Latest Articles

No Regrets

Sometimes we make decisions then immediately regret them. Sometimes we make decisions then begin to doubt them. Sometimes, though, we make decisions and never look back. The decision leading my son and me to spend the last week in Los Angeles shifted through all three of those scenarios.

As I mentioned in my previous posting, my son decided against entering the Closed Regional (L4) or National Selection (L2) tournaments because, based on his current ranking, he didn’t think he would be selected for either one. Instead, we made the choice to spend the time and money traveling back to Los Angeles for an intensive week of training.

Once the competitor lists were posted for both the L2 and L4, my son and I realized he would have definitely gotten into the L4 with a shot at the L2 as well. That’s when regret set in. Think of all the potential ranking points he could’ve gotten! Think of what this could’ve done for his TRN ranking and rating! How’s he possibly going to get that additional star during this rating period now?

As the date for our trip got closer, I started second-guessing our choice. There were openings in the B18 draw in Mobile. Should we change our plans and head down there instead? Would the impending snow/ice keep us from getting to LA anyway? How important is that extra star on TRN?

But then the stars aligned. My son’s school got proactive for the storm (our second in 2 weeks) and announced on Monday that school would be closed Tuesday and Wednesday in addition to the 4 days already allocated for the February break. I called Delta to find out if we could change our out-bound flight to LA and leave Tuesday morning before the storm was due to hit. Turns out, Delta was being proactive, too! They not only changed our flights, giving us the last 2 seats on the Tuesday morning flight, but also waived all change fees and fare increases, allowing us to get out of Atlanta – at no additional cost – well before the weather hit. By that point, we weren’t looking back at all at the decision to forego the L4!


Cruising down the 405

The stars continued to stay in alignment as we arrived at LAX Tuesday morning. We had reserved a rental car, just your typical 4-door sedan, so we could shuttle ourselves around the city. When the rental agent took us out to the lot to choose a car, my son spotted a line of convertible Camaros and asked, jokingly, if we could get one of those. I immediately said no, but the agent told me they were running a special on the Camaro and that it would add a very minimal amount to my weekly rental if we wanted one. Um, YES! There’s nothing quite like driving around LA, up PCH, down to Irvine, or just to the grocery store with the top down and sun shining all around you, especially if you’re escaping the second of back-to-back snow storms at home. We promptly signed the paperwork, put the top down, and headed to Santa Monica to unpack and settle in for our adventure.


Entrance to Palisades Tennis Center

That first afternoon took us into the Pacific Palisades for my son to join a drill group at the Palisades Tennis Center, owned by Tennis Channel founder and fellow Tennis Parent Steve Bellamy. It was a great way to get on the court and work out some of the kinks after the long flight. Steve stopped by to say hello, and we caught up a bit while the kids hit. It was the perfect start to a week of training!


My son with Pete Sampras

The next day, my son was scheduled to hit with Lester Cook at the Los Angeles Tennis Center which is situated on the UCLA campus in Westwood. We arrived at the courts just as Pete Sampras was getting there for his own hitting session – I’m sure you can imagine how excited we were to see Pete and say hello to this incredible legend. He was very gracious and posed for a quick photo before heading onto the court. As it turns out, my son was hitting on the court right next to him. We walked through the gate and there was Redfoo – son of Motown great Barry Gordy – of the music group LMFAO (“Party Rock Anthem”) just finishing his lesson with Lester. While he was packing up his gear, Victoria Azarenka walked onto the court, too – it was a star-studded day at UCLA! Lester had my son hit with another one of his students, Jake, who will be playing at Washington University in St. Louis starting next Fall. After hitting some forehands and backhands, Lester told my son to come up to the net and take some volleys. His response: “You want me to take volleys while Pete Sampras is taking volleys right next to me???” He did great, though, and he and Jake played a practice set with Lester coaching between points.

Day Three found us driving up PCH to the Malibu Racquet Club for a session with Craig Cignarelli, followed by a campus tour at Pepperdine, followed by a second session with Craig. Before we got there, Craig had sent me a message warning me that my son’s brain might be a little fried after the day’s sessions. That was an understatement! I’ve never witnessed a coach require a player to think and explain so much during a lesson. For every ball my son hit, Craig wanted to know why he hit to that part of the court with that particular spin and pace. If my son couldn’t provide an answer, Craig plied him with questions, helping him deduce the why and how behind each shot. That continued for 90 minutes with my son eventually able to give a running commentary for each ball he hit. Craig worked with him on patterns, explained the difference between mental and technical errors, and pushed him to new limits. It was a joy to watch. After the campus tour, my son couldn’t wait to get back to the court for more time with Craig. He was fired up over the new things he was learning and was ready for more!

