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Roddick Family, Others Reflect on USTA Florida Bobby Curtis Retirement

November 4, 2009 06:00 PM
From pre-computer years, Curtis raised Florida junior tennis to a higher standard

 

 Bobby Curtis (right) and Andy Roddick

By Rick Vach, ustaflorida.com

Before the days of TennisLink, the internet and the wide-spread use of computers, there was Bobby Curtis -- dealing with the families of Florida juniors such as the Evert children and Mary Joe Fernandez, Andy Roddick and Jim Courier, submitting hand-written entries for their national USTA junior events.

Prior to computer registration for tournaments and computer rankings, Curtis was the "endorser" for junior tennis in Florida. He was responsible for submitting to the national tournament directors (sometimes cajoling and sweet-talking them in the process) the eligible Florida juniors that would compete in the USTA National Championships at Kalamazoo and other high-profile events.

"In those days before computers you got a package of entry forms from the national tournaments, and each [USTA] section had an endorser, and that was done by volunteers for many years," Curtis said. "They would send the package and the endorser would distribute them to the high-ranked players and they would return them with their checks and everything and the endorser would sign them on the bottom. If they weren't signed by an endorser, the kid wouldn't get in or even be considered for the tournament."

The years spent at tournaments, on the phone with families or simply giving encouragement to juniors formed a strong bond between Curtis and Florida's junior tennis community prior to coming on board with USTA Florida in 1980.

Blanche Roddick, Andy's mother who directs the Andy Roddick Foundation, pulls no punches in describing the early days of her son's career when she says junior tennis was organized differently from section to section across the country.

"Bobby is the best," Blanche Roddick told USTA Florida. "Traveling throughout the States, I often reflected how lucky Florida was to have Bobby directing our junior tennis. I never could relate to the horror stories coming from the other sections. Why was this? Very simple -- fairness and consistency. I remember moving to Florida, and Bobby helped me do everything to register Andy as a Florida player and to start playing the right tournaments to achieve a ranking. Yes Bobby, I did leave Delray Beach at five in the morning to play a tournament somewhere near Kendall. Andy would write Bobby a thank you note for the great year of tennis after each ranking year."

The Roddicks were only one of the tennis families, at all levels, that Curtis became close to.

"When I was doing the endorsing and dealing with all the high-ranked junior players, I was involved with the Everts, not Chrissie but the younger Everts, John and Clare," Curtis said. "Andy [Roddick] came out and [Jim] Courier and Mary Joe [Fernandez], [Mardy] Fish and [Vince] Spadea, the ones that are known now. I dealt with their families, setting up the designated tournaments."

Upon hearing of Curtis' upcoming retirement in December at the USTA Florida Annual Meeting & Anniversary Weekend, where USTA Florida will celebrate its 60th year and the 30 years of service by Curtis, Andy Roddick commented on the man who always made it a point to make an appearance at Roddick's Foundation Gala when it was held in Florida. One year Curtis had fun with the former Florida junior stand-out, making Roddick blush by presenting him with a girl's 12-and-under trophy after an exhibition match.

"Whatever Bobby was getting paid, it was not enough," Andy Roddick told USTA Florida. "His countless hours of pure love for the sport was a take-away memory for me from my junior days when I played in Florida."

Not all of today's ATP and WTA tour stars from Florida were top-ranked juniors, and regardless of their ranking, Curtis did his best to sway national tournament directors into giving wildcard entries for the lower-ranked players.

"I dealt with the families all the time, and especially the ones who didn't quite get in [to the big national events], because then you're trying to push the tournament to take these kids [as wildcards]," Curtis said. "So you're building relationships with the families and the tournament directors, who had a little leeway. It was a 128 draw, and the quota they had to take was 102, so they had 26 more spots to fill, and they were looking for the strongest players."

"Bobby remains one of the most instrumental people
in my career. He was always there for me and my family,
guiding us through the inner workings of junior tennis
in the state of Florida. Bobby's smile, generosity, and
dedication to children and tennis is unmatched."

-- Mary Joe Fernandez, Miami native and U.S. Fed Cup captain



Florida and California took precedent in regard to reputation back in the years when the rankings were not as highly-regarded as they are today.

"They had the national ranking, but the national ranking wasn't looked at as close as it is now because it wasn't computerized," Curtis said. "So they'd be looking for a few extra Southern California players and a few extra Florida players, and I'd keep buggin' them, and you're dealing with the parents at the same time, so you become pretty friendly with them."

Especially when a lower-ranked Florida junior received one of the final wildcards.

