Rising Star: Phillip Simmonds
By Sally Milano, USTA.com
|Scott Oudsema and Phillip Simmonds of the USA celebrate their victory against Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau of Romania in the Australian Open boy's doubles final (Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)© Mark Dadswell/Getty Images|
He’s only 16, yet he’s already made the history books.
Phillip Simmonds of Reston, Va., just became part of the first American team in history to win the boys’ doubles title at the Australian Open Tennis Championships. Simmonds and his doubles partner, Scott Oudsema of Kalamazoo, Mich., defeated then-world No. 1’s Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau of Romania, 6-4, 6-4, to put their names in the tennis history books forever.
“It’s a different feeling because it’s like we’re making history,” said Simmonds. “It’s never been done before, so it’s not like anybody can take that away from us.”
Nor can they take away the fact that Simmonds is one of the top young singles and doubles players in the world with a promising future ahead of him in the sport. With his doubles victory and an appearance in the quarterfinals at the Aussie Junior Open, the 6’ 3”, 170-pound all-court player became the No. 1 doubles player in the world and improved his singles ranking from 21st in the world to 15th.
“It feels great,” Simmonds said of being at the top of the ITF World Junior Rankings. “The doubles game actually helps me in singles a lot because I come to the net in singles, too. It kind of helps my volleys and sharpens me up, so it’s good.”
Simmonds got an early start at playing tennis, first picking up a racquet at age four, when his father, Denzil, an air traffic controller and part-time teaching pro, brought him to a local club where he used to play when the family lived in New York. He excelled in a number of sports besides tennis, including baseball and basketball, but it was tennis in which he finally decided to focus his attention, committing himself fully to the sport.
“If you want to be really great at something,” he said, “you have to make a lot of sacrifices along the way, so