Lendl on hand as his tennis academy welcomes guests for inside look

mmccombs@islandpacket.comMarch 16, 2014 

None of the junior tennis players clamoring to have their photos taken with Ivan Lendl on the center court was alive when he won any of his 94 singles titles or eight grand slams.

And they weren't around for any of his 270 weeks as the No. 1 men's tennis player in the world.

But their parents were, and odds are that's at least part of the reason they attended the Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy's open house for prospective students Saturday morning at the TennisClub of the Low Country at Rose Hill Plantation.

The event was open to all junior players and their families who were interested in summer, part-time or full-time programs with the IJTA.

In all, 46 kids and members of their families showed up for a glimpse at the academy's training methods, ranging from strength and fitness training to mental coaching to on-the-court instruction.

Oh, and a little face time with Mr. Lendl.

IJTA CEO Peter Orell was pleased with the turnout. So much so, that he hopes to hold another as soon as May.

"I think what this does is build awareness of what we do," Orell said. "We're proud of what we do. So why not let people sample it? It's about developing kids. We're passionate about it. It's about way more than tennis."

Jerry Ecker of Raleigh, N.C., was one of the parents who brought a child to Bluffton on Saturday -- his 9-year-old daughter Elena.

Jerry Ecker said his daughter had reached the point where she wanted and needed more structured teaching. And even moving his family to put his daughter in the right environment was not out of the question, he said. He was impressed by Saturday's presentation.

"It's about the work that they put in and how much they enjoy it and that they take some pride in it," Jerry Ecker said about what he was looking for in the program. "Because, let's face it, not many of the kids out here are going to be players on the tour."

That sentiment echoed Lendl's response during the question and answer session with the players and their parents.

When asked what his goal for each student was, Lendl said, "It depends on the kid. Ask the kids what their goals are."

Lendl said if parents were looking for their child to be the No. 1 player in the world, they were in the wrong place.

"No one here will promise you that," he said.

While Lendl is not coaching every day at the academy that bears his name, his fingerprints are all over it.

Lendl has input in the hiring of coaches and comes to the Lowcountry once a month to sit down with them and evaluate the students, looking for three things each can improve on.

"I'm here every month for three or four days," Lendl said. "When I'm here, I work with the coaches and with the kids. We look, evaluate, decide what we work on. Then a month later when I come again, we evaluate again. We see what needs more work or if something can give way to something more pressing by then."

Lendl said it's important to have events like Saturday's so that parents can decide if the academy is right for their child and "make their decision based on the entirety of what they see."

Obviously, parents would be mistaken to come to the academy believing Lendl will be coaching their child full-time.

That being said, Jerry Ecker admitted that it was Lendl that brought him to Bluffton on Saturday.

"I'll be honest," he said. "I probably would not have come to this if it didn't have his name all over it."

Orell said he expects to gain roughly three to four part-time students, three to four full-time students and "who knows how many" summer training students as a result of Saturday's event. He said, though, Lendl and the academy's staff would have an enrollment limit of around 36 total students.

"We want to keep it to a level where the experience remains among the best it can be for the students," Orell said.

For Lendl, that experience means an opportunity for tennis to play a part in the rest of their lives.

"When the kids come to the academy, I hope they have a sport for a lifetime," Lendl said. "They're going to improve when they're here, there's no doubt about it. We can prove that with our track record already.

"Hopefully these kids play hard enough and work hard enough on their sport and spend enough time here where they can go and get an education with their sport ... and if anything happens above that, it's a bonus. But hopefully they stick with tennis and enjoy it for the rest of their lives."

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Ivan Lendl IJTA relocating to the Tennisclub of the Lowcountry at Rose Hill, Jan. 10, 2014:

junior, tennis, Ivan Lendl, court, International Junior Tennis Academy, TennisClub, Low Country, Rose Hill Plantation, IJTA, Peter Orell, Jerry Ecker, Elena Ecker, coach, Bluffton, Hilton Head

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