Courting success: TJ Pura's tennis journey from player to coach
Feb 02, 2024
TJ Pura's journey from young tennis prodigy to budding college coach is a story of passion, dedication, and deep love for the game. He picked up a racquet at 6 years old and grabbed hold of a game that grew into his lifelong passion.
Early on, at 12 years old, he appeared in the ESPN documentary 50,000 Balls. The film captured the essence of junior tennis which TJ describes as "a gladiator sport" showcasing its profound impact on young athletes.
TJ recalls, "It was a passion project that my dad took up, having been very closely invested in the junior tennis community." The film, a brainchild of his father and completed by his mother after TJ's father passed away, holds a special place in his heart. "It's really cool. I get a little choked up talking about it," he admits.
TJ's skills sharpened as he advanced during his junior playing days. "I worked really hard in high school to get ranked as high as three in the country," he shares. His hard work paid off and led him to Duke. There, he achieved a remarkable undefeated streak in ACC matches. After some prodding, he acknowledges, "I set the single-season program record for most consecutive ACC wins."
Above: Vanderbilt Men's Tennis Assistant Coach, TJ Pura
Post-college, TJ's journey took an exciting turn as he spent time in Florida at the USTA National Tennis Center. It was a period of intense training and personal growth. "I ended up moving down to Orlando to train," he recalls, a move that brought him into close contact with tennis star Tommy Paul with whom he would form a profound bond.
Injuries cut short TJ's efforts to play pro tennis. But his alliance with Tommy Paul turned into a coaching relationship on the ATP tour.
In a unique coaching capacity with Tommy Paul, TJ explains, "It focused mostly on the mental side and protocols that boost performance... sleep hygiene, flexibility, neuro-motor control and how our brains and our bodies work together. So kind of innovative training techniques especially on the mental and physiological side that played a small part in him getting [eventually into] the top 30 in the world."
However, TJ's journey led him back to the collegiate world. He transitioned to a volunteer assistant coach at Duke, a natural progression and important step towards fulfilling a deeper purpose. "College coaching, to me, is not work. It's a lifestyle," he explains, emphasizing the holistic approach he brings to his role. TJ is not just focused on developing tennis skills but well-rounded individuals who thrive in all aspects of life.
Later, his move to Vanderbilt as the program's assistant coach was a decision fueled by his desire to help build something meaningful, to take a program and help elevate it to new heights. "I was really drawn to the challenge," he says, expressing his excitement about the future of Vanderbilt tennis. He's thrilled to be working with Vanderbilt Head Coach Scott Brown and Assistant Coach Geoff Hernandez.
And the future looks bright.
Above: TJ Pura with Orange Bowl 18s winner Danil Panarin
Two Florida-based players recently committed to Vanderbilt. Danil Panarin was training out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton and recently won the Orange Bowl in Plantation. And Tampa-based Jack Satterfield, won the National Clay Court Championships in Delray Beach last year. "I think they're going to do incredible things at Vanderbilt, both in the classroom and on the tennis court, and I just can't wait," TJ explains.
TJ Pura's story should continue to shape the future of tennis. Looking back, he reveals a life beautifully intertwined with the sport he loves. As TJ puts it, "It's been a really fun journey," and for those of following his progression, it's been nothing short of inspirational.
Photos courtesy of Vanderbilt University and TJ Pura.