Jr. Orange Bowl tennis

Parents go all in for 12-year-old tennis player


The parents of Adam Neff, 12, bought land in rural Bradenton, built three courts and hired a full-time coach.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Grateful son</span>: Adam Neff, 12, on the training advantages he has been given: ‘I really thank my parents every day for all they’ve sacrificed.’’
Grateful son: Adam Neff, 12, on the training advantages he has been given: ‘I really thank my parents every day for all they’ve sacrificed.’’
Michelle Kaufman / Miami Herald Staff


Even by the standards of junior tennis, where parents are known to spare no expense to advance their children’s careers, 12-year-old Adam Neff’s family stands out.

Rather than hire a local coach in Cincinnati, or send their promising son to an academy in Florida, Guy and Ann Neff, both doctors and graduates of University of Miami medical school, decided two years ago to relocate the family to Bradenton and build a $160,000 practice facility in their back yard.

They bought five acres of land in rural Bradenton, near a bird sanctuary, built a house, and three courts, including a red-clay replica of the French Open court at Roland Garros, a purple hard court like the one at Key Biscayne’s Sony Open, and a U.S. Open replica hard court. They also built a gym with an indoor hitting wall for rainy days and a recovery room that features a leased CVAC hyperbaric chamber.

Like star Novak Djokovic, who swears by his hyperbaric pod, Neff, the nation’s No. 2-ranked player in his age division, spends 40 to 60 minutes per day in the pressurized egg. The chamber simulates high-altitude conditions, and is said to improve athletic performance by increasing circulation and aid recover time by adding oxygen-rich blood cells to the body.

The Neffs hired Lance Luciani, who worked previously at Nick Bollettieri’s famed academy, as a full-time coach. Luciani trains nine kids at the facility. Neff’s 10-year-old sister, Katarina, and his 5-year-old sister, Isabella, also take lessons.

Easy win

Neff, who is 5-10, needed only 27 minutes to win his second-round Jr. Orange Bowl tennis tournament match over Brazil’s Vinicius Saleme at Salvadore Park on Wednesday. The match was so easy that Luciani arranged an afternoon practice session to get more work in. This is Neff’s final 12-under event before he moves up to 14s, so he wants to finish the year with a bang.

He won the U.S. Spring Nationals last spring, and two weeks ago won the Eddie Herr tournament. He has only one loss in the 12s this season, and that was in Paris, where he was one of 16 kids invited to play the prestigious Longines Future Tennis Aces event. He got a taste of international talent, losing badly on his 12th birthday to a German player.

‘Tough trip’

“That was a good experience for him, but tough trip,’’ Luciani said. “Next year, we’ll be dipping our toes into the ITF [international] waters. That’s his goal, not so much of the kiddie stuff anymore. Having the private facility is perfect, gives us all we need to push the kids as far as they can go.’’

Neff said he is very grateful to his parents. Dr. Guy Neff, a hepatologist, was a liver specialist at Tampa General Hospital but now works in Chicago in the pharmaceutical industry. He commutes to Bradenton on weekends. His mother, Dr. Ann Neff, is a dermatologist.

“I really thank my parents every day for all they’ve sacrificed,’’ Neff said. “I know it’s really hard for them, especially changing jobs and starting a whole new life.’’

"People are going to call us nuts, but that's all right, I've been called worse," Dr. Neff told The Wall Street Journal in a recent article. "If this doesn't work, there's always opportunity to be a doctor or an attorney or an accountant, or whatever he wants to do."

The Jr. Orange Bowl tournament continues through Monday. The 14s boys are at UM, 14s girls at Crandon Park, 12s girls at the Biltmore and 12s boys at Salvadore Park.

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