by Rick Vach, ustaflorida.com
Tom Killean was the first player earlier this month to officially enter the US Open National Playoffs-Florida Section Qualifying Tournament, the first-time event that allows any male or female 14 years or older the chance to earn a spot in the US Open qualifying in Flushing Meadows, NY, prior to the US Open.
"I am a little surprised about being the first entry," said the resident of Holiday, Fla. (just north of Tampa). "I thought Nick [Bollettieri] would have his kids lined up at breakfast!"
The 46-year-old lead singer of a rock band -- Killean's Row -- Killean will be one of the more unique competitors gracing the tournament at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton on May 29-June 4, 2010. If not for his rock star status, then for the ambitious goal he has been chasing over the last year and a half -- to raise his level of play from recreation level to that of a pro-level player.CLICK HERE TO SEE THE CURRENT LIST OF ENTRIES
"I became addicted to tennis again," says Killean, who started playing tennis at the age of 14, but only recently picked up the game seriously in an effort to get in shape, for both tennis and his music craft. "I've always looked at age bias in sports as an incredible opportunity -- and tennis being the democracy that it is, my idea of a more perfect union is being the first 40-something in history to join the [pro] tour. The last year and a half has been about training for that assault on the mountain."
A well-spoken individual and a deep thinker, Killean has been sharing his cerebral insights on his training regimen with his fans, blogging his tennis experiences on his band website.
"For those of you new here we've been discussing modalities for accelerated development in sports and musical training in this blog for well over a year now," Killean writes. "Last year a group of us banded together and became the rebellious bastards with the idea of exploring how sports and musical training might reinforce and accelerate each other. One of the goals several of us chose was getting to 5.0 NTRP level play in tennis in the shortest time possible. My own experience, to say the least -- has been one wild ride. One full of surprises."
Killean originally started on the path to breaking the pro tennis barrier after his band was asked to do a reality TV show.
"It got serious about two years ago," Killean says. "My band was approached with this crazy reality show idea that had a combined Battle of the Bands/triathlon-type competition built in. I jokingly said I'd be on it in a heartbeat if tennis was involved and someone blinked. We actually started training! The thing never got off the ground. Apparently the networks were choking on the reality shows they already had. About half of them were canceled."
By this point he had been bitten by the tennis bug, and wondered just how good he could get, and how fast could he could do it.
"Realistically we realized the competition requires getting to 5.0 level play," he said. "That's the starting gate. I wanted to employ every accelerated learning and training technique I could find. Also, it's not so strange to posit that athletic training might make you a better musician and vice versa. We've been blogging about that journey on the band site (www.myspace.com/killeansrow
) for over a year now...Three months ago we finally started closing the gap to 5.0."
Killean also blogs about the bias he has come across regarding being an older competitor in a younger man's (generally 30 and under in the pros) game.
"Age bias rears its ugly head in every field of competition...older athletes trying to break through to pro levels put up with a lot more crap," Killean writes. "You have to bring more game and get more results before people are willing to recognize that you're not just another middle-age yahoo working through some kind of mid-life crisis. It's tough. But so is the competition. So get over it."
Far from taking a human backboard approach to tennis, Killean has honed a power game built around hitting players off the court, and seeking out the best coaching in his area.
"My own climb up the skill ladder in pursuit of the power game is at that stage where I can power past players pretty reliably," he writes. "Serves and strokes regularly producing clouds of green fuzz and easy points...The DIY [Do It Yourself] ideas we had about getting to NTRP 5.0-level play in a year went out the window. Coaching has been essential. I'm now seeking input from no less than five individuals ranging from a prior state champ up through ATP tour alumni and a current tour coach...Now back to that age bias. So you get to a level of play where, as a junior you'd be getting looked over by [USTA] talent development, but as a 30-something, well -- nobody cares (actually a 40-something everyone thinks is a 30-something -- spare yourself the extra grief and don't tell them!). That's one of the things that makes climbing this kind of mountain so much fun. Might you be the first dinosaur to join the tour? Unlike real mountain climbing, screw-ups won't get you killed. What's not to like?"
One side effect to his tennis training regimen is feeling like a 30-year-old for a man in his 40s.
"In the last two months, work-outs have gone from being onerous to being an addiction, and tennis has become a passion as all-consuming as music," he blogs. "The closer you get to attaining a higher level of skill in the game the more intense the desire to play better becomes. I believe that desire coupled with diet and exercise are literally turning back the clock of aging."
His blog, in the meanwhile, has become an intellectual playland for ruminating on the complexities of the game.
While the average player may blog, 'How is this pusher beating me?' Tom Killian blogs, "The mechanism I'm invoking here neatly explains many seemingly inexplicable fluctuations that plague players as they transition between skill levels. Why does it feel as if you're being sucked down a hole when you come up against a player that plays great percentage tennis at an average pace half your own? There can only be one dominant neuromuscular set point between two players. You're wading through their neuromuscular vat of molasses. You can either reset the tone or lose badly. It's not nearly as much about stroke technique as most think. There are more conventional explanations but most of them don't tell you how to change outcomes in a couple of weeks. I'm telling you. That ball you're crushing is your means of communication. You'll know you're hardcore DIY if your performance levels jump into the stratosphere as you start shutting down erroneous external inputs via your own neuromuscular control mechanisms."
Tom Killean will bring his intellectual bent, rockin' power game and positive attitude to the US Open National Playoffs-Florida in late May, and sees it as the perfect launching point for his dream of playing the pro tour.
"It fits in perfectly with all the goals that are on the board now," he says of the US Open National Playoffs-Florida. "It's outstanding for the players and the sport...The standard route [to the pros] requires getting out and playing probably 20-plus tournaments and doing well for a good season and ranking. It's a great opportunity to make some noise right out of the gate."
The entry deadline is May 19, 2010, for the US Open National Playoffs-Florida, to be held May 29-June 4, 2010, at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Click here
to see the original event press release, or click here
to see who has entered and to visit the tournament website.