Olympic Mixed Doubles Silver Medalist Laura Robson. Robson, from Great Britain, reached No. 27 in the world three years ago and is returning to top form after injuries. WTA No. 128 Julia Boserup, Taylor Townsend — a 20-year-old who trains and lives in the Atlanta area – and world No. 161 Sachia Vickery of Florida round out the top three Americans entered.

USTA Pro Circuit events typically are a “proving ground” for young players and a way of getting back inside the top-50 for many veteran competitors. The One Love Tennis Open is the first women’s professional tennis tournament in metro Atlanta in five years. Berne, an experienced tournament director who runs the biggest local tennis events in Atlanta, has a player’s party, clinic and Pro-Am planned for the week.

Ticket information:

Friday: Adults $5, kids FREE

Sat: Adults $10, kids $5, kids get in free with OLT shirt

Sun: Adult $15, kids $5, kids get in free with OLT shirt

Lifetime members are free all days

Ticket buyers go through outside side gate with LT tent (tentative). Ticket buyers can pay with cash or credit card on a iPad

Semifinal Day at the BB&T Atlanta Open

Photo credit to Alex Smith
Photo credit to Alex Smith

 

The following was provided by Rick Limpert, Media Director at the BB&T Atlanta Open:

At the start of Friday’s quarterfinal matches an all-American-stacked top half of the draw guaranteed that an American will reach the final on Sunday. In the six years of the BB&T Atlanta Open, Americans have swept all six titles. The four Americans battle for a chance to continue the streak is between 18-year-old wild card Reilly Opelka, Atlanta resident Donald Young, 18-year-old Taylor Fritz, and three-time champion John Isner. Fritz is the youngest Atlanta quarter-finalist in tournament history at 18 years, 9 months. This is the first time two 18-year-old Americans have reached the quarter-finals of an ATP World Tour tournament since Los Angeles in 1990 when Michael Chang reached the final and Pete Sampras advanced to the semi-finals.

History was again made on Friday as Opelka continued his run and pulled another upset. It’s not often a player ranked over 800 in the world makes a run at an ATP World Tour event. This time the victim was hometown favorite and seventh-seeded Donald Young.The hard-hitting Opelka played with a strong presence at the net and a purpose in winning 6-4, 6-4.

Opelka started quickly with a break in the first game. A clearly irritated Young failed to counter Opelka’s break as he struggled with Opelka’s serve.

Opelka continued the hot play and big serving converting a breakpoint in the fifth game and delivered six aces in the second set to walk off the court with yet another big win.

Earlier in the week, Opelka earned his first ATP victory against Georgia Tech player Chris Eubanks in the first round and continued the streak with an upset over third-seeded Kevin Anderson in the

Opelka’s next opponent, three-time defending champ, John Isner.

manny tweet

Isner stepped onto the stadium court Friday night riding an impressive streak here in Atlanta. He had won 13 consecutive matches and is 21-3 overall at the BB&T. This match against Fritz would not be easy.

In the first set, Isner had a couple of early break chances but wasn’t able to convert until the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead. Fritz fought hard, but he couldn’t gain any traction on the Isner serve. Isner totalled 12 aces in the opener.

Come the second set, Fritz appeared to have issues with his right shoulder, getting visited by the trainer on two changeovers. Isner didn’t let up and continued to use his strong serve. He went up 4-3 on a break and then finished with an ace on match point to finish off Fritz 7-5, 6-4.

“It’s encouraging for me to win matches in straight sets, no tiebreakers,” said Isner. “I’ve played a lot of tiebreakers in my career. I feel like I’m playing well from the back of the court and I’m returning well also.”

Isner advances to his seventh consecutive semifinal in Atlanta.

“I’m just comfortable here. I enjoy being here … If I could play every tournament here in Atlanta I could be number one!”

In the bottom half of the draw, rising Japanese star, Yoshihito Nishioka, earned early breaks in each set to close out Horacio Zeballos 6-4, 6-4 in just over an hour. It’s Nishioka’s first ATP World Tour semifinal and he’s ready.

“I’m so excited for that,” said the world No. 97. “The first was a lot as I was out on the court three hours for singles and then doubles, so I was a bit tired. Today it was just an hour, so I’ll be able to recover.”

