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Easter Bowl 2008

John Yandell

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Printable Version

The Easter Bowl: a window onto American junior tennis.

The Easter Bowl in 2008 was the 40th anniversary of this storied and unique junior event--and our second consecutive appearance to observe the same.

Last year we covered the Easter Bowl AS a kind of exploratory foray into the study of American junior tennis. The event basically blew me away. I felt I'd discovered an amazing viewing window. The chance to see the best 600 players in America all at the same place at the same time in an environment unlike any junior tournament I'd witnessed.

So I got into it and ended up staying the entire week and writing stories about all six finals--which were mostly amazing competitive matches. (Click Here.) In fact, some of them had more drama than many big pro finals I'd witnessed.

We also created a new section o the site, Future Stars, and put up clips of the strokes of about 100 American juniors. We also shared that video with both the USTA and with some of the kids and their coaches. It was surprisingly positive all the way around.

The Easter Bowl: beneath the desert mountains with a stadium setting.

So we decided to go back in 2008--and even became a minor Easter Bowl sponsor. Starting with the boys in this issue (and the girls to follow in June), we are adding another 100 clips of the strokes of American junior players to Future Stars.

As great as the experience was last year, I didn't want to arrive with the expectation that it all had to happen exactly the same way again and so I consciously adopted a somewhat circumspect attitude.

The main goal was just to film the top American juniors again. To help me, I brought along two Tennisplayer ace videographers, Aaron Martinez and Matt Barrett. But I told them "Hey we can get a hundred or so players on video in 3 days or 4 days and get back to San Francisco by the weekend."

But damn if the same didn't happen to me again. Apparently the tournament's been the same way for 40 years, so why would 2008 be any different? So I let Aaron and Matt head back home after the first three days. But once again I stayed for the duration.

If you are unfamiliar with the history, the Easter Bowl has been played all over the country, New York, Florida, Arizona, and most recently, the California desert near Palm Springs. For many years it was at the Riviera Country Club, but for the last two years the host has Rancho Los Palmas Resort. (Click Here.)

If you've been around much competitive junior tennis you know that, despite the positive aspects, there can be a palpable toxic atmosphere at many events. Two kids on a back court, two sets of parents squinting through the wind screens. Someone wins and someone loses, sometimes with acrimony and hard feelings, occasionally with some bad line calls. Then everyone immediately piles back in their respective cars and heads home to check the rankings on the internet.

Boys and girls across the age divisions.

All that is somehow obliterated--or at least impeded--by the atmosphere at Rancho Las Palmas. It's an old style, world class desert resort. Gorgeous faux Spanish architecture. Wonderful, comfortable rooms. A really nice staff. A golf course that is very, very green.

And I can personally testify, a great spa pool. Plus a great rate if you are there for the event. Then there's the tennis facility itself with a couple of dozen courts and a wonderful stadium. And an incredible set of satellite locations throughout the desert area.

And in the evenings, well, there was the chance to revisit some our favorite haunts from our stays at Indian Wells. Before Aaron and Matt left we had a big night at Castelli's, the famed Sinatra-style desert Italian hot spot. And also I got to buy Craig Cignarelli a steak in the bar at Sullivan's Steakhouse.

But back to the event. You've got the boys and the girls in the 14s, 16s and 18s together for the duration--the only coed event of its kind in the country. And yes, as you might imagine, there's some discernable adolescent chemistry.

But you've also got the families and the coaches there in close proximity, so they are forced to mingle as well. And you know what? Some of them looked like they enjoyed it as well.

Seena Hamilton (left): tennis environment by design.

And that environment is by design. Seena Hamilton, New York marketing maven and former tennis mother, founded the event, and the atmosphere is basically an extension of her vision and personality. A fantastic venue for the players to see who is really the best, with no (or at least minimal) gamesmanship and posturing allowed. Seena wants everyone to feel as if they are guests in her home, she has repeatedly said, and she pretty much pulls that off.

There's a big opening party for everyone, and after every final, an awards ceremony that has the feel of what they do on TV at the Slams. That's because the whole event is the subject of cable television special every year. Then you've got our friends from, taking pictures, interviewing the kids, and putting up the coverage on a daily basis. It makes the players feel that the event is important, and it is.

Seena expects the kids to behave and believes that something about the media buzz and the resort/social atmosphere encourages that. But at the same time she won't tolerate any heavy handed or officious behavior from the tournament officials. There is a differently vibe from the officials here compared to many events I've witnessed. They seem, for want of a better word, actually human--friendly even.

An atmosphere that may help to reduce pressure.

Her goal is to take pressure off the parents and the kids and ameliorate the harsh competitive atmosphere you feel at so many junior events. And for the second year in a row I was amazed at the lack of histrionics. I'm sure it must have happened at some point, but I didn't see one kid request a linesman, and I was there everyday.

The only moment of conflict I actually witnessed was between two spectators, or possibly two coaches and/or parents. I didn't actually hear what was said, but I did hear the raised voices. And, almost instantaneously, Mary Lynn Baker, the onsite director, appeared from behind her desk. She said something like, "Gentleman, that will be all from you or you will both be escorted from the property." And that was the end of the disturbance.

The coaches realize that it's something special as well. I interviewed several of them along with various people connected with tournament, including Seena.

Next month, you'll be able to hear not only what they think about the tournament, but also what they think about the current state of American junior tennis. So stay tuned for that.

6 finals with 12 new players.

The Finals

But let's get to the matches. What happened this year? We filmed some of the same players we saw last year. But interestingly, there were completely different players in the finals of every event.

This year I was struck by a strategic issue that ran through almost all the matches. It's the same kind of question every player at every level has to ask himself--or should. How do you adjust your strategy or game plan to the opponent? Or do you?

What do you do when you find your primary game plan isn't getting the job done? Should you stay with it? Should you change?

And for these talented kids, what are the implications of doing that--or not--for their long term development? So let's see how all these questions played.

The first 3 finals are on Saturday, the Girls 14s, the Boys 14s, and then the Girls 18s, followed by the remaining three matches on Sunday. It's a tremendous two days of elite junior competitive play, and I'd recommend that weekend to anyone who wants to understand the junior game, or just competitive tennis period.

Click Here to go to the next page for the story of the Saturday matches!

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John Yandell is widely acknowledged as one of the leading videographers and students of the modern game of professional tennis. His high speed filming for Advanced Tennis and Tennisplayer have provided new visual resources that have changed the way the game is studied and understood by both players and coaches. He has done personal video analysis for hundreds of high level competitive players, including Justine Henin-Hardenne, Taylor Dent and John McEnroe, among others.

In addition to his role as Editor of Tennisplayer he is the author of the critically acclaimed book Visual Tennis. The John Yandell Tennis School is located in San Francisco, California.

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