The Ross School’s Tennis Academy, the first of its kind on the East Coast inasmuch as its students play and study at a school — their 12-hour day being pretty much evenly divided between sport and studies — has six members, all boys between the ages of 11 and 15, in its first class.
Vinicius Carmo, Ross’s Brazilian-born boys and girls tennis coach, would eventually like to see the Academy grow to 24 — by two or three a year, say — but for the moment he’s pleased with his initial half-dozen, whose United States Tennis Association tournament results, he thinks, should serve as the Academy’s best recommendation when it comes to parents eager and financially able to further their children’s tennis ambitions.
Carmo is not promising that these young players will wind up on the pro tour, though he thinks they could well wind up with college scholarships, and that, because of their immersion from an early age in high-pressure situations, they’ll have the wherewithal to succeed in whatever they choose to do in life.
“Essentially,” he said during a recent conversation, “it’s a school for life. These kids will be much more mature — they’ll have to deal with a lot at a younger age. This Academy is geared to building character. Even if they play professionally, their top-level athletic life will be short. What will they do after 33? Here, they’ll be challenging themselves — they’ll have a leg up on their peers. They’ll be better people, more confident.”
The first class comprises Fernando Fernandez of Sao Paulo, Brazil, a 15-year-old ninth grader who “found us through the Internet”; Trippie Tuff, a 14-year-old ninth grader who has been a mainstay on Ross’s boys team for the past two years; Carl Grant, a 13-year-old eighth grader who was on the team last year; Lucas Larese, a 13-year-old eighth grader from New York City who attended Ross’s summer camp; James Ignatowich, an 11-year-old sixth grader whose parents moved here from Connecticut, and Jiahui Guo, a 15-year-old 10th grader from China, a Ross boarding student who, Carmo said, “loves tennis.”
The Academy’s tennis instructors, who also will travel with their charges to two U.S.T.A. tournaments a month, are Carmo, Mauricio Gattuso, Alejandro Tejerina, and Daniela Muscolino — two Brazilians and two Argentines.
A typical day, said Carmo, begins with drills on Ross’s enclosed courts at 7 a.m., followed by breakfast at 8:30 and classes (in cultural history, English, mathematics, a foreign language, and science) from 9 to 2. Tennis techniques are taught and practiced from 2:15 to 3:15. From 3:15 to 4:15, Joao Monteira of the Core Dynamics fitness center in Water Mill oversees tennis conditioning, though Paul Weinhold, a well-known sports psychologist who lives in New York City and Amagansett, meets with the group in that hour on Fridays. From 4:30 to 6:30, it’s study hall and dinner, and from 6:30 to 8 there’s match play.
Asked if his charges weren’t exhausted by the end of the day, Carmo said, with a smile, “They’ve been taking it in stride — they’re kids and they love to play tennis.”
And as far as tennis instruction goes, “We can really work with them, much more closely than we would in an ordinary school situation.”
As aforesaid, tournament play may prove to be the proof of the pudding when it comes to parents sitting for the moment on the sidelines. Carmo said Larese “got to the finals in his first Level 1 tournament, and beat two kids he’d lost to before, by scores of 6-1, 6-1 and 7-6, 6-2. James placed third in a tournament in Massachusetts that drew the best players in New England. So, already the results are good, because they’re playing so much. . . . We’re also trying to get matches with other clubs. Patrick McEnroe has a great group at Flushing Meadows . . . and you should say we’re also trying to get good adults to play our kids because they have to learn how to handle different styles — hard, soft, slice, junk. . . . Anyone who thinks they’re good are invited to play matches!”
There had been a question as to whether the Academy students could also play on Ross’s tennis teams, though Carmo said Section XI, the governing body for high school sports in Suffolk, had ruled against such an interchange.
No matter. “I think our boys team will be among the top ones anyway. We’ve got Felipe Reis, who will be our number-one, Harrison Rowen, Will Greenberg, Louis Caiola, Jack Brinkley-Cook, and two seventh graders who are good, Michael Peterson and Jonas Linnmann-Feurring. Seven good players.”