Spanish star, Fernando Verdasco, fell to second-seeded Australian Nick Kyrgios 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3 in their quarterfinal match on Friday afternoon. Verdasco struggled to keep up with the Kyrgios serve as he totaled 18 aces and numerous service winners in the match that lasted just under two hours.

“I came out (feeling) real good. I wanted to get up on him early,” admitted Kyrgios.

Kyrgios took the first set by securing a break in the third game with an ace and after that he spent time engaging the fans, talking to his opponent and trying to speed up play.

They both traded holds leading up to a tiebreaker where Kyrgios fell victim to Verdasco’s strong and accurate groundstrokes. Kyrgios came out quickly in the third set, winning 80% of his service points and outlasting Verdasco from the backcourt to take the match.

On playing Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in the semifinal on Saturday.

“We are the same age, I grew up playing juniors with him. He’s transitioned well and has a great future ahead of him.”

RESULTS – AUGUST 05, 2016

Singles – Quarterfinals

[1] J. Isner (USA) d [8] T. Fritz (USA) 75 64

[2] N. Kyrgios (AUS) d [5] F. Verdasco (ESP) 64 67(5) 63

[WC] R. Opelka (USA) d [7] D. Young (USA) 64 64

Y. Nishioka (JPN) d H. Zeballos (ARG) 64 64

Doubles – Quarterfinals

J. Brunstrom (SWE) / A. Siljestrom (SWE) d N. Monroe (USA) / A. Sitak (NZL) 67(6) 64 11-9

A. Molteni (ARG) / H. Zeballos (ARG) d [WC] C. Eubanks (USA) / Z. Kennedy (USA) 75 75

ORDER OF PLAY – SATURDAY, AUGUST 06, 2016

STADIUM COURT start 12:00 noon

P. Raja (IND) / D. Sharan (IND) vs A. Molteni (ARG) / H. Zeballos (ARG)

Not Before 3:00 pm

Y. Nishioka (JPN) vs [2] N. Kyrgios (AUS)

Not Before 7:00 pm

[1] J. Isner (USA) vs [WC] R. Opelka (USA)

M. Demoliner (BRA) / G. Garcia-Lopez (ESP) vs J. Brunstrom (SWE) / A. Siljestrom (SWE)

Reilly Opelka: Life on Tour

IMG_7276A little over a year ago, Reilly Opelka made waves in the tennis world as he became the second consecutive American to win Junior Wimbledon (Noah Rubin had won the year before). For quite a while before that, college coaches from the top programs were actively recruiting the tall kid from Florida. Life was looking pretty sweet.

But, after a lot of soul-searching, Reilly decided the time was ripe for him to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a professional tennis player. Just before his 18th birthday, he signed with agent Sam Duvall of Lagardere Unlimited and has been on a steady climb up the rankings ever since.

I first saw Reilly play – and met his parents, George and Lynne – at the Junior US Open back in 2013. At that time, the media was constantly comparing Reilly to John Isner, both because of his height and his big serve and forehand. I had never seen a just-turned-16-year-old hit that big. I realized I was seeing the future of the pro tour, and it was very exciting!

George and I stayed in touch via the Twitterverse – you can find George there as @ChalkFlewUp – and had the chance to meet again the following year when he and Lynne and their daughter, Brenna, were in Atlanta during the NCAAs. College tennis was very much in consideration for Reilly at that point, and we parents chatted about the various schools, coaches, and other important factors that would go into both our sons’ final decisions.

Now, just 2 years later, Reilly is in Atlanta playing in the BB&T Atlanta Open as a Wildcard entry. His first-round match was against local player and Georgia Tech team member IMG_7275Chris Eubanks whom he beat in two very tight tiebreak sets. In the second round, Reilly faced 3-seed Kevin Anderson, and it was another battle of gentle giants as the 6’11” Opelka out-aced the 6’8″ 30-year-old who played 3 years at the University of Illinois (and earned All-American status each of those years).

Yesterday, I had a chance to visit with Reilly and his dad, George, about life on the tour.

