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Youth players enjoy challenge of tennis

Family and friends gather to watch Caleb Strother compete.
Family and friends gather to watch Caleb Strother compete.
Robin Bateman

If you don’t play tennis or aren’t a spectator fan, the sport might seem like a lonely one.

Players are out there on their own ... with their opponent and the little yellow ball (or red ball, orange ball or green-dot ball for 12-and-under play).

In a 2013 state of the industry report, the Tennis Industry Association stated that more 28 million people pick up racquets and hit the courts, and several million of those are youth players. This week, the Macon Tennis Association is hosting the USTA Southern 14s. Players from nine states have come to Macon to compete to see who is the best in the South. Other age divisions are being held around the region.

Winning aside, many players have other goals besides racking up hardware.

Lauren Quinn from Charleston, South Carolina, loves the game. During the summer months, when her friends are sleeping in or going to the pool, she’s hitting the tennis courts.

“I want to play, and I want to get better, and I want to win,” said Quinn, who hopes to play Division I tennis after high school.

Another Division I tennis inspired player is Macon resident, Jordan Bowie. Initially, Bowie was motivated to play when she saw her dad playing tennis.

“I love to compete and play tournaments and don’t mind the sacrifices,” Bowie said.

And when things get tough, a practice day isn’t going her way, her muscles are sore, her mind is tired, she reminds herself of something her coach, Craig Jones, told her about another player.

“I tell myself, ‘It will be worth it in the end. The pain is temporary. But if I quit now, I’ll remember quitting forever, and I’ll always regret that,’ ” she said.

Another Macon resident, Lily Jimenez, who traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, to compete in the USTA Southern 10s is inspired by her drive to be the best that she can be.

“I love the challenge of competing,” Jimenez said. “So I train hard and help myself one day be the best. It’s challenging. I love (a challenge). There’s lots of bumps, but you can clear them out by practicing.”

Caleb Strother, a 13 year old from Sandy Springs, Ga played his first Southern Championships event held in Macon this past week. While region level tournaments new to him, coming to Macon is not. Strother has family here.

Strother lost his first set, but with the support of his family and cousins watching the match, he managed to win the second set. He lost the match in a third set tiebreaker.

But the loss was okay with Strother and his dad.

“Family comes together and supports him. He knows that family cares and family is where your true strength comes from.”

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