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Colette Lewis on Junior and College Tennis

Junior and college tennis is a passion for many people, but perhaps none more so than Colette Lewis.

Lewis, who blogs about amateur tennis at ZooTennis.com and is a weekly contributor right here at TennisRecruiting.net, has carved out a niche as a freelance journalist covering topflight U.S. and international events at the junior and college level. She also offers commentary and analysis of the sport.

Her work has earned her contracts with such organizations as the Tennis Channel, USTA Florida and the Junior Orange Bowl, as well as TENNIS, SMASH, USTA and Racquet Sports Industry magazines. Lewis also contributes to the the New York Times' tennis blog Straight Sets.

On this, the fifth year of ZooTennis.com, we moved Lewis to the other side of the microphone - getting her take on all things tennis.


Questions and Answers

TennisRecruiting.net (TR.net): Since you are based in Kalamazoo, I have a pretty good idea about how you first got involved with junior tennis. But can you give us a brief history of how you got started? The genesis of ZooTennis.com?

Colette Lewis (CL): Growing up in Kalamazoo, I have had the chance to attend the Nationals here since my teenage years, so my interest in junior tennis dates back to the tennis boom of the '70s. In the subsequent decades I developed an interest in trying to determine who might go on to be the next Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe or Pete Sampras. The day after I retired from my job in banking in 2000, I signed on as a tournament volunteer, and was assigned to the website committee. Few tournaments had websites at the time, so it was an opportunity to explore emerging technology and use the journalism training I received in college.

After writing and photographing for the ustaboys.com website for several years, I requested a media credential for the U.S. Open Junior Championships in 2004. That experience convinced me that I could and should write about junior tennis year-round, not just during August.

Unable to find much in the way of freelance work, I decided that a blog was the best way to showcase my writing and my knowledge, and in January of 2005, I secured my domain name (I wanted tenniszoo, but it was taken) and began to write daily about junior tennis.

In May of that year, I went to my first NCAA championship in College Station, Tex., where UCLA came from 3-1 down to defeat defending champion Baylor for the title, and I was hooked on college tennis. [Editor's note: For a blast from the past, you can read Colette's account of that match here.] I began covering college tennis more regularly, and with the founding of the Tennis Recruiting Network a few months later, the synergy between the juniors and college became even clearer.


TR.net: You have been to more amateur tennis events - USTA supernationals, ITF, Junior Slams, college events - than anyone I know. I would imagine that you have had some unique experiences. Can you name two or three unique things you have seen over the years?

CL: I've never seen a stranger finish to a match than that of Kellen Damico and Nick Lindahl at the Australian Open junior championships in 2006. Although it wasn't particularly hot, both players were cramping by the third set, with neither player able to move more than a step or two to the ball, but determined not to retire. The match was played to its conclusion, and Lindahl ended as the winner, but both were taken from the court in wheelchairs.

Lewis always heads to Florida for the Orange Bowl
© ZooTennis.com
More recently, Orange Bowl champion Gabriela Dabrowski didn't have to convert match points in two important victories in December, with her opponents receiving penalties that handed her the wins. Yulia Putintseva was penalized a game for racquet abuse to end that second round Eddie Herr match, and in the semifinals of the Dunlop Orange Bowl the following week, Nastja Kolar was given a point penalty for racquet abuse at 5-6 in the third set tiebreaker to put Dabrowski in the final.

Another unique experience that I hope won't be repeated was the unfortunate conclusion to the 2006 championships in Kalamazoo, where a virus struck several players, and kept Jesse Levine from taking the court against Donald Young in the 18s final.


TR.net: I'm sure that there are quite a few events that you have not yet attended. What tournaments are high on your wish list to get to in the next few years?

CL: I've always wanted to cover the tournament in Ojai, which includes so many levels of play, and from what I understand, combines charm and history in a gorgeous setting.

And having been to all the slams except the French, I would like to cover that junior event some day, but it's a bit too close to the NCAAs to make that practical now.


TR.net: Suppose that you could be "Tennis Czar" for a day. With that power, what are three changes you would make for junior or college tennis?

CL: i) I would require adequate numbers of well-trained officials for all levels of tournaments. I know this is expensive, but it's really vital to keeping young players in the game. A portion of the entry fee should be designated for paying a pre-determined number of officials, and if that amount is not spent, it should be returned to the sanctioning body.

ii) In college tennis, men would have the same number of scholarships as women, and I think seven is a fair number. I believe that the current 4.5 for men is way too low - it should be at least 6 - and that more balance between the two genders is better for the sport overall. iii) I would move the USTA National Clay Court championships to the spring, more in line with the international clay season. The tennis weather in April is also likely to be an improvement on the heat and humidity that currently plague the July events.


Lewis has attended many NCAA Championships
© ZooTennis.com
TR.net: One of the most rewarding things about covering junior tennis is that you get to watch these kids - and their tennis games - grow up. Name one or two people that you have had the opportunity to cover closely over the years.

CL: I'll never forget Andy Murray, because he was the subject of my first published story in Tennis Magazine, and he taught me how little I know about predicting future success, a lesson I'm still learning daily. I was heavily influenced by the "weapon" theory at the time, and I couldn't see Murray's back then.

And one of the most likeable juniors I've ever covered is Reka Zsilinszka, Duke's NCAA MVP in their 2009 title run, who has had the courage to play her game despite the disparagement. She has been able to pursue her goal of medicine while maintaining a very high standard of athletic achievement, and is a virtual quote machine to boot.


TR.net: Finally, what are your goals for ZooTennis - and beyond? - for the next five years?

CL: That's a good question, one that I haven't given much thought to. I would hope to increase the revenue generated from the site, perhaps with more directed advertising, and I would like to see the steady growth of readership continue. I'm sure there are new technologies out there that will provide more ways to deliver information, and I look forward to adopting those for readers of ZooTennis.


We at TennisRecruiting.net consider ourselves lucky to have had Colette Lewis as a weekly columnist for almost five years. Her professionalism and skill make the relationship a valuable one from our side. We hope to continue our relationship with Colette for many years to come!


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