Could This Work for Juniors?

boxI know y’all are sick and tired of hearing about my travels, but this past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a really unique college tournament at the University of Minnesota, and it got me thinking. . .

Here’s how the tournament worked: Colleges entered pairs of players who were selected into a round-robin draw based on UTR. After a 5-minute warmup, each pair played one set of doubles against an opposing pair immediately followed by (aka no additional warmup) a regular singles match with the top-rated players in each pair competing against one another and the next-rated players competing against one another. They used no-ad scoring, played let serves, and played a 10-point tiebreaker for the 3rd set. The doubles and each singles match counted as one point, and the team winning 2 out of the 3 points moved on in the draw.

On the first day (Friday), the teams played 2 full rounds – 2 doubles matches and 2 singles matches for each player. On Saturday, they again played 2 full rounds. On Sunday, they played 1 full round, giving each player a total of 5 doubles and 5 singles matches over the course of the 3 days.img_7924

Wouldn’t this be a great format for junior tournaments as well? It would give juniors a chance to work on their doubles skills since they would be playing multiple doubles matches during the tournament regardless of outcome. It would also give them a chance to get in some quality singles as well. What if we use this format for future iterations of #TheSol? Would you and your junior player(s) be interested?

I would love to hear any feedback on the format and its use in the juniors. In my mind, it is a great way to run a junior tournament – you get players entering as a pair, so they have their partner there cheering them on throughout the event. All of the matches count equally toward UTR, so you’re less likely to have players pulling out if they lose their first or second match. Juniors can work on a variety of doubles skills and strategies since they’ll have multiple matches with the same partner regardless of the outcome. What am I missing? Please share your thoughts in the Comments below.


I Want to Quit Tennis

The following article was written by Eric Buterac, former top junior player and now a top professional doubles player and president of the ATP Player Council. Eric’s experience through junior tennis just reinforces the point that there’s more than one way to tackle this journey – there’s certainly no One-Size-Fits-All way to get from A to B. Sometimes we parents need to be reminded of that fact and also the fact that points and rankings DO NOT make the player. Eric is a wonderful example of a player who took time away from competitive tournaments to hone his game and his love for the sport then came out on the other side a stronger and more passionate player.

The article below originally appeared on the Universal Tennis Ratings website and is reprinted here with UTR’s permission. Be on the lookout for future articles from Eric over the coming weeks and months (of course, I’ll be sharing the links to those articles as well via Facebook and Twitter).

Eric Butorac is the ATP Player Council president and an accomplished doubles specialist. Eric’s tennis journey started in a small Minnesota town and has taken him to tennis’ top level circuit. His story has been in some ways cliche, at times unbelievable, and for many quite unexpected. Here is the first in a series of accounts shared by Eric.

I want to quit tennis

As a junior player, I was ranked no. 7 in the state of Minnesota. Who really cares, right? Well, I guess I did. At that age, my tennis success was tied directly to my happiness. If I won a weekend tournament, I walked into school on Monday with my head held high. If the tournament didn’t go so well, I hardly wanted to go to school. I stressed about wins, losses, and especially the rankings. I was 12 years old.

After a long drive home with my mom from a national tournament in Oklahoma, I had a moment of clarity; I wanted to quit. I didn’t want to spend my weekends driving across the state, only to stress out about my matches, be cheated by other teenagers, and on many occasions end up leaving the court in tears.

I spent the next two years playing no sectional tournaments and definitely no national ones. I went to to my local club and played for fun with my friends. I played doubles on the weekend with my dad’s group of 40 year-old men, and occasionally I played a local club tournament. I didn’t care where my absence left my sectional ranking, but it didn’t matter because I was playing tennis for the experience, not for the result.

When I eventually came back to USTA events at age 15, I realized two things. First, I was no longer just a good player in the section; I was now one of the best. Playing at home had developed my overall game—and maybe more importantly, my approach to the game—beyond those of the kids who were racing around the country chasing points. Second, I was now playing on my terms—not for the points or the coveted top spot in our section. I was playing because I’d re-learned how much I loved the game, and because I wanted to be out there. I still followed my ranking, but now it was a gauge to monitor my progress as opposed to a source of stress.