Day Four was again spent with Craig. Even though my son had developed a really nasty blister on his right palm (think Rafa at this year’s Australian Open), Craig found ways to challenge him on the court for another 90 minute session. He asked my son if he had a racquet in his bag with broken strings. Craig then took the racquet, cut the strings to form a hole a little bigger than tennis ball size, and fed balls to my son to practice hitting the “sweet spot” with each swing. At the beginning, my son’s contact point was either above or below the sweet spot on most shots. However, after a couple of minutes, he was consistently causing the ball to swish through the opening, improving his accuracy tremendously. Then Craig asked one of the other coaches, Tina Steinmetz (who just so happened to play at UGA a few years ago), to do a volley drill with my son. They worked on footspeed around the ball as well as placement – Tina’s got some of the quickest hands I’ve ever seen! It was another great day on the court.


My son with Tommy Shubert

Saturday took us down to Irvine for a hitting session with one of my favorite young pros, Thomas Shubert. I had met Tommy at the US Open last August and knew I wanted my son to meet him, too. We had tried to get together in December, but it just never worked out. This trip, though, Tommy was around and arranged a court at the Woodbridge Tennis Club where Chris Lewis and Chuck Brymer run the show. What a beautiful facility! The guys hopped on a court, and I set up my video camera to capture the moment for posterity. Tommy took my son through some of his favorite drills, pushing him to his limits, giving him a feel for how a player on tour has to train. They went at it pretty intensely for over 2 hours while I soaked up some Southern California sunshine. Afterward, Tommy led us to one of his favorite spots for a late lunch, and my son got to hear first-hand what life on tour is really like. It was a great learning experience for both of us.

On Sunday, we had a lazy morning since my son wasn’t scheduled to hit until 3pm with Craig. We took full advantage – my son took his grandma out to brunch while I met my daughter, Emma, at the Beverly Hills Farmers Market for a little shopping. When we finally arrived in Malibu that afternoon, Craig immediately put my son to work, running patterns and analyzing his own shot selection in order to open up a certain spot on the court. Craig would tell him something like, “I can only hit crosscourt. You hit 4 balls, then the 5th one needs to be a backhand. Figure out how to get there.” They continued in this way for about 20 minutes. By the end of it, MY brain was hurting! I was amazed at how quickly my son worked through the shots in his head, like planning 5 moves ahead in a Chess game, and was able to come up with the proper shot at the proper time. Very impressive to watch. After their on-court work, Craig took us to dinner at one of his favorite local spots and continued the training over pasta and seafood. He discussed with my son how to take this new knowledge home and apply it to his training and match play. He discussed with my son how to manage the inevitable frustration that will crop up while this new information gets integrated into his brain. He discussed with my son a game plan for getting himself ready to play in front of college coaches during the summer tournament season. My son listened, asked questions, absorbed, asked additional questions, and listened some more. Proof positive that as much tennis learning can happen OFF the court as ON it.

Monday was our last full day on the West coast. My son had a morning session with Craig, working on serves and serve returns to set up the patterns he’d been learning all week. They worked solidly for about 2 hours before we took a lunch break then came back for more in the afternoon. My son was determined to take full advantage of every minute Craig could give him. They talked and worked while I videotaped. We were dead-set on capturing as much as we could of Craig’s wisdom on film so my son could review it as needed once we returned home to Atlanta.


Lester Cook, Redfoo, & my son

Our flight home on Tuesday was scheduled to leave LAX at 2:50pm, so we had to head to the airport no later than 12:30 to have ample time to return the Camaro, check our luggage, and get through security. My son had one last 8am hitting session with Lester at the UCLA courts. It turned out that we got there just as the UCLA men’s tennis team was heading to the gym for their morning workout, so they invited my son to walk over with them and meet the guys and trainers. When he got back to the courts, Lester was ready for him. They hit for about an hour then Lester’s next lesson showed up . . . Redfoo! Lester asked my son to play a set against Redfoo while Lester coached from the baseline on Redfoo’s side of the court. The first set went rather quickly, so they played a second set which I, of course, captured on video. What a blast! My son was in absolute heaven, putting all the lessons he’d learned over the past several days into practice, seeing a positive result, and gaining confidence with every shot. It was a beautiful thing for a Tennis Parent to watch.

After the requisite thank-you’s and photos, we rushed off for a quick meeting with my daughter and Steve Bellamy before heading back to Santa Monica to pack. We made it to the airport in plenty of time (despite the fact that I had forgotten to allocate time to stop for gas!) and had an uneventful flight home.

So, does my son have any regrets about missing the L2/L4 tournament? Not a single one! In fact, he’s already trying to figure out how to get himself back out to LA (and to Craig and Lester) for more training this summer. Honestly, this might be the best tennis decision our family has made in the 10+ years we’ve been doing the junior tennis thing. That’s not to say that my son isn’t getting top-notch coaching at home – he absolutely is – but sometimes a change of scenery and a change of voice are in order. My son just so happened to get both last week, and I think his brain and body were finally in sync enough to take full advantage.




Have your say

Parenting Aces

Related Articles

Please consider visiting our partners