Full Circle at Florida Tennis
Oct 30, 2023
My first encounter with tennis in Florida made quite an impression. I was overwhelmed. I was smitten. But before we get to that, let’s rewind back to a time where I was playing up north in snowy Connecticut.
Above: Proudly wearing my USTA T-shirt with my trusty Donnay Borg Pro
I was coached by Brian Barker — a former touring pro who once asked this little kid, James Blake, to play some points with me. He was much younger than me at the time but, wow, that little guy could hit. Well, Barker later became Blake’s coach. And Blake reached #4 in the world.
Barker had me hit with Blake back then because I was a top junior player amassing USTA trophies all over New England. I was enjoying a non-stop winning streak. I was playing in “the zone” and it felt like heaven on earth. I could do anything I wanted with the ball. I could see where it was going before I hit it. I was possessed.
To push my game to the next level, I flew down to Saddlebrook, better known as The Harry Hopman Tennis Academy (at the time), in the Tampa area. Over the years, Saddlebrook was home to famous names like Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, and Jennifer Capriati. Playing in Florida for the first time was humbling. I was no longer the only hotshot kid prodigy.
Florida tennis was paradise. The sun was always shining. Local players were amazing. And hopefuls from all over the world came to Florida to play at iconic academies run by the likes of Nick Bolletieri, Rick Macci, Chris Evert, Emilio Sanchez, and others. I was in love with the scene. But sadly, it was time to head back to the snow for my senior year.
Above: Serving big but overworking my shoulder in the process
Back in the cold, my high school team went on to win the Connecticut state championship. But that was smalltime compared to the level of tennis in Florida.
Nevertheless, it earned me a Division 1 scholarship and I was made Captain of the UConn Huskies tennis team. After UConn, though, I was done. A shoulder injury in the Big East Tournament did me in.
UConn Huskies tennis team (1991): With teammates Doug Knuth, David Weiss, Jeff Kuhen, and (bottom left) Coach Glenn Marshall
When I thought of tennis after college, I thought of pain. I thought of untapped potential. I had given so much to tennis but it was all taken away by a bum shoulder.
Sure, once or twice a year I would begrudgingly hit a few balls with business clients. It certainly impressed the suit-and-tie crowd and made me popular in corporate circles. But I was done with the sport. The shoulder still hurt. And so did my pride.
Later, I moved to New York and went on to have a fulfilling career. I ascended my way up the ranks in the magazine industry at Men’s Fitness, Details, and Vibe Magazine.
Fast forward to 40 and I settled down. Got married. My lovely wife and I had a baby. We ditched the Big Apple for the Sunshine State. As a new Dad, I wasn’t getting much sleep. I ate fast food. I was sluggish and out-of-shape. So I decided to give tennis a go again — just to lose a few pounds.
From left: Playing tennis again with my UConn doubles partner, David Weiss, and high school tennis teammate, Dexter Spencer, in Miami
Back when I played at UConn, I was sponsored by Spalding. So I dusted off my old college racquet, The Asphalt, and hit a few balls. Surprise, surprise! My body felt good. That shoulder injury was long gone. And, sure enough, I could still play.
Later, I hit with some local pros who were in their twenties. I was nearing 50. But I was winning. I still had it. The magic faded but it was there. Deep down. I just had to unearth it. And every now and then, something unexpected happened. A strange but familiar feeling. The Zone.
It all came flooding back. Pure bliss. I remembered why I loved this sport. I wanted the drug of tennis… again. And I wanted it bad. After 25 long years, I finally reunited with the game.
Meanwhile, I kept seeing this magazine at pro shops everywhere. I decided to give Jim Martz, the owner of Florida Tennis, a call. I immediately liked him. And the magazine. I subscribed. I devoured every issue cover-to-cover. Florida Tennis became my personal guide to paradise.
After subscribing for a few years, I decided to call Jim again. I invited him to lunch. I asked him if he’d be open to selling the magazine. That conversation brings us to the article you’re reading right now.
After 31 years of outstanding coverage, the spirit and editorial excellence that makes Florida Tennis so special will continue with Jim Martz as editor. I’ll also be lending a hand as executive editor and publisher of Florida Tennis.
Above: With Taylor Fritz in Boca Raton
I’m a player and a fan of the game. Like many readers. But spending the last few months learning more about the legacy of Florida Tennis, I’m truly humbled. It quickly became obvious that Jim Martz knows everyone in the tennis world. His connections are vast. And his reputation is impeccable.
So I’d like to thank Jim for entrusting me with the future. At the same time, having Jim continue as editor ensures we’ll serve up plenty of aces in the process. I’d also like to thank our loyal readers, contributors, and advertisers as well and welcome them along on this new journey forward with us.
Over the next year, we’ll be growing our digital properties including a blog, newsletter, podcast series, and social media presence. Look out for exclusive interviews with some of Florida’s most exciting players and luminaries within the tennis scene today.
And we have a few surprises that will have to remain secret… for now. So stay tuned, look forward to a bright future, and keep your eye out for the next issue.
Written by (and photos courtesy of): Florida Tennis' Executive Editor and Publisher Matt Pressman; Lead Photo: Sebastian Angarita. This article also appears in the July-August 2023 issue of Florida Tennis Magazine. Be sure to subscribe for expanded coverage, exclusive interviews, and in-depth tennis news.