Every sport will always have its own fundamentals. Whether I’m watching tennis, baseball, basketball, golf or soccer, the commentators at one point or another will talk about the solid fundamentals of a certain athlete.
I grew up playing baseball in Puerto Rico. After three years, I decided baseball was too slow and needed something faster. At 111⁄2 years old, I took my first tennis lesson at the public courts from a tennis teacher who had dedicated himself to teach the fundamentals of tennis to anyone who was interested in playing the game. My father—a basketball player—was recruited to play tennis for his university (even though he had no formal training). He made sure I learned the game of tennis from the best professionals on the island (there were 3 or 4).
These professionals not only taught me the fundamentals of tennis, they also taught me to love the game. They played a big part in encouraging me to continue practicing, improve my game and have a little fun. When I started playing tennis, there were a lot of kids around the courts that lived near the club. There was a lot of competition because back then, all of the Grand Slam tournaments (French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open) were available to amateurs only, not professionals. I worked hard to learn all the shots available in the game (forehand, backhand, serve, volley, slice, topspin, drop shot, drop volley, lob, lob volley, split step, chip and charge).
Since I had started playing tennis so late, I had the misfortune to be playing against players that had started when they were 5 or 6 years old—which meant they had mastered control and direction by the time they were 12 and 13 years old. Moving ahead three years, I had made up the gap by continuing to take lessons twice a week, working on mastering the game, practicing six days a week, playing junior tournaments and supplementing it with adult tournaments.
When your fundamentals are solid, your game will improve at a faster rate than if you don’t learn the fundamentals.
Make sure you find a Certified Professional that has the years and experience under his/her belt (learning, playing and teaching). That way when you come to the crossroads, they can take you to the next level because they have been there themselves. One of my coaches was Luis Ayala from Chile (ranked 5th in the world)—he lost twice in the French Open final (1958 and 1960). The one who polished my game and gave me the confidence to continue with my tennis career was Juan Rios. He has coached a minimum of 100 players that have had tennis scholarships in US. He has also coached at least six or seven players that made the ATP Tour rankings. My highest ATP ranking was 36 in singles, 24 in doubles, Victor Pecci and I were ranked #3 in the world as a team (in the ATP Doubles Race).
In the 17 years I’ve been in Fresno, I have taught and trained a lot of highly ranked players that have won the High School Valley Title in singles or doubles. Some of them have gone to play college tennis and one of them turned professional (Sloane Stephens—highest ranking of 11 in the world).
I now teach and coach tennis at Sierra Sport & Racquet Club as Head Tennis Professional. I love passing down every fundamental, every experience I have encountered through my years of learning, training and competing to the kids that come to the club to learn the game of tennis. And I make sure they have some fun, too.