Game, Set, Match
Jul 03, 2014 11:02AM ● Published by Dia
There’s a consistent thud. The constant sound of a neon yellow tennis ball hits the court before catching enough force to shoot off the ground and land eloquently back in his hand. All in one swift motion, the spherical shape soars high in the sky and is immediately sucked back down by gravity. But before the miniature sun sinks too low, a racket comes into swift motion from the left side at full force, slaying the ball forward into what seems like oblivion.
It’s a spectacular piece that most viewers would only see on their television screens during the U.S. Open. However, Drake Ferri puts on a similar artistic performance on a weekly basis at Southlake Tennis Center.
Ferri is like most 11-year-olds. He enjoys spending time with his family, hanging out with his friends and getting into friendly fire with his two brothers. But there’s something about this Southlake middle schooler that is different than most — he’s never lost a tennis tournament.
“He is technically sound, but he has also mastered the mental side of the game and never gets negative or emotional,” explains Southlake Tennis Center coach Nathan Brynes. “He’s an incredible athlete.”
The love of sports runs in this undefeated champion’s genes. Coming from a family that is prone to athletics — his father is a professional soccer player — Ferri has the natural stamina and athleticism most children desire. He enjoys the rush and thrill of competing, Brynes says.
Ask anyone, and they will express that what makes this tennis warrior different from any other junior player is his mental approach.
“He has the same skill level as other kids, but you’d never know if he was winning or losing by his even temperament,” says Ferri’s grandmother Betty Senske, with a smile. “You can’t teach attitude.”
Senske shared her passion for the game with her grandson when he was around 5 years old. During bright, crisp summer days, the dynamic duo would develop Ferri’s stroke, hand and eye coordination, all while keeping score. They used a crack in Senske’s driveway to act as an imaginary net.
Two years later, Senske knew her all-star grandson was ready to take his skills from the driveway to the court. She took him to Southlake Tennis Center, which, at the time, picked up on a distinctive program for junior players that most other centers hadn’t developed.
QuickStart, also known as 10-and-under tennis, uses modified courts, balls and racquets to assist junior players in creating correct technique, movement and match play. Each student progresses through a series of color-coded levels based on mastering defined skills.
There are five levels, ranging from red to blue. Junior players start at the red level and range from 4 to 8 years old. As they gain skills in a technically correct way, the players move on to the next color until they make it to the color blue, also known as the tournament level.
“The QuickStart program gives players a chance to learn the same skills they will learn when they get to the big court, but at their own pace and with modified tools,” says Southlake Tennis Center General Manager Mia Gordon Poorman. “If you put a coach of Nathan’s caliber with players when they start out, you can build a solid foundation and create a better quality of players.”
Ferri began at the red level when he first entered the program and is now a part of the yellow level team. Due to his unbeatable record, Southlake’s newest golden boy was chosen to represent the Texas section of the United States Tennis Association as part of a select team of junior players throughout the state. Undefeated, the team has competed in tournaments in Oklahoma, Texas and most recently, won the Border Battle against USTA Southwest.
In preparation for tournaments, Brynes holds weekly private practices with Drake to develop his technical skills, game style, game play and tournament mentality to keep his reigning title in tact.
Because of the Southlake Tennis Center’s use of the QuickStart program and Ferri’s unique skill set, he is one of the top five players in his age in the state. Endorsed by the USTA and professional tennis players such as Martina Navratilova and Andre Agassi, the QuickStart program strives to encourage more children to play the game.
Ferri currently competes in tournaments throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and will attend tournaments for USTA throughout the year.
“Things come naturally to him,” Senske says in a humble tone. “He has experienced the success that is a bit above average for most kids his age. Southlake Tennis Center has been such a positive influence on Drake, and we want to keep it fun for him.”