Top junior tennis players from everywhere compete, train in Florida


Miami Herald Writer

At the Golden Isles Tennis Center in Hallandale Beach, the USTA Florida Super Series Level 6 Tournament, which occurred the same weekend as Wimbledon, featured about 100 boys and girls, age 18-and-younger.

Some of these tennis standouts traveled from around the world to Florida, one of the top training destinations, as they have dedicated their lives to the sport, spending more time with coaches than parents or peers.

“Who would win Wimbledon?” was on their mind as they are also tennis aficionados, but these players were more focused on facing their own opponents in their age grouping.

They’re in Florida not only because of the state’s coaches and high level of competition but also the sunny weather, allowing them to train outdoors year-round.

Up-n-comer Mark Chepurnoy, 14, is originally from Russia but came to Florida to train with Junior Coordinator Freddy Azucey at the Extreme Tennis Academy in Aventura. Dora Rakem, 16, is from Paris and has been training the past year in Boynton Beach. Rakem is in Florida because it is a “training hot spot” for junior tennis players. Other players at the Super Series were from countries ranging from Argentina to Canada and the Dominican Republic.

The players agree Florida is one of the most competitive environments in which to play and train for tournament tennis.

Despite the intense rivalries on the court, competition is not the only aspect of the game.

Boca Raton’s Morris Brown considers himself much more than a coach and stresses the need for a systematic approach to training his players. Differentiating himself from a coach at a tennis academy, Brown explains that he is an AESP, an Awareness, Elevator, Service Provider, who trains five players.

“Regardless of whether they are in a very tough match or whether they’re winning, my philosophy is, we worked before the tournament, we did all our homework, and this is the time to relax,.” said Brown, a former player.

That approach is taken by some parents, too.

Boynton Beach’s Sailee Kulkarni, mother of tennis talent Zoe Kulkarni, said, “I just want her to enjoy the sport, and then slowly things will fall in place for her.”

The balance between passion for the sport and a drive to compete is difficult to maintain for many players because of the aggressive level of competition at these tournaments.

Because of the level of competition, more teen players are resorting to homeschooling, allowing them a flexible schedule and more practice time. One parent goes one step further.

Cooper City’s Scott Smashey, coach and parent of daughter, Kaeli, 16, relates the difficulty of balancing family time and training: “I’m her parent and her coach, and sometimes kids don’t listen to their parents, and sometimes kids don’t listen to their coach.”

Kaeli trains more than 20 hours each week and is home schooled. Her father explains she will train with a high school team, “just for fun, for the team camaraderie,” but tournament tennis’s competitiveness is “off the charts.”

Smashey compares high school to tournament tennis saying the latter has “better coaching, better players, more international players playing to move on to the next level,” and high school tennis offers a chance to meet people and have fun.

Chris Ernewein, 16, of Coral Springs, who has been playing tennis for 2 1/2 years, said tournament tennis is more “individual” and cutthroat than high school tennis, which is more team oriented.

East Kendall’s John Adams, father of 16-year-old tennis champ Sophia Adams, agrees that tournament tennis is highly competitive and admits, “Watching Sophia play is harrowing at times, nerve wracking, but good nerve wracking. It’s fun.”

He also notes the amount of time and dedication Sophia applied toward the sport, three hours of training every day. It’s a necessity to compete at that level.

“This is an upper level tournament so the level of the players is pretty high,” Todd Trombetta, tournament organizer and tennis director at Golden Isles Tennis Center, said. “There are some very tough players here.”

This tournament is one of nine that will be at Golden Isles Tennis Center this year. Players as young as seven compete in the 10-and-under division, hoping for a chance to compete professionally one day. Maybe even Wimbledon.

Tournament Director Lynn Jaimes fondly remembers her five times working at Wimbledon in player services and public relations.

“I love the grassroots level, to see the kids grow up before your eyes, to see the different levels, and to see the kids who go on to play at Wimbledon,” said Jaimes, who has been directing tournaments in Florida for 18 years. “We’ve had a few who have gone on to the US Open and to Wimbledon. It’s great to see that.”

•  YouTube videos of the USTA Florida Super Series Level 6 Junior Tennis Tournament at Golden Isles Tennis Center as well as interviews with top junior players, coaches, directors, organizers and parents conducted by Miami Herald Neighbors Youth Sports Reporter Jacqueline Alman.

YouTube on the Jim Varsallone (the jimmyv3 channel)

Interviews with parents

John Adams

Scott Smashey

Sailee Kulkarni

Interviews with players

Chris Ernewein

Dora Rakem

Interviews with coaches, directors

Todd Trombetta

Lynn Jaimes

Bill Cook

AESP Morris Brown

Tennis action

Sophia Adams

Armando Gandini and Diego Perez

Mark Chepurnoy

Kaeli Smashey

Armando Gandini

Diego Perez

Mark Chepurnoy and Diego Perez

Miami Herald

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