James Ignatowich’s success in regional United States Tennis Association junior tournaments has provided compelling proof of the Ross School Tennis Academy’s effectiveness.
A pleasant, quiet-spoken 11-year-old sixth grader who tops Connecticut’s 12-and-under age group, James recently made more noise by winning a 14-and-under U.S.T.A. New England sectional tourney outside Hartford, besting in straight sets two older players — the number-one and two seeds — who had beaten him before he’d matriculated at the academy in the fall.
“I wouldn’t have won a round in that tournament if I hadn’t come here — I give a lot of credit to my coaches,” James said during a conversation at Ross’s tennis center last week.
Vinicius Carmo, who oversees Ross’s tennis academy, said he’d been able to have James taken into the sectional’s 32-player draw as an unseeded qualifier given the fact he had played out of Darien, Conn., before moving to Sag Harbor.
It turned out be a master stroke, for James, who has a year more to play in the 12s, swept through four matches, defeating the fourth seed in the first round, the first seed in the semifinals, and the second seed in the final.
He defeated the top seed, who was “about to turn 15 and was very tall and hit hard,” 6-1, 6-0, and, in the final, disposed of the second seed, “a lefty who has beaten the top-seeded guy,” 6-1, 6-3.
When asked how the match with the top-seeded player had gone, James said, with some delight, “He thought it would be easy. I went up 3-0, mixing it up, slicing, lobbing, and hitting it hard at times. I was in the zone. He wasn’t that strong mentally. He started throwing his racket and screaming, and he cried at the end.”
It was more of the same in the final. “Since he was a lefty, I floated the ball to his backhand and I’d run in and hit overheads . . . he cried too. That same kid beat me 6-3, 6-0 six months ago, before I came here.”
It was the third U.S.T.A. sectional win for James, who has two 12-and-under titles as well and has seen his national 12s’ ranking soar “from 800 or so to the top-50.”
As is the case with his six fellow academy students, James, under the watchful eyes of Carmo and two other pros, works on his game five hours a day, hitting from 7 to 8:30 a.m., from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., and from 6:30 to 8, with fitness conditioning at Alex Astilean’s Speedfit studio in East Hampton from 3:30 to 4:30. He also talks periodically with a sports psychologist, Paul Weinhold.
Carmo has always liked the fact that James is “mentally tough” when in a competitive situation. James said his coaches had helped make him “a lot smarter,” and that Astilean’s treadmill, resistance, and medicine ball workouts were making him stronger and faster. And, as for his game, while he still gets everything back, he can hit winners now.
“A big part of it,” said James, “is the fitness. Alex Astilean is very inspiring — he’s helped me a lot.”
Next up for him is a national tourney in New Haven, Conn. later this month.
Carmo added in parting that “anyone — not just Ross students — can participate in our fitness workouts and anyone can come to play here in the afternoons or evenings, though they should keep in mind that it’s challenging tennis.”