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Tennis, anyone? These coaches love the game

South Suburban Tennis Academy officials Andy Ventress Mike MarateSteve Yates show Nicolas Bailey Mokenhow hold racquet during tennis camp Andrew

South Suburban Tennis Academy officials Andy Ventress, Mike Maratea and Steve Yates show Nicolas Bailey, of Mokena, how to hold a racquet during tennis camp at Andrew High School. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 19, 2013 6:04AM



Nearly 30 years ago, three men matched their love for tennis and created the South Suburban Tennis Academy. Throughout the years, as the popularity of their sport bounced up and down, they have been consistent in their efforts to provide quality lessons, camps and clinics in the south suburbs.

Today, Andy Ventress, Mike Maratea and Steve Yates — all current or former high school coaches, all past pros at local tennis clubs and all lifelong tennis players — said their main goal always has been to make tennis fun.

SSTA manages and directs tennis programs at four park districts — Orland Park, Tinley Park, Mokena and Frankfort — and recently conducted a summer camp at Andrew High School.

It offers training for instructors, private lessons for players and have more than 200 participants in park programs. From their perspective, tennis is on the upswing, they said.

Over the years, tennis organizations have been up against other sports, such as lacrosse, soccer, and boys volleyball, all of which have gained in popularity, Maratea said.

“In the ’70s, tennis was huge. People were fighting over courts,” Ventress said. “For some reason, the numbers went down, but now it’s coming back.”

The tennis trio incorporated SSTA in 1984 at a time when not much else was happening with the sport, said Maratea who was at the Homewood-Flossmoor Tennis Club at the time.

The H-F area has a long tradition of tennis and has been considered the “hub” in the south suburbs, but Ventress, a former tennis coach at Rich Central and Marist high schools, said he now sees that moving west, which is where SSTA is focused.

The challenge for SSTA and all tennis organizations has been not only to get kids on the courts, but not to lose them to other sports.

“We have tons of young kids. How do we keep them?” said Maratea, who coaches at Andrew and used to coach at Oak Forest and Mother McAuley high schools. His three young sons have all followed in his footsteps — with rackets in their hands.

Besides focusing on fun, tennis organizations, like SSTA, the U.S. Tennis Association, the U.S. Professional Tennis Association and the Professional Tennis Registry are doing more to promote the sport, show kids how fun it is, and make it more age appropriate.

SSTA was at Taste of Orland Park on Aug. 3 showing kids what tennis is all about.

Ventress admitted that people thought he was “weird” when he played tennis as a kid, and he briefly gave it up to play football.

“Tennis is a lifelong sport. You can’t play football all your life,” he said. Ventress now is a USTA certified instructor for kids 10 and under and was playing a game of “snake” with the 10 and under crowd at Andrew recently.

As they tossed giant tennis balls back and forth to each other in a constant motion, they were improving their concentration. There are other games and activities to develop their agility, balance and coordination.

Ventress said he never had lessons as a kid, but watched the pros on TV and tried to copy them. Similarly, he uses videos of his students as a teaching tool, showing them exactly what they are doing.

It’s also important for young players to watch today’s pros — Maria Sharapova, the Williams sisters, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — so they can have role models and see where they can go with the sport, they said.

England had programs for the 10-and-under age group for a while, ones now being adapted by the USTA and SSTA, Maratea said. In addition to engaging in fun activities to develop basic tennis skills, kids use balls with less compression, so they bounce less, move slower and are easier to react to.

“This is the future,” Maratea said. When kids advance out of the 10-and-under program, SSTA offers programs, lessons and clinics for older kids as well as adults.

“Tennis is an individual sport. You develop a different type of character. You can’t blame anyone else if something goes wrong. When you are out on the court, you are not dependent on anyone else. It requires a lot of concentration,” said Ventress, explaining what he likes best about the sport.

Maratea said, “it’s a great cardiovascular sport.”

“We want to develop young players so they will continue to play in college,” he said, adding that they have been able to help players get tennis scholarships.

“If they look forward to coming to lessons and leave with a smile on their face, then we have succeeded,” Ventress said.

More information is at
www.sstatennis.com.



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