Butorac playing in the 2011 US Open
Butorac, shown here playing in the 2011 US Open, reached a career-high ranking of no. 17, and finishing as the no. 9 team in the world with partner Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands.

A lot of kids deal with the stress of junior rankings, but I don’t think it’s talked about. Kids just assume that’s the way it has to be. It took my literally walking away from them to find the proper balance.

If you ever had a moment where the stress of junior tennis almost drove you to quitting, I encourage you to share below.

You can follow Eric Butorac on FacebookInstagram or Twitter.

Coming soon from Eric Butorac: For the Love of the Game

While you wait for the next in the series of articles from Eric, have a listen to his recent interview with Sports Illustrated.

Author: Eric Butorac

Eric Butorac has won 17 doubles titles on the ATP Tour, made the finals of the Australian Open, and achieved wins over Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and the Bryan Brothers. In 2014, he took over for Roger Federer as President of the ATP Tour Players’ Council. As a volunteer assistant, he also helped lead the Harvard tennis team to two Ivy League titles and a national ranking of #16.

Two SoCal Sons Doing Great at Jr US Open

Riley Smith and Brandon Holt

I received the following via press release and wanted to share it with y’all. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know both of these well-known Tennis Parents and couldn’t be happier for them! Be sure to check out my podcast with Tracy Austin here.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Tracy Austin and five-time NCAA champion winning USC men’s coach Peter Smith both watched as their sons upset the No. 6-seeded team to advance to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Junior Doubles Championships on Wednesday at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

Future USC teammates and U.S Open wild cards Brandon Holt of Rolling Hills and Riley Smith of Los Alamitos finally converted on their seventh match point to upset Corentin Denolly of France and Djurabeck Karimov of Uzbekistan, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 10-6. The pair face unseeded Lukas Klein of Slovakia and Patrik Rikl of the Czech Republic on Thursday.

At 17, Holt is actually a year old than Austin was when she won the Open at age 16 back in 1979. The International tennis Hall of Famer said she “almost had a heart attack” watching the boys lose the second set after being up 6-5, 40-love.

“It was cooler seeing him win here at the U.S. Open than it was for me to win the U.S. Open,” Austin said.

There weren’t many, if any at all, in the media center who knew of the connection between the players and their noteworthy tennis parents following their first-round win on Monday

“I’ve come here every year since I was 1,” Holt said. “To be able to win a match here, let alone play, is a real dream come true.”

Holt and Smith were at times dominating as they beat Russians Alexey Aleschev and Denys Klok 6-4, 6-0 in the first round. Interestingly, all eight teams remaining in the boys’ doubles draw are unseeded, and two are American wild card teams, including Holt, Smith and the team of Vasil Kirkov and Sam Riffice.

Smith said his father doesn’t put much pressure on him, letting him set his own tennis schedule. Asked how it will be to play for him next year, Smith said, “It will be easier than playing against him.”

Both Smith and Holt’s older brothers are part of the USC tennis team and roommates at USC currently.

“I just feel I’m in a normal tennis family,” said Holt, who received a USTA wild card into the tournament. “The only time it is different is when I come to events like this and everyone is asking me about my mom, and that’s only a few weeks out of the year.”

Austin has kept a low-profile about her son following in her footsteps, and attended both the matches at the Open. “She helps me a lot,” said Holt, the middle child of three boys in the family. “She keeps me focused and I look up to her and how played when she was a player.”

Austin, a Tennis Channel commentator, grew up in the South Bay and in 1979 became the youngest women’s Open champion as a 16-year-old, later reaching No. 1 in the world. She was known for her mental toughness and laser focus.

“I think I have that a little bit,” Holt said. “Even now she is probably the most focused person I know. She was born with that. My dad is definitely a little more laid back.”