Reilly shared with me that, from a development standpoint, the onus is on his coach to put a plan in place and is on Reilly to implement that plan through hard work. “I just make sure I’m competing well in every match. It’s all I can do at this point. I try to win every point and every match I can. We’re always working on the transition game and on fitness, those are the main things. I’ve already hit so many balls in my life. Now, it’s just getting in the right mindset during the important points in the match.”

IMG_7279
Reilly posing with 1996 Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Brooke Bennett

I asked him how he knew turning pro was the right decision for him. “I was in a good position to turn pro as far as from my tennis standpoint and also having a bunch of options with Sam Duvall – he helped me out a lot. So that was a big part of it. It’s just something I’ve always dreamed of doing,” he told me. The biggest challenges he faces as an 18-year-old on tour include both physical and mental aspects. “I haven’t been home in 10 weeks now, so that gets tiring. Physically, a 28-year-old knows his body much better than an 18-year old, so that’s tough. The training and recovery techniques have really changed so the older guys are doing a great job of taking care of their bodies.”

What advice would Reilly give to a 16- or 17-year-old weighing college tennis against the pro tour? “It really depends. Everyone has a pretty unique situation. It depends on their ranking and their results. I would say if you’re top 300 and your’e 17 or 18, then you should probably go pro. Or if you’re a top 3 junior and have won a junior slam, then, yeah, go pro. I feel like other than that I would recommend college tennis.”

IMG_7262
George, Brenna, Lynne, & their cousin cheering on Reilly

I’ve really enjoyed spending time with Reilly’s parents and sister this week. But having them at a tournament is now a rare treat for him. Reilly explained, “It’s great support and great knowing they’re here, but it doesn’t take away from me doing my thing and taking care of business.” Dad, George, agrees, “Whenever I get to watch Reilly play, it’s bonus, because I don’t get to see him play that often. Our schedules just don’t jibe, and his matches aren’t always on tv!”

So, what are George and Lynne’s roles now that their son is a professional player? “In terms of tactics and strategy, I try to stay out of Reilly’s tennis now – he’s got a world of experience and smart people around him,” George said. “I don’t get caught up in wins and losses – he’s still developing. From a Dad standpoint, I sit back and try to enjoy the matches, don’t get nervous, just watch and have fun.”

But just watching and having fun is harder than it sounds, as any of you Tennis Parents out there can attest to! And it didn’t always come easy for George Opelka, either! “In the early junior years, I was probably Crazy Tennis Dad. But we really had some good mentors who put things in perspective for us pretty early. You realize you’re gonna be at hundreds and hundreds of matches and [your kid is] probably going to lose hundreds of matches, so you just get used to it. I used to focus on the outcome instead of focusing on getting better. But, thankfully, I learned!”

George and Lynne were lucky to have people around them giving them good advice. Now, they can share that advice with other Tennis Parents starting out on this long journey. “The one thing we did extremely well is we didn’t over-lesson; instead we over-played. We took the approach that tennis is like piano lessons: you take one lesson a week then you go out and practice what you learned. It was a financial thing for us – I wasn’t going to throw hundreds of dollars a week into lessons. Plus, we lived in Florida where we could find matches, courts were free, and learning to play on clay helped Reilly’s game.” When I asked him what he feels he could’ve done better during Reilly’s junior years, he responded, “We don’t have too many regrets. A lot of tennis parents, me included, get too much into it, too focused on outcomes and results. That didn’t last too long for me. Parents should drop their kids off and go to Starbucks and just let their kid play!”

The Opelkas have two kids, though, and only one played high-level tennis. I asked George how he and Lynne balanced their children’s very different interests. “My daughter, Brenna, is Reilly’s biggest supporter and fan. But her passion was dance. I’d like to think we supported her dance as much as we supported Reilly’s tennis. Both of our kids are great kids which made it easier. You just figure it out!”

Next up for Reilly at the BB&T Atlanta Open is another local favorite, Donald Young, who is currently ranked 53 in the world. They will be the third match on Stadium Court, probably going on around 4:30 or so. You can bet I will be there watching.

