AN INTERVIEW WITH USTA STAFF MEMBER BILL OZAKI
Bill Ozaki, the former Director of High Performance Programs and Development for USTA Southern, has taken on the newly created position for the USTA called Senior Director of Junior and Collegiate Competition. Ozaki’s new role is part of the recently completed changes in USTA Player Development and will focus on the structure and pathway for competitive junior and collegiate players. He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge in helping junior players reach their maximum potential including successful college careers and beyond. He has worked extensively as a coach as well as an administrator at both staff and volunteer levels always dedicated to the area of Player Development. Atlanta Tennis magazine recently caught up with Bill during the U.S. Open.
Atlanta Tennis: In your new position, you direct the Junior and Collegiate Competition and Training Department. Can you share with us the new programs you're implementing and some of the changes we can see from the USTA?
Bill Ozaki: The newest program is the USTA Competitive Collegiate Educational Clinics (CCEC’s) that will take place on college campuses. In coordination with NCAA regulations, the CCEC’s will allow prospective student athletes to participate in clinics that are operated by college coaches and under the auspices of the USTA. The CCEC’s are an extension of the Competition Training Centers (CTC’s) that are in place for 10 to 14 year olds. The CCEC’s are open to the graduates of CTC’s as well as tournament and high school players from that geographic area. We hope to implement doubles enhancements for junior players beginning in 2007-2008. Part of this initiative will be a combined ranking that gives players credit for singles and doubles results in a singular ranking. We sponsor a summer collegiate team to help college players compete in pro circuit events. Ga Tech coach Bryan Shelton coaches the women’s summer team for us this year and UGA’s John Isner was a standout on the men’s summer team. In 2007, the teams that represent the United States at the Pan Am Games and the World University Games will be selected from American collegiate players.
AT: The talk of the summer, especially around the French Open and Wimbledon, has been the fact there are no signs of up and coming American junior tennis players. How does the USTA respond to this?
Ozaki: Our top American junior, Donald Young, from Atlanta, has been combining professional events with Grand Slam junior events. Donald recently won the singles and doubles at the USTA National Championships, earning a wild card into the main draw of the US Open Men’s event. Sam Querry, whom Donald defeated in 2005 at the USTA National Championships, recently won the first set in a match with Rafael Nadal. Vania King, finalist at the 2005 USTA National Championships, broke into the top 100 on the WTA tour earlier this year and continues to improve. Alexa Glatch, who defeated Vania at the 2005 USTA Nationals, is back playing after recovering from a broken arm. Another Atlantan, Scoville Jenkins, won his first professional event this year and continues to improve with every professional match he plays.
AT: Who do you see as the next generation of stars?
Ozaki: Interestingly, there are number of Southern and Georgia players who are making good progress. Melanie Oudin, from Atlanta, defeated number one seed Mary Gambale, at the 2006 USTA National Championships. Mary is already ranked in the 300’s on the WTA computer as well. Melanie will be 15 later this year. Mallory Burdette, from Jackson, GA, won the USTA Girls 18 Clay Court Championships as a 15 year old and with her Stanford bound sister, Lindsay, won the USTA Girls 18 National Championships in doubles, thus earning themselves a wild card into the main draw of the US Open Women’s Championships. Jamie Hampton, also 15 from Auburn, AL, who trains with Jason Parker in Atlanta, won a clay court qualifier we held earlier this year over the top juniors in the country earning a wild card into the qualifier of the French Open Women’s Championships. Jarmere Jenkins, from Atlanta, reached the quarterfinals of the USTA Boys 18 Clay Courts and the USTA Boys 16 National Championships. Jarmere will be competing in the US Open Junior Championships. Whitney Kay, 13, and Grace Min, 12, both from Atlanta, had excellent results at the USTA Girls 14 National Championships with Min reaching the finals of the doubles and finishing fourth in singles. Earlier this year Whitney won the USTA Girls 12 Spring Nationals.