Holt resides in Rolling Hills and is a Palos Verdes High senior, the same high school Pete Sampras attended. Smith lives in Los Alamitos and plays on the Los Alamitos High team. Last spring, Holt won the CIF Southern Section Individual Championship in singles, the first Palos Verdes High player to do so since the 14-time major winner Sampras did it in 1987.


Reflections on Winter Nats


My husband, my son, and I are sitting on the plane heading toward home. It’s been a great few days in Scottsdale, and now it’s time to get back to life as we know it in Atlanta.

When I heard that my son had been selected to play in Winter Nationals, I was excited for him and hoped he would get the chance to compete against some of the players I had been reading about on ZooTennis and other junior tennis media outlets. I figured it would be a great experience for him to see what it feels like to play at that level, but, truth be told, I wasn’t sure he was of the caliber to hang with those boys. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

This tournament experience definitely felt different . . . for a lot of reasons. It’s rare for my husband to join us for tennis travel, so that was really nice. We got to spend some quality time together watching our son compete.

And, this was my son’s first tournament since committing to play at Santa Clara University next year. There’s something pretty special about seeing your child wearing his college gear on the tennis court. I found myself getting even more emotional than usual as I started thinking about what the next few years have in store for him.

On top of that, we all got to spend time with 3 other incoming Bronco families, which was amazing. The 4 boys

Kamran, Morgan, Robert, & Connor
Kamran, Morgan, Robert, & Connor

clicked pretty

Dinner with the Broncos
Dinner with the Broncos

quickly, and we parents did, too. As we said our goodbyes to each other, the parents all agreed that our sons are in for such a great experience and that we’re lucky to have each other as a support network in the coming years.

And, for me, it was fun to get to see so many of the college coaches and chat with them about the upcoming season. Every time I get the chance to be around these men and women, I am reminded why playing college tennis is such an admirable goal for our kids. These coaches understand what tennis has to offer a young player, and they are passionately committed to helping these kids grow from the experience.

Also, I got the chance to see some old tennis buddies like Ross Greenstein, meet some PA readers in person like Cindy Good and Mike Gealer and Richard Schick, and chat with one of my tennis idols Tracy Austin whose son was also competing in this tournament.

Tennis Parents Lisa & Tracy Austin
Tennis Parents Lisa & Tracy Austin

Another real treat was seeing one of my husband’s childhood friends and his family who were visiting their family in Phoenix. They came out to watch my son play, and the guys got to catch up on decades of missed time!

Long-time friends
Long-time friends

And, despite what others had told me, the Boys 18s was run incredibly efficiently. Tournament Director Sally Grabham did an amazing job at communicating via email with the players and parents prior to the start of the event. She kept the tournament website updated and made sure we all had the information we needed. During our time at Scottsdale Ranch Park, matches ran pretty close to on-time, the tournament desk volunteers accommodated player requests to delay subsequent matches when their earlier matches ran long, the on-site medical trainer was very knowledgeable and effective (he was kept very busy!), and the on-site stringers worked quickly to keep up with all the broken strings. The officials at my son’s site were quick to respond to any problems but kept their distance when not needed, a testament to Tournament Referee John Bramlett. There were plenty of practice courts available at no charge for the boys to warm-up though I did hear from another parent that one of the girls’ sites was charging a fee. We wound up staying at one of the suggested hotels, the Hampton Inn & Suites Scottsdale/Riverwalk, and it was quiet, comfortable, and convenient.

