Building a tennis academy is no easy task. Beyond the obvious challenges of running a large business of that nature, establishing a reputable academy for junior player development takes a committed team of people working in unison, and providing an environment for players in the academy to grow.
That is precisely what Centercourt Tennis Academy has established since its inception, and over the last several years, they have produced some of the world’s top junior tennis players, with many of them finding success on the international stage to further bolster Centercourt’s reputation.
For the past three events (no event in 2020), the Wimbledon junior finals has featured a player from the Centercourt program. In 2021, Samir Banerjee, who now plays at Stanford University, captured the Wimbledon junior title, and brought the acclaimed trophy back home to New Jersey. Back in 2019, Alexa Noel reached the finals.
“There was so much excitement here at the club. We had texts going back and forth, and there was buzz amongst all the coaches and players,” said Centercourt CEO of Tennis Operations Conrad Singh. “Just watching the way he played, we flipped out. It was phenomenal to see what he was doing. Samir walked into Centercourt as a nine-year-old boy, and so watching him go from that to winning Wimbledon is mind-blowing.”
This past summer, another full-time Centercourt player, Michael Zheng, made his way into the finals. And although he came up just short, it was just another example of Centercourt’s prowess on the biggest stages in junior tennis.
Later in the year, Zheng advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open junior event, another phenomenal result, and he gave credit for his development to his training at Centercourt.
“I first moved to Centercourt when my coach, Adrian Contreras, went there and it’s been great. Everyone in the program is really good and it’s very competitive,” said Zheng. “We do a lot of point play, and everyone is trying to move up the ladder to the top court. That aspect, where everyone is aiming to beat the person ahead of them, helps make everyone better.”
And that is one of the key components of the Centercourt Tennis Academy, the idea that iron sharpens iron, and that if you want to become great, you also have to compete against other great players.
“It was very exciting to have some of the best players in the country all training together at the same academy, as well as only living about 30 minutes away from each other,” Zheng added. “The training there is very good and the coaches are all top notch. I think everyone had the commitment to go there and work hard to improve, and that helps everyone.”
Over the last several years, the full- time academy has produced phenomenal results on the world stage, and that is in part due to the dedication of the academy’s leadership, beginning with Owner and Founder Clay Bibbee, who brought in Singh back in 2017. Singh arrived at Centercourt after teaching and running programs in Australia, China, England, Japan and more, and brought that wealth of international tennis knowledge to the academy.
“When I came here in 2017, and even with the conversations I had with Clay in late-2016, the mission became clear. We wanted to have one boy and one girl representing us at the Junior Slam level, and one professional male and one professional female representing us,” said Singh. “Until we get all four of those, our mission isn’t totally complete. And that was sort of a change in direction for Centercourt, who had previously been producing tons of collegiate talent, Division I and Ivy League schools, but they weren’t playing a lot of international and ITF events.”
That international component was key in developing the next crop of top- tier juniors from Centercourt, and adding to that was the introduction of the Home Base program, in which players that Singh has worked with in his travels throughout the world, come to Centercourt for two, three and sometimes four weeks at a time to train. The touring professionals who come are seeking the comforts of a home base to train at, as the tour can sometimes become a lonely place, and their presence has had a profound impact on Centercourt’s full-time academy players.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Singh. “In terms of motivation, the professionals are right there with them, and that’s what these juniors want to see. Believe it or not, the pros spend so much time on their own, they love having the juniors to train with. The energy is fresh, and these young players try to beat the pros, which is great. The competition is real. These young guys and girls are really going for it and want to earn some bragging rights. That dynamic has really been amazing. And for the players, having those comforts of home go a long way. While it isn’t necessarily their home, they are familiar with me and my family, and some Centercourt members even house players. We create a bit of an international family for them.”
And as illustrated earlier, the results of that dynamic have been clear and proof that the strategy and mission has been working. But the mission is not complete yet, and Singh and his team are excited to continue developing some of the area’s top junior players, and maintain its reputation on the world stage.
There is a distinct pathway at Centercourt to continue the pipeline of players entering the full-time program.
“Those guys in the full-time continue to inspire the next generation of players here,” added Singh. “We’re so pumped for what is ahead. We have our pathway set up and have some unbelievable talent in the 12U category. I actually plan on taking a group of kids to play on Asian Tennis Federation’s 14U Tour next year, which is for players aged 11-13. A lot of kids in those events go on to play ITF, which is crucial, so we are very excited to continue that growth and continue to do everything we can for the players here.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org