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Match Point: Serving with Passion

November 24
by
nathan pasha
in
Sports
with
.

I started playing tennis between 6 ½ and 7 years old. Most of my tennis friends started playing tennis through a family member, but I was introduced to tennis in a fairly unique way. I remember being introduced to tennis like it was yesterday.


I was sitting on the bleachers located inside the basketball gym at the Samuel L Jackson Boys & Girls Club after school one day when a counselor entered the gym and announced “We are starting a tennis program once a week on Fridays, who wants to sign up?” I wrestled back and fourth with the idea of signing up or not.

From that moment onward, myself and a group of other kids started playing tennis with a guy I knew as Coach Dave every Friday. Coach Dave approached my mom one day after tennis practice and told her that I had talent and strongly advised me to join a tennis program and play more consistently. Shortly thereafter, my mom signed me up to play tennis on a regular basis after school at Washington Park Tennis Center.

I steadily improved from the consistent practice and eventually joined the USTA Team Tennis League and played for Washington Park. I progressed from team tennis to playing state level tournaments starting at 8 years old.

Once I reached a high ranking in the state, I progressed to playing southern level tournaments; once I reached a high ranking in the southern section, I progressed to playing national level tournaments where I reached a top 10 national ranking in the 14s, 16s, and 18s age groups.

I played tennis for the University of Georgia, from which I recently graduated, and I have created a full time professional schedule for myself to play in the near future as I try to reach my goal of becoming a successful professional tennis player.

This was my tennis journey in a nutshell. I will take you through the process of my tennis life in more detail and uncover some of the struggles my family and I had to overcome, and the people that have positively impacted my life along the way.

I grew up in a single mother home, and my mom raised my twin sister and me in the city of Atlanta. I was pulled out of school when I was 9 years old to play competitive tennis.

I’m aware that 9 years old is a little young to seriously commit to anything, but my mom knew that I loved tennis and decided to pull me out of school, so I could do more of what I loved.

From 9 years old onward, my mom sacrificed everything for me to play.

She didn’t know anything about tennis or where my career would lead; she just wanted me to keep doing whatever made me happy. My competitive tennis started when I signed up to play team tennis for Washington Park; I eventually progressed from playing team tennis to state level tournaments.

Once I worked my way up through the rankings at the state level, I played southern section tournaments. I struggled at the beginning each time my mom and I decided to play higher level tournaments, but I was able to overcome the challenges I have faced this far due to the major sacrifices my mom made for me to play tennis and the generous help of friends and coaches.  

I can 100 percent write that I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the help of my mom and others.

There were many parents in my neighborhood that put their own needs in front their children’s needs. There are many parents in general that are afraid to sacrifice their lives for their children to play a game with hopes of one day becoming a successful professional; my mom was not one of those parents. She used all of the money we had, which wasn’t much, for me to play competitive tennis.

I don’t know how my mom had the courage to make the decision to give up pretty much everything for my career and have the faith that things would work out the way it did.

My mom was really good at stretching money and making it last. When we traveled to tournaments, we did not exactly stay in the nicest hotels; we sometimes slept in the car. Whenever we did not have enough money to go to important tournaments that I needed to play, my friend’s parents paid for my entry fee into the tournaments and let me travel with them.

The first half of my junior career was a struggle financially, but I was able to overcome my odds with the help of my Mom, Henry Hammond, Jimmy Vaughn, The Jang-Milsten Family, The Oh Family, Stephen Diaz, Bill Ozaki, and Brian Devillers.  

Henry Hammond acted as a father figure throughout my life so far. I was lucky enough for him to step into my life at random, coach me for free, give me financial support, and be a positive influence on my life. His high level of emotional investment in me as a person and as a player is a huge reason for all of the success I have had thus far.

Jimmy Vaughn was my first consistent childhood coach and is mostly responsible for building my foundation as a tennis player.

He felt like a family to me because of the close relationship we developed through countless hours spent together on the court. Both the Jang-Milsten and Oh family allowed me to go to several tournaments I would not have been able to attend because of financial problems.

