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Florida Junior Perez Illustrates U.S. 10 and Under Tennis Success -- via Cuba

September 16, 2011 10:45 AM
perez-alfredo-leaning-netOver the last few years the USTA has been rolling out 10 and Under Tennis, catching up with other countries that for years have been using smaller racquets, nets, court sizes and lower-bouncing, more-controllable balls to introduce children to the game.

For tennis coach Robert Gomez, the operations supervisor for the Kerdyk Biltmore & Salvadore Park tennis centers in Coral Gables, located just outside of Miami, the significance of starting children with the proper-sized equipment hit home when he first met then-9-year-old Alfredo Perez.

"Alfredo came to us at Salvadore Park in the summer of 2007," said Gomez of Perez, who had recently relocated from Cuba with family. "His father explained to me that it was the first time Alfredo had hit with a regular tennis ball."

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT 10 AND UNDER TENNIS

Perez and his father approached Gomez after being referred by Cindy Johnson, a local USTA Jr. Team Tennis coordinator, after the 9 year old went to a team tennis event at a local YMCA.

"I noticed right away how well-rounded his skills were," Gomez said. "Good two-handed drive, one-handed slice, one-handed backhand volley, etc. In Cuba he played with low-compression balls, which they use until the age of 10. I was shocked because we literally had just opened new balls for that camp, and older players sometimes have trouble controlling new balls."

Moving up to "real" balls or "adult" balls had never been an issue for Perez. In Cuba he says all children at all levels, beginner to advanced, in 10-and-under play use low-compression balls to learn control and consistency.

"Until I was nine I used a smaller racquet," Perez said. "Until you are 10 years old [in Cuba], you cannot change balls, you use the small balls, the yellow and orange balls. That's for all children in Cuba."

Watching Perez you see an all-court game, a player not afraid to come to the net and end points.

"It was really easy to learn to volley," said Perez of the kid-scaled equipment used in Cuba's version of 10 and Under Tennis. "The ball is not that hard and does not come that fast. It really helped with my control and timing. I just needed to adjust a little bit to the hard ball [after age 10], but it was pretty easy."

Now 14 years old, Perez is ranking No. 5 in Florida in the Boys' 14 rankings, and No. 13 nationally as of September. As the USTA continues to roll out 10 and Under Tennis across the U.S. in an effort to create a larger pool of children playing, and therefore a larger potential to develop high-level players and stop the exodus of kids to other sports, Gomez says it's ironic that a child from Cuba brought the point home for him.

"It's funny how I met Alfredo as a nine year old, he attended a Jr. Team Tennis rally at the YMCA, and the coordinator realized that he was a gifted kid that needed to be in a developmental program. It goes to show you that you never know where or when someone is going to pop up.

"He is really developing into a good national player. If Alfredo stays hungry, humble and his maturity continues to improve, we may see him representing the U.S. in some international competitions one day. While I think he is a great athlete and talented, I really do feel that using age- and level-specific equipment like low-compression balls, etc., has allowed him to develop his game more fully when he was younger."

The 14-year-old is a microcosm of the American dream, and whether he goes on to play pro or college tennis, or just enjoys a lifetime of USTA League tennis, Gomez says that Perez represents what 10 and Under Tennis hopes to accomplish in the U.S.

"Coming from a communist country, Alfredo had to overcome a lot -- language, culture, mind-set, etc.," Gomez said. "Tennis has given him a chance to be on an even playing field, and I think this has helped him adapt in a healthy way, which will stay with him for the rest of his life."

 
 

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