"Especially if you get one in, then everybody dances," laughed Curtis.

Mary Joe Fernandez hailed from the Miami area, where Curtis first worked with the Florida Youth Tennis Foundation. In 1980 he was hired as the first junior coordinator for USTA Florida, then known as the Florida Tennis Association.

"Bobby remains one of the most instrumental people in my career," Fernandez told USTA Florida. "He was always there for me and my family, guiding us through the inner workings of junior tennis in the state of Florida. Bobby's smile, generosity, and dedication to children and tennis is unmatched."

Ken Meyerson, Roddick's agent and president of Lagardere Unlimited, was also a junior tennis player growing up in South Florida (albeit self-described as somewhat less proficient than his client). In his junior playing days he got a first-hand look at Curtis introducing less-advantaged children to tennis in South Florida.

"I was a terrible tennis player," said Meyerson, known as the "Super Agent" for his rise to representing many of the top names in professional tennis. "I am so lucky to still be a part of this [tennis] world. His love for the game certainly transcends any particular socio-economic demographic, and it makes Bobby truly one of a kind."

 

Bobby Curtis and USTA Florida
Competitive Education Coordinator
Ann Brown

CHANGING FLORIDA JUNIOR TENNIS

In the 1970s and into the 1980s, junior league tennis in Florida was a disarray of events run locally and regionally, organized completely by volunteers. Today juniors, from beginner to advanced skill levels, can compete together in USTA Jr. Team Tennis leagues, but when Curtis joined USTA Florida as the first full-time employee, one of his missions decreed by the Board of Directors was to assess and bring Florida junior tennis into alignment.

"You have to remember that back then there was really only competitive [pro] tennis, the Davis Cup and the US Open and such, and that was it," Curtis said. "No junior leagues, no adult leagues, this was even before the first USTA Michelob Adult League was formed. But it was getting busy and the tennis boom was going on, and the junior [tennis] world was just too busy for all the volunteers to keep up so the Florida Tennis Association talked about having a junior coordinator, because the Youth Tennis Foundation had a coordinator. They created the job and offered it to me. I was the first employee, they had no employees then. The secretary then was only a semi-volunteer, she worked out of her house."

Curtis also worked out of his house in the early days before USTA Florida eventually established its first offices, first in South Florida, then constructing the expansive 24-court Florida Tennis Center in Daytona Beach. Curtis traveled around Florida to the major cities and established clubs to see what the teaching pros were doing in regard to junior tennis. What he found were a variety of programs in all shapes and sizes.

"It really opened my eyes as to what kind of team tennis people were having with the juniors," Curtis said. "In Orlando there was a pharmaceutical salesman who went around to the clubs, and he would organize teams to play against each other. No matter if they were boys or girls, they would just line them up against each other [according to skill level] and they would play. Didn't matter what the age level was, it was just kind of an interesting thing. But there were different things like that all around the state, and they were outside of organized tennis and events. So we began to realize that the tennis boom had really brought some different things out. The tennis world really began to change."

It was the early 1980s, when Americans Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were engaging in their rivalry on the women's side, and Americans John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were exchanging Grand Slam titles with Bjorn Borg, who needed a bodyguard to hold his female followers at bay. Tennis' popularity was booming in the U.S. and especially in Florida, and Curtis was capitalizing on the upward trend by unifying junior tennis.

Curtis first brought the disparate groups together by creating a junior team championship in Lakeland, Fla., the event that is known today as the USTA Florida Jr. Team Tennis Summer Sectional Tournament, where the winning teams advance to the USTA Jr. Team Tennis Nationals in Mobile, Ala.

The philosophy of the first Florida junior team championship was all-inclusive.

"We created Lakeland and said 'Just bring your teams,'" Curtis said. "We didn't care what format they were using [locally], we said 'Just bring a team,' and that's how we got it started."

The junior team tennis concept grew and was organized into a consistent format, eventually coming to the attention of USTA national, which adopted the league and branded it "USTA Jr. Team Tennis." USTA Jr. Team Tennis now has approximately 100,000 participants, operating in all 17 USTA sections across the U.S., one of Bobby Curtis' many junior tennis legacies.

###

Bobby Curtis will be honored in a ceremony on Sunday morning, Dec. 6, 2009 for his 30 years of service to USTA Florida during the USTA Florida 60th Annual Meeting & Anniversary Celebration Weekend, "Celebrating 60 Years of Love & 30 Years of Dedication," at the Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort.

For info on the annual meeting click here.
For media requests regarding the annual meeting or Bobby Curtis celebration, click here.

 

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