Boys tennis: Prep standouts gaining international experience

Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera
Players from the Rocky Mountain Tennis Center — from left, Kap Smith, Cutter Esson, Tommy Mason, Jackson Hawk, Jack Moldenhauer, and coach Kendall Chitambar — prepare for their competitive trip to Spain.

BOULDER — The top youth players at the Rocky Mountain Tennis Center have been playing tennis for a long time now. But these boys have never before played tennis quite like what they’re about to experience.

Taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the Rocky Mountain Tennis Center coaches have taken their best talent to Spain for a training and learning trip they hope will broaden each player’s horizons. When they return, local players like 14-year-old Kap Smith hope their experiences and new training methods will help to increase the level of both the club and prep tennis programs in their native Boulder.

“I think it’s going to be a great experience because we’ll be able to see what the Europeans do as far as practicing and playing matches,” Smith said. “We can bring it back to our programs and use it to help improve as we go forward. It’s going to be a learning experience to do what they do and add it to our own game.”

Even Smith, who is ranked No. 1 in the Intermountain Section and Rocky Mountain Tennis Center coach Kendall Chitamber describes as one of the most dominant players he’s seen at his age, has little idea what he’s getting into. He’s never been out of the country, let alone experienced the type of European youth tennis culture that has produced the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

Smith, who will be a freshman at Boulder High School in the fall, will be traveling with four other players — Fairview High School’s Tommy Mason, Boulder High’s Jackson Hawk and Cutter Esson, and Kent Denver School’s Jack Moldenhauer are all currently playing abroad since leaving for Madrid on Wednesday.

The players from Rocky Mountain Tennis Center were in Madrid from Friday to Sunday and did two training sessions each day while adjusting to the time change. Monday they traveled to Barcelona, where they will train for the next two weeks at 4 Slam Tennis Academy, a world-renowned training center known for its unique training methodology designed to help young players reached the Association of Tennis Professionals World Tour.

“It sounds really impressive and we can’t wait to see it,” Chitamber said. “These boys have their work cut out for them.”

A learning experience for Chitamber as well, he said the trip is designed to help the boys reach a level that will allow them to play tennis in college, which has become a tougher goal to reach in the past decade. As Americans have faded as a once-dominant force in international tennis, international players have begun to replace them at the American collegiate level.

Four of the nine players on the University of Denver men’s tennis team are from other countries. Only three of the eight players on the University of Boulder women’s tennis team are Americans. Even at the prep level, several of the past few years’ top tennis players in the Boulder area and at the 4A and 5A state tournaments have been foreign exchange students.

“The reason we’re doing this trip is because of that,” Chitamber said. “These guys have to understand where their competition is coming from. You have to get to the international level. I’ve heard a lot about this system and how it produces the fittest players in the world. In tennis at the national level, we’re in crisis mode and we need to get to work.”

This trip is in fact so important to the Rocky Mountain Tennis Center’s top players that they are missing the Colorado Junior Open despite serving as the host team. Instead, they will learn the Spanish tennis training system and the benefits of playing on red clay.

“I’m getting a lot bigger and stronger so I’m hitting the ball harder,” said rising junior Jackson Hawk, who played No. 1 singles for Boulder High last season. “I’m really working on my footwork and my spacing to the ball so this trip and playing on clay should really help. Improving my mental game and maturing is the next big step for me.”

In the fall, Mason will be a senior at Fairview High School, Hawk and Esson will be juniors at Boulder High and Moldenhauer will be a freshman at Kent Denver.

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