Before the tournament started, Universal Tennis Ratings did a pre-event analysis of the competitor list for each age group, ordering the players based on their UTR (click here to see the list). As expected, my son fell in the bottom half of the list though pretty close to the middle of the pack. His first-round singles match was against the player ranked #19 on the list, a boy who was not seeded but probably should’ve been. It was a very close match, but my son pulled out the win. In his next match, he played the boy ranked #14 on the list who was seeded. My son won the first set, lost a close second set, then, sadly, had to retire the match early in the 3rd set with an injury. But, he was competitive with this boy. For maybe the first time, I was realizing my son is definitely at the level of these other players and has earned his way into these tournaments through his hard work. Had I been underestimating my son’s ability on the tennis court? Maybe. But, if I had, this tournament definitely put an end to that mistake. In his final match of the tournament, my son played the #39 player. My son won the first set 6-3, stayed on serve until the end of the 2nd when his opponent broke then held for the set then took the 10-point match tiebreaker 10-8. It was a tough loss, but, once again, I was reminded of my son’s ability on the tennis court and that he belonged at that level.

I think I mentioned before that my son was playing doubles in Scottsdale with one of his future Bronco teammates. Well, seeing the two of them in their SCU shirts giving hand-signals and high-fives between points was just a glimpse into the future for me.IMG_3886 I can’t wait to be at the matches cheering for them as they compete for their school. All of these kids have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to reach this goal of playing college tennis, and now their dreams are becoming a reality. Amazing!

At one point during the tournament, I received a Facebook Message from the parent of a 12-year-old player asking me what is the benefit of playing these national events. I had to think for a minute before responding. For the younger players, it truly is about gaining national ranking points and having the chance to compete against kids from around the country – both valuable but not absolutely necessary in the scheme of things. Honestly, I’m not sure I would’ve spent the time and money to travel across the country for this tournament when my son was younger because (1) he wasn’t at that level yet, and (2) he had plenty of opportunities to play competitive matches within our section. But, for someone who lives in a less-competitive area or for someone who has the financial resources, why not? There are worse places to be in December! That said, for the 16s and 18s, especially for those who are in college recruiting mode, Winter Nationals is a great way to get exposure to so many college coaches. Many of the ones I spoke with are still looking to fill roster spots for Fall 2015 while also looking ahead to future years. They were splitting their time between the 16s and 18s sites, hoping to find those players who would be the right fit for their various programs.

After my son lost his final match of the tournament, I texted my new friend, Cindy (the one who brought us the coolers and goodies),

Lisa & Cindy
Lisa & Cindy

to let her know we’d be leaving the next day. She replied, suggesting that I go back and read the interview Colette Lewis had done with me for back in 2012 (click here). Cindy wrote, “I know you are proud but re-reading that article now it is amazing what he has done.” So, I took her advice and read it. Cindy was right. I had forgotten where my son was tennis-wise when we first started this ParentingAces journey. He has definitely come a long way in a short time. And, if nothing else comes of this website, I hope it will at least give other parents and junior players a glimpse of what can happen when a child stays committed to a goal and his/her family stays committed to supporting that goal. I’m here to tell you it is definitely worth the sacrifice!

LiveBall in LA


My son got to partake in a very unique type of drill session on Saturday morning (thank you, Steve!) at the Pacific Palisades Tennis Center in Pacific Palisades, California. It’s called LiveBall, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Here’s how it works . . . there are as many as 10 people on a court with one coach feeding balls to start each point. Two people are the “kings” working together as a doubles team on one side of the net. On the other side of the net are those players vying to take over the “king” position. The coach feeds a ball to one of the challengers who has to return it crosscourt. Then, players play out the point. As soon as the point ends, and I mean AS SOON AS (meaning split-second timing), the coach feeds another ball to the other challenger who can return it anywhere in the court. Play continues like this until either (A) the “kings” win 2 points or (B) the challengers win 4 points. If the challengers win 4 points before their opponents win 2, they then run like crazy to the other side of the net taking over the “king” spot. If the “kings” win 2 points first, then the challengers step off the court, and the next pair plays. It sounds confusing, but, believe me, players catch on pretty quickly, and the game goes on non-stop for 2 straight hours.