They either paid my entry fee or let me stay with them and their children at tournaments for free. Henry Jang-Milsten and Eugene Oh were my best childhood friends growing up and, we are still very close despite not seeing each other often anymore. Stephen Diaz and Brian Devillers were both extremely important in developing my game in my early teenage years.

They both recognized that my family and I didn’t have a lot of money but still allowed me to train with them at their academy for little to no cost. Lastly, Bill Osaki helped run the tennis accociation office in Georgia and always tried to financially help me anyway he could. All of these people invested way more than they were required simply because they cared about me as a person and believed in me as a tennis player.

All of the help I received helped me get through the first half of my junior career; in the second half of my junior career, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) helped me.

The USTA tennis academy is located Boca Raton, Florida. They selected a handful of kids each year to live in a dorm, take online classes, and receive coaching from some of the best coaches in the world for free. Their goal was to house young, talented players with hopes of helping them grow into successful professional tennis players some day.

Due to the hardwork from everyone that helped develop me in the first half of my junior career, I was able to win one of the biggest national tournaments of the year in the 14 and under age group which put me on USTA’s radar.

USTA selected me to live and train in Boca Raton in 2015.

This was a miracle for me and my family because the USTA pays for everything: the school, living, coaching, and tournaments; our biggest hurdle which was money was no longer an issue. Rodney Harmon was the head of the United States Men’s Tennis Association at the time, and he personally scouted my game and granted me the opportunity to live at USTA. The opportunity Rodney gave me was life changing, and I really appreciate him for that.

Jay Berger eventually took over during my stay at the USTA, and I appreciate him for keeping me at USTA and believing in me as a player. Hugo Armondo, Mike Sell, and David DiLucia worked with me during my time at the academy. All of these coaches immensely improved my game on the court and were extremely positive inlfuences in my life.

These 3 coaches definitley helped shape my personality and how I perceive the world today. Hugo helped me get better on the court simply because we have the exact same gamestyle.

Hugo taught me numerous patterns to use that would help me get more looks at forehands. David is very structured, does everything with a purpose, and always seems to laugh, smile, and be happy all of the time. I’m not quite as good as David in these areas, but these areas of his personality definatley rubbed off on me.

Mike Sell was kind of like my family member away from home. He believed in me as much if not more than anyone else; he put tons of extra time and effort into me, and he was always tough on me if I was not doing the right thing. He always seemed to have an eye on me to make sure I was getting the most out of myself every single moment of the day.

On top of his emotional investment in me, he is a really good coach. Mike is one of the handful of people that I’ll always be very close with.

After the USTA, I attended the University of Georgia where I spent 4 great years. I finished as high as 15 in the country and was a one time All-American. I learned countless life lessons and ultimately learned how to be a more responsible adult. Manny Diaz and Will Glenn are great coaches and people.

The University of Georgia is such a special place because it has a family feel to it. It is the Georgia Tennis Family experience that has made me love UGA. Manny, Will, and the UGA Staff always cared about me as a person first and as a player second.

Regardless of my successes or failures in tennis or school; regardless of personal issues outside of tennis and school; regardless of me making bad decsions that everyone knew that I would later on regret, the UGA tennis family was always there for me.

I appreciate all UGA has done for me, I appreciate all USTA has done for me, and I appreciate everyone that has helped me before UGA and USTA days because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for them.

Lastly and most importantly, I have to give my mom my biggest thanks for giving up everything for me to play tennis and giving me one of the most fun childhoods a kid could ask for.

We didn’t have a lot of money, but I got to do as a child what most people would love to do every moment of the day: I got to do what I loved. To top it off, I got to spend an enormous amount of time with the people I love most in my mom and sister.


My sister and I were homeschooled by my mom since 9 years old, so we probably spent more time together than another family would with their kids. I’m now moving onto the next chapter of my life and pursuing my dream of becoming a top 50 ranked professional tennis player and couldn’t be happier and more excited to take on the challenge.

I am extremely grateful to have a fair opportunity at chasing my dream, and I have everyone who has helped me along this journey to thank because I wouldn’t not be here if it weren’t for them.

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