Under watchful eye of Ivan Lendl, new Hilton Head tennis academy begins to grow

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comDecember 11, 2011 

Ivan Lendl stood, clipboard in hand, watching young tennis players hit forehands at plastic targets on the other side of the net.

The former world No. 1 men's tennis player and owner of one of the greatest tennis resumes of all time might have struck an intimidating figure as he huddled with David Lewis, director of instruction at Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy.

But Lendl, who opened the academy at Port Royal Racquet Club in August, was quick to offer players a smile and ask how they liked their experience so far. The 51-year-old Vero Beach, Fla., resident was on Hilton Head Island to evaluate future students for his budding academy.

The school has eight full-time students and hopes to have 20 for the spring semester and 40 by next fall.

"The results are starting to come," said Lendl, who won eight Grand Slam titles and was ranked No. 1 for 270 weeks in the 1980s and 90s. "The kids are getting better. Every time I'm here, I see improvement in the kids. That's good. And the attitude is good, which is important to me."

Lendl's academy is partnered with Junior Sports Corporation, which also runs Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy. The academy is open to students in grades 5 through 12.

Students attend the private Heritage Academy, which offers half-day classes and allows students training in their sport throughout the day, as well as the chance to make up work missed due to competition.

The addition of the Ivan Lendl IJTA gives the island three major tennis academies, joining Smith Stearns Tennis Academy and Van Der Meer Tennis Academy as marquee names.

"Ivan's awesome," said Matt Cuccaro, director of mental training for Junior Sports Corporation. "Obviously the name and just the work ethic and preparation -- all the things I work on with the students, he reinforces and lives through his life as well. It's great to have Ivan around."

Lendl said there are no plans for future academies as of now, with the focus only on growing the Hilton Head school. Peter Orrell, chief executive officer of JSC, said growing the tennis academy will take time. He said the golf school enrolled fewer than 20 students when it opened 15 years ago and now boasts more than 150 golfers.

The growing process for the IJTA continued Saturday, with Lendl, Lewis and Cuccaro among those evaluating players on fitness, tennis ability and mental approach. Eight groups were expected to be evaluated, concluding today, with scholarship recipients notified Monday.

Lewis said the evaluations gave players and parents the opportunity to experience what life will be like at the academy.

"We've got some good kids; things have started to fill in; there's a lot of interest," Lewis said. "And I think for starting from scratch, we're doing very well."

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