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Countdown: Amritraj Oversees USTA's College Commitment
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As the Director of Collegiate Tennis for the USTA, Stephen Amritraj is committed to raising the profile of and appreciation for college tennis in this country. His focus is not just on juniors who aspire to play at the next level, but on creating community connections and fan bases for the hundreds of collegiate teams, from junior colleges to Division I.

Stephen Amritraj is the USTA's Director of Collegiate Tennis
© Zoo Tennis
Amritraj is a product of one of those Division I teams, having played at Duke from 2002-2006. After playing briefly on the tour, the 32-year-old began coaching ATP professionals in Southern California, where he grew up. In 2013, Amritraj served as a volunteer assistant at Duke before returning to the Los Angeles area in 2014 to begin his USTA career at the Player Development Center in Carson. Named National Collegiate coach later that year, Amritraj expanded his role and now leads the USTA's Collegiate Division.

In a visit last month to the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, I spoke with Amritraj about the new facility, the USTA's commitment to college tennis, the current Division I team season, the continued expansion of the Collegiate Pro Circuit Series and many other topics.

 

Questions and Answers

Colette Lewis (CL): What impact has the new USTA National Campus had on college tennis in these early days?

Stephen Amritraj (SA): I think it's had an incredible impact. It's the first off-campus collegiate venue in the world, built specifically for college tennis. It shows the importance that was placed on college tennis in the creation of the campus and shows the opportunity we also have on the campuses.

We're actually going to have more college matches here than any other place in the world - we're having 300 spring break tennis matches. It's mostly lower D-I, D-II, D-III, NAIA, Juco and then we obviously have UCF playing all their home matches here, men and women. We're going to have the American Conference Championships here. And then we have our College Match Day series, our six bowl games that we're bringing in marquee, big-name schools for. It's on a Friday night, which is an awesome time, and we've drawn really well so far.

I feel like we're trying to create a culture of passion and love for college tennis here.

 

The USTA Collegiate Center at Lake Nona looks impressive
© Zoo Tennis
CL: What do you consider the rationale for an increased emphasis on college tennis by the USTA?

SA: I can't pinpoint the exact reason. I think Erica Perkins and Dustin Taylor, who were kind of in a quasi-similar role as mine before me, did an unbelievable job always being there for collegiate players. So I think we always had some level of support. But honestly, with the demographic changes in the game, and with the fact that it's becoming more physical, it's becoming an older sport, and it's a $75,000 commitment per year if you turn pro, when you add up the economics and the ages, it's not cheap. So we have a [collegiate] system here that does a great job in helping the development of players.

The way I look at it, everyone has a window of opportunity for when they turn pro. There are no bottomless pockets and if there are, yes, chase the dream for as long as you want. But to do it right, it's roughly 75 grand a year. If you're going to turn pro at 18, and it's four years to make Top 100, that's a lot of money. The guys and girls in school now are getting great training, are getting an education and a chance to come back an finish their education, they're getting the ability to play Pro Circuit events, have a traveling team in the summer. There's an increasing number of Pro Circuit events every year, so, I don't know, I think it's a pretty good time to go to college.

I think a lot of things are starting to fall into place and we're starting to understand the leverage we have through the system, and I think there's going to be a lot of success going forward.

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