Here are the complete results from yesterday as well as the schedule for today:

RESULTS – AUGUST 04, 2016

Singles – Second Round

[2] N. Kyrgios (AUS) d [WC] J. Donaldson (USA) 76(4) 63

Y. Nishioka (JPN) d [4] A. Dolgopolov (UKR) 63  26 61

[5] F. Verdasco (ESP) d [PR] J. Benneteau (FRA) 61 63

H. Zeballos (ARG) d [LL] T. Kamke (GER) 61 64

Doubles – Quarterfinals

M. Demoliner (BRA) / G. Garcia-Lopez (ESP) d J. Marray (GBR) / A. Shamasdin (CAN) 64 62

P. Raja (IND) / D. Sharan (IND) d A. Dolgopolov (UKR) / S. Stakhovsky (UKR) walkover

ORDER OF PLAY – FRIDAY, AUGUST 05, 2016

STADIUM COURT start 12:00 noon

H. Zeballos (ARG) vs Y. Nishioka (JPN)

Not Before 3:00 pm

[5] F. Verdasco (ESP) vs [2] N. Kyrgios (AUS)

[WC] R. Opelka (USA) vs [7] D. Young (USA)

Not Before 8:00 pm

[1] J. Isner (USA) vs [8] T. Fritz (USA)

J. Brunstrom (SWE) / A. Siljestrom (SWE) vs N. Monroe (USA) / A. Sitak (NZL)

AJC GRANDSTAND COURT start 5:00 pm

[WC] C. Eubanks (USA) / Z. Kennedy (USA) vs A. Molteni (ARG) / H. Zeballos (ARG)

American Young Guns On Court Today

bbt skylineToday marks the first day of the Main Draw for the BB&T Atlanta Open, and we’ll have several Young Guns competing for a spot in Round 2!

First up will be Jared Donaldson taking on big-serving Aussie Sam Groth. Jared took a non-traditional route in his junior years, foregoing many of the USTA tournaments to develop his game in South America, which seems to be paying off in spades now that he’s on the pro tour. The 19-year-old is currently ranked 123 in the world which gives him direct entry into many of the ATP events. I haven’t seen him play since last summer, so I’m really looking forward to today’s match!

The other Young Gun match of the day will be qualifier Chris Eubanks (click here to read about Chris’s road to the Main Draw) taking on 18-year-old Reilly Opelka (ranked 556). This one will be a battle of the big serve-big forehand style of play as both guys are REALLY TALL and have REALLY BIG strokes! Chris stands at 6’7″ while Reilly clocks in at 6’11’ which definitely gives them both some extra pop when they step up to the service line. These two have followed very different paths with their tennis, Chris choosing to go the college route (he’s a rising junior at Georgia Tech) while Reilly went straight from juniors to the pro tour.

I’ll be out at the tournament most of the day and evening – you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram for periodic updates throughout the week. Also, be sure to follow the tournament itself on social media: @BBTatlantaopen. If you’re out at Atlantic Station, please come find me and say hello!

Here is a complete list of yesterday’s results and today’s schedule of play:

Qualifying Singles – Second Round

Qualifying – [WC] C. Eubanks (USA) d [1] T. Monteiro (BRA) 64 75

Qualifying – [7] J. Smith (AUS) d [2] T. Kamke (GER) 76(4) 63

Qualifying – [3] A. Krajicek (USA) d [5] J. Duckworth (AUS) 36 76(5) 76(5)

Qualifying – [4] M. Zverev (GER) d N. Meister (USA) 76(5) 75

ORDER OF PLAY – MONDAY, AUGUST 01, 2016

STADIUM COURT start 12:00 noon

[LL] T. Monteiro (BRA) vs T. Smyczek (USA)

S. Groth (AUS) vs [WC] J. Donaldson (USA)

Not Before 4:00 pm

[Q] A. Krajicek (USA) vs [7] D. Young (USA)

Not Before 6:00 pm

[Q] C. Eubanks (USA) vs [WC] R. Opelka (USA)

A. Dolgopolov (UKR) / S. Stakhovsky (UKR) vs [WC] J. Frawley (AUS) / N. Kyrgios (AUS)

AJC GRANDSTAND COURT start 2:00 pm

T. Kamke (GER) / D. Lajovic (SRB) vs M. Demoliner (BRA) / G. Garcia-Lopez (ESP)

A. Mannarino (FRA) vs [Q] M. Zverev (GER)

It Was A Big Day For Chris

Photo courtesy of GA Tech website
Photo courtesy of GA Tech website

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to watch 3 Young Guns battle it out for a spot in the main draw of the BB&T Atlanta Open. What an opportunity for these young players and what fun to be there seeing the future of tennis!