AT: I see you'll be on the move again with the announcement that the USTA formed an alliance with the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Florida. Can you give us some insight how this alliance will help develop the next generation of American tennis champions?
Ozaki: The USTA has never housed and trained any players on a full time basis until now. However, that has been the norm with many other countries that have significantly increased their numbers of players in the top 100 of the professional tours. While the number of players will not be a large number of players, we plan to provide high level coaching and training for those promising American players who have a need for our support as they strive to reach the highest levels of professional tennis and represent our country at Davis, Fed Cup and the Grand Slams.
AT: Injuries, and in some cases interest in other projects, have sidetracked the recent careers of several American players, including Andy Roddick, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport. If they were all 100% healthy and committed to the game, do you think we'd still hear the talk about the lack of American tennis players?
Ozaki: If Serena, Venus and Lindsay are healthy, I don’t think there is any doubt that all three would be firmly entrenched in the top 10 if not the top 5 in the world. Watching Andy Roddick at the US Open adding numerous approaches to the net to go along with his 140 mph serve, was great. That combination could take him back to the top of men’s tennis.
AT: How is the USTA addressing the competition tennis faces in attracting kids from other sports and non-sports? Do you think we make playing the sport of tennis and competing too difficult?
Ozaki: I will answer this question with a question. What other youth sports require children to play on the same size court using the same ball as professionals in their respective sport? As far as I know the answer is none. The USTA, working in partnership with the Professional Tennis Registry, the United States Professional Tennis Association and the major tennis manufacturers, are in the final phases of the development of the 36’ and 60’ program which will be adaptable to various spaces. A set of standardized foam and low compression tennis balls will also be available. We will have an “institutionalized” method and products that will enable young children (pre-k and up) to enjoy tennis in a team setting with parental involvement just as they enjoy other teams sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball, etc.
AT: What message would you like to get to parents about the importance of getting their kids involved in tennis?
Ozaki: While tennis is truly the sport for a lifetime as even I still play, albeit slowly, I have observed thousands of kids grow from their experiences in tennis to become great parents and leaders. The independence and sense of self worth fostered by tennis is great life training for children. They have to learn to make decisions themselves, at times under competitive duress, and they have to make fair and just decisions (making their own line calls, using strategy). If they are fortunate enough to play high school and collegiate tennis, the friendships they make can be life long. Because so few will succeed on the professional tour as is the case in any sport, I felt it was important to note that for each player who does make it on the tour, there are thousands and thousands of players, who go on to be great parents and leaders in business. Childhood obesity continues to be a major health topic for children in our country with the percentages reaching higher levels each year. When considering an article on this topic recently, I thought about how many players I coached who were obese and also how many junior tennis players, in general, are obese. There are none! Tennis is a fun way for children to burn calories during not only competition, but especially during training. In addition, when children are training with their parents or under a certified, knowledgeable coach, they are at an enjoyment level that is unbelievable at times. And, tennis can be enjoyed and used to maintain personal fitness for a long, long time.
AT: You taught tennis for 16 years and then worked for USTA Southern for another sixteen years. How did you adjust to leaving Atlanta after so many years and relocating to Florida?
Ozaki: A week after we arrived in Florida, one of the major storms knocked power out for ten days! While the office had a generator and we were able to work, we had to survive on Chicken Kitchen and Chief’s Sushi (local places) as those were the only restaurants open during that time. From the junior side, I still have frequent contact with friends and former colleagues at USTA Southern. At times, we miss the seasonal weather in Atlanta as it is very warm all the time in south Florida. The easiest part of the move was that, just as I was fortunate to have in Atlanta, I work with an outstanding group of dedicated professionals here in Miami.
AT: What do you miss most about living full time in Atlanta?
Ozaki: Our first grandchild Owen and his parents live in Atlanta and we miss seeing them regularly. Our son Dale is completing studies at the University of Georgia and we miss seeing him as well. And I miss the Monday night tennis with the guys at the Racquet Club of the South. But I’m getting pretty old Matt, hence the “senior” in my title, so it may not be that long before you see me again!