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Where Are They Now?
Denver Graduate Henry Craig Begins Pro Career
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Unlike most Southern California juniors, Henry Craig went east to play college tennis, although not to the other coast, landing instead at the University of Denver after an excellent junior career.

Former Denver standout Henry Craig
© Zoo Tennis
A blue chip recruit ranked as high as No. 7 in his 2012 class by the Tennis Recruiting Network, Craig reached Kalamazoo's 18s doubles final in 2013 after his freshman season at Denver. When he returned for his sophomore year, Craig took over at line 1, where spent the rest of his career for the Pioneers.

The 22-year-old native of Murrieta California was a two-time Summit League Player of the Year and a member of the League's All-Academic team as a senior. He participated in the NCAA Division I individual tournament in both 2015 and 2016.

After graduating in December with a degree in business and a minor in real estate, Craig decided to set aside his entrepreneurial ambitions to pursue professional tennis. He qualified for Southern California's second Futures of 2017 in January, reaching the quarterfinals, and last month won the Men's Open in Ojai, beating top seed and ATP No. 341 Philip Bester of Canada in the final.

I spoke with Craig in Ojai, and we discussed how he has handled the transition from college to pro tennis, what he learned from playing college tennis, his memories of Ojai, the benefits and challenges of being on his own, and his goals beyond tennis.

 

Questions and Answers

Colette Lewis (CL): How have the first three or four months of your professional career gone?

Henry Craig (HC): I've made a few Futures, a few men's opens, had some good success. I've made quarterfinals in the main draw of a Futures, that's pretty good; won a few men's opens, so it's going well, and I'm getting better every week, and that's the key.

 

Craig has been playing Futures and Men's Opens
© Zoo Tennis
CL: How do you get better while you're competing?

HC: Sometimes it's hard to find the time to train. I've been playing for six weeks straight, so it's been hard. I think you get better during the matches, but it's hard to work on individual things, so you just kind of have to self-coach. I coach myself now, so when I play, and something's not working, then when I go back home and I train, I'll work on that. But I have to be conscious of what I'm not doing well and also what I am doing well.

 

CL: Do you find it tough not to have a coach with you?

HC: I've always had someone with me [in the past], but I don't know, it's kind of a nice change. Since I coach myself, I'm always thinking of ways to get better, so no, I don't mind it. I've been staying with people - I'm getting housing here - and meeting a lot of people. I see friends around the tournaments, so that helps.

 

CL: How do you decide on a schedule in these early stages?

HC: I want to play a nice mix of Futures and men's opens, because the Futures don't pay anything, and the men's opens can pay a lot; you can win a couple thousand here and there to sustain traveling, so that's definitely a big part of it for sure.

 

CL: Now that you have a degree, does that help you, knowing you have a Plan B?

HC: That's a huge thing. If you just go pro right away and then you don't make it - and there's a really large chance you don't make it - then you have nothing to fall back on and you just end up being a tennis coach for the rest of your life. I wanted to have something to fall back on, have my own business, if it doesn't work out. I'm definitely more comfortable with that now, having that in the background.

 

CL: Did you move back home after graduation?

HC: Yeah, moved back home. Well, Murrieta is my home, but now I'm in Pacific Beach, living by myself to focus on training. I train all day, make my own meals, train with all the local guys in San Diego, the best guys I can find, just trying to keep my progress up.
 

CL: What do you remember about your previous participation in Ojai?

HC: I was 13 or 14; I lost early. I wasn't that great when I was young, but I made a jump as I got older. But I remember coming to Libbey Park and watching Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher of Stanford playing and I remember thinking just how good they were. And now I'm playing here and winning this, so it's incredible.

 

CL: What was the most important thing you learned from college tennis?

HC: Boy, that's tough. I guess being mentally ready for every match. Because if you're not ready to go in college, your coach is going to rip into you. Every match in college is hard, it's not like a first or second round, it's like you're playing a final every single match. So if you're not ready to go, then you're going to lose.

Now that I'm playing pros, once you get to a certain level, it's kind of the same effect, where everyone is so good that you have to be ready. In the juniors, you play a few rounds and those are your warmup rounds, but there's no warmup here anymore. So I think that's the biggest thing I learned: be ready from point one.

 

CL: What are your goals going forward?

HC: Just to get better every week. As long as I feel I'm improving, then it's a success every week. It doesn't matter if you win or you lose, it's all about your average level of play. So if you're getting better every week, eventually you're going to have the results you want, just working hard. I've been seeing that too. I've been working hard and playing so much better than I had been.

 

Craig graduated in December with a business degree
© Zoo Tennis
CL: Is there a specific shot that you've improved?

HC: I'm just focusing on hitting a lot bigger, more aggressive, coming to net. So every match I play, it's trying to be aggressive. My forehand has always been really good, and now the serve is there, but my backhand needs to become a weapon in order for me to make another jump. It's just solid, not really a weapon, and you've got to have a lot of weapons in the pros; these guys can hit everything.

 

CL: So if you can make enough at opens to fund yourself can you see yourself doing this indefinitely?

HC: No, I want to do it fast. I want to improve fast, win, have success. I'll give it a shot for at least a year, see where I'm at, and I expect of myself to win a lot. If I'm losing, and I don't have any results and it's been a year, I'm not going to stick around. Maybe a year and a half, two years, I don't know exactly, but if after two years I'm still [ATP] 500, I'm done.

I'm going into business, I already have other stuff lined up. I want to start my own company; I've already written the business plan. With or without tennis I'm going to do that. It will happen for sure, it just depends on when. If I'm done with tennis, I'll get a job in that area for one or two years to get some experience, then start my company quickly after that. That's my plan.

 
 

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About Colette Lewis

Colette Lewis has covered topflight U.S. and international junior events as a freelance journalist for over a decade. Her work has appeared in Tennis magazine, the Tennis Championships magazine and the US Open program, and she provides monthly content for USTA Florida. Lewis is active on Twitter, and she writes a weekly column right here at TennisRecruiting.net. She was named Junior Tennis Champion for 2016 by Tennis Industry Magazine.

Lewis, based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, has seen every National Championship final played since 1977, and her work on the tournament's ustaboys.com website led her to establish ZooTennis, where she comments on junior and college tennis daily.

 
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