The first match of the day was Tobias Kamke, a 30-year-old veteran from Germany, vs. the 18-year-old American Michael Mmoh who is slated to play Kalamazoo next week. Both players held serve for the first 8 games with Kamke having several opportunities to break while Mmoh never seemed to get a good handle on the Kamke serve. Kamke finally did get the break to go up 5-4 and served out the first set, winning it 6-4.

The second set was all Kamke as he went up 4-0 before Mmoh finally held in the 5th game. Even though he had an uphill battle ahead of him, Mmoh stayed very calm and collected, going after his serve and big groundstrokes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough, and Kamke took the 2nd set 6-2, moving on to the 2nd and final round of qualies.

The next match was 22-year-old Brazilian Thiago Monteiro vs. 16-year-old local Trent Bryde who received a wildcard into the qualifying tournament after winning last year’s Wildcard Playoff. Bryde is also slated to play in Kalamazoo next week. The Georgia native definitely had the crowd on his side given that his entire family, Lifetime Fitness players and coaches, and local friends were all out in force! Unfortunately, though, that wasn’t enough as the more experienced lefty Monteiro capitalized on too many errors from Bryde, running away with the first set 6-0.

At 1-0 Monteiro in the 2nd set, the rain came, and play was halted for over an hour. Bryde’s mom, Kathi, felt the rain would be to her son’s advantage since he could take a breath and get some advice from his team of coaches during the break. Once the players restarted, it seemed that Kathi was right – Bryde held serve, staying with Monteiro through the first 5 games. At that point, though, Monteiro broke and held to go up 5-2. After the side change, Bryde decided to pick up a different racquet as he served to stay in the match. One of his buddies yelled from the stand, “That’s my doubles partner!” as the players walked back on court. During that final game, Bryde’s serve just wasn’t working for him, and he double-faulted the last two points, giving Monteiro the win 6-0 6-2.

The rain held off just long enough for the 3rd match to run its course, and it was the one that had me and many of the fans most excited: 2015 Junior French Open champion Tommy Paul vs. GA Tech rising junior Chris Eubanks. Some of you may remember that Paul had committed to play college tennis at UGA before making the decision early last summer to turn pro instead.

After losing his serve in the first game of the match, Eubanks went on a roll, cruising to a quick 5-2 lead. Paul was up to serve, but Eubanks proved too strong, hitting a scorching inside-out forehand to break and take the first set 6-2.

The 2nd set started with an early Paul break of serve to go up 2-1, consolidating the break and holding for a 3-1 lead then breaking a second time to go up 4-1. At that point, it really looked like the match was going 3 sets. However, Eubanks recouped one of the breaks then held with some huge serving to bring the set back into his reach. Eubanks broke again, tying things up at 4 a piece, then held at love to take the lead for the first time in the set. Paul came on strong, also holding at love to even the score at 5-5. A third love hold, this time by Eubanks, gave him the lead again, forcing Paul to hold in order to stay in the match. A big forehand return by Eubanks gave him the early advantage, but Paul quickly evened the score after a forehand error from Eubanks. That was short-lived, though, after a Paul double fault and backhand error gave Eubanks 2 match points. Staying focused, Paul served an ace to stave off the first match point, but Eubanks drew the error off the Paul forehand in the next point to take the match 6-2 7-5. He will face Thiago Monteiro today, with the winner moving into the Main Draw.

Here are the rest of Saturday’s results plus the order of play for today:

RESULTS – JULY 30, 2016

Qualifying Singles – First Round

Qualifying – [1] T. Monteiro (BRA) d [WC] T. Bryde (USA) 60 62

Qualifying – [2] T. Kamke (GER) d M. Mmoh (USA) 64 62

Qualifying – [3] A. Krajicek (USA) d L. Glasspool (GBR) 76(6) 46 64

Qualifying – [4] M. Zverev (GER) d M. Reid (AUS) 64 62

Qualifying – [5] J. Duckworth (AUS) d J. Londero (ARG) 62 62

Qualifying – [WC] C. Eubanks (USA) d [6] T. Paul (USA) 62 75

Qualifying – [7] J. Smith (AUS) d A. Carter (USA) 63 63

Qualifying – N. Meister (USA) d [8] A. Sarkissian (USA) 57 63 64

ORDER OF PLAY – SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2016

STADIUM COURT start 11:00 am

Qualifying – [1] T. Monteiro (BRA) vs [WC] C. Eubanks (USA)