The session my son participated in was an Open LiveBall Session comprised of several former college players, a former tour player-turned-teaching-pro, a current tour player, and a college-bound freshman (among others). The tennis center also offers sessions based on NTRP rating for both men and women. The level of tennis and the speed at which it was played was dizzying! Talk about great training for doubles – wow! The players are using every trick in the book to score points on their opponents, including head fakes, no-look shots, tweeners, and spins like I’ve never seen before. The creativity was incredible, and the ball striking skills of these men and women was as good as I’ve seen at many professional events. My son came off the court so pumped for his doubles matches this coming weekend!

For the junior coaches out there, this is a great way for you to get several kids on the court simultaneously, building their doubles skills while improving their fitness levels, too. It’s fun, fast-paced, and the players visibly improve as the session progresses. I saw my son begin to incorporate more variety into his approach shots and volleys as he watched the other players have success with some non-traditional choices. And, since the players are with a mix of partners throughout the session, they learn to think on the fly and improvise as they try to gain/maintain “king” status. My son had a blast and came off the court at the end of the 2 hours sufficiently worked out.

Oh, and another perk for him . . . he made some incredible new tennis contacts for his next trip to SoCal!

Your 2014 NCAA Women’s Doubles Champs: Erin & Maya

Erin & Maya


Erin Routliffe and Maya Jansen played number 1 doubles for the Crimson Tide in the NCAA Team Championship. Their Bama team made it to the quarterfinals before losing a tight dual match to UNC. But Erin and Maya had the chance to keep playing as the 4 seeds in the individual competition a few days later. They made an impressive run through the draw, finally clinching the Championship Title with a win over University of Georgia’s Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase who were seeded #2 in the tournament.

Neither Erin nor Maya is from Alabama or even from the South for that matter. Erin is Canadian, and Maya is from Washington, but both girls knew pretty early in their recruiting process that Bama and coach Jenny Mainz were the right fit for them.




The Advocacy Lessons Are Paying Off

As a follow-up to my last post (click here to read it), I wanted to let y’all know about some crazy circumstances surrounding last weekend’s tournament.

My son had signed up to play both singles and doubles at our Southern 1A (National 4) tourney in Raleigh and had received email confirmations for both events as well as email acceptances into both events. The doubles were scheduled to start Friday at 5pm. On Thursday morning, I received a text message from my son saying that he and his partner had been left out of the draw. Since I didn’t reply to the text message for a couple of hours, my son went ahead and emailed the tournament director asking him for an explanation of why they had been left out. The director responded saying that my son’s partner never signed up for the doubles so they weren’t placed in the draw.

By the way, it’s important to point out that the draw was NOT full; in fact, there were numerous byes up and down the 32-draw.

My son confirmed with his partner that he had, in fact, registered for the doubles. However, the tournament director said that since the draw had already been published, the boys would be placed at the top of the alternate list in case one of the teams pulled out of the tournament last minute. He said that was the best he could offer at this point. My son was disappointed but figured they had a pretty good chance of getting in, especially since there were so many players driving long distances to get to Raleigh.

The next day, my son drove the 6+ hours to Raleigh and had plans to meet his doubles partner at the main site in hopes of getting to play. The two boys warmed up then called the tournament director to find out if anyone had withdrawn. Both the director and the tournament desk told them that, no, no one had pulled out yet.

While walking around the site, my son ran into one of his buddies from home who said that his brother (the #1 seed in the B18 doubles) had just gotten a call from the tournament director telling him that his doubles opponent had pulled out and that he and his partner would be getting a second bye into the third round.

My son immediately called the tournament director and reminded him that he and his partner were supposed to be put into the draw in case of any withdrawals. He explained that he is friends with the two boys who were given the bye and that he was sure they would be willing to play the match. The director apologized, took ownership of the error, and told my son that he and his partner could play as long as the other boys agreed to it.

Just to complicate matters, the other two boys were at an alternate site and didn’t have a ride to the main site where the doubles match was to be played. My son offered to go pick them up and they agreed to play.

So, without any phone calls or text messages to me, my son handled a complicated situation and ensured a desirable outcome for himself and his partner. He and his partner gave the top seeds a tough match, losing 8-6 but, at least, getting to play.

Advocacy lesson learned!