Not Before 12:30 pm

Qualifying – [4] M. Zverev (GER) vs N. Meister (USA)

Not Before 7:30 pm

Exhibition Match – J. McEnroe (USA) vs S. Bruguera (ESP)

AJC GRANDSTAND COURT start 11:00 am

Qualifying – [2] T. Kamke (GER) vs [7] J. Smith (AUS)

Not Before 1:30 pm

Qualifying – [3] A. Krajicek (USA) vs [5] J. Duckworth (AUS)

Players With Local Ties  to Play in BB&T Atlanta Open Qualifying Draw on Saturday

manny & austinEight Americans will take to the court as the 2016 BB&T Atlanta Open begins its run with the singles qualifying draw at the ATP World Tour 250 event on Saturday, July 30, at Atlantic Station. Matches are set to begin at 10 a.m., with play on both the Stadium and Grandstand Courts, and I will be there for the next 4 days watching and reporting on the action – if you’re there, please come find me and say hello!

Americans make up eight of the sixteen spots in the qualifying draw with 2 of the 8 coming from the Atlanta area. The BB&T really does an amazing job of showcasing our local talent and giving them an opportunity to test their mettle on the big stage. Each year, the tournament offers a wildcard into the main draw to either a UGA or GA Tech player, alternating between the two universities. This year’s college wildcard went to Austin Smith (click here to see the video announcement) who recently graduated from UGA and will play his first round match Tuesday during the tournament’s College Night.

Trent Bryde, a 16-year old from Suwanee will take on the No. 1 seed in qualifying, Thiago Monteiro, of Brazil on the Stadium Court’s second match. This will be Bryde’s 2nd year playing qualies after winning the Wildcard Playoff in 2015. Next on Stadium Court will be Georgia Tech’s Christopher Eubanks (who just won the 2016 Wildcard Playoff on Wednesday) playing 19-year old American Tommy Paul, who won the 2015 French Open Junior Boy’s title.

The last main draw wildcard went to ATP World Tour #NextGen rising star, Jared Donaldson, who comes to Atlanta fresh off a 3rd Round appearance at the Rogers Cup in Toronto with a Top 40 win over Fabio Fognini.

Here is the order of play for Saturday:

STADIUM COURT start 10:00 am

Qualifying – [2] T. Kamke (GER) vs M. Mmoh (USA)

Qualifying – [1] T. Monteiro (BRA) vs [WC] T. Bryde (USA)

Qualifying – [WC] C. Eubanks (USA) vs [6] T. Paul (USA)

Qualifying – [3] A. Krajicek (USA) vs L. Glasspool (GBR)

AJC GRANDSTAND COURT start 10:00 am

Qualifying – A. Carter (USA) vs [7] J. Smith (AUS)

Qualifying – [4] M. Zverev (GER) vs M. Reid (AUS)

Qualifying – N. Meister (USA) vs [8] A. Sarkissian (USA)

Qualifying – J. Londero (ARG) vs [5] J. Duckworth (AUS)

Fans are encouraged to see the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games 20th Anniversary Exhibit presented by Coca-Cola. The exhibit is free and open to the public and coincides with the BB&T Atlanta Open’s celebration of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, which runs July 30 – August 7.

Tickets on sale now at www.bbtatlantaopen.com.

About the BB&T Atlanta Open

The BB&T Atlanta Open is held each year in July in Atlantic Station and is one of eight summer tournaments in the Emirates Airline US Open Series. The tournament features men’s top world tennis players in singles and doubles competition. Approximately 40,000 fans attend the tournament and bring an estimated economic impact of $10.3 million to Atlanta. John Isner holds the 2015, 2014 and 2013 titles. Andy Roddick won his last ATP World Tour title when he defeated Gilles Muller at the 2012 BB&T Atlanta Open. Mardy Fish holds the title for 2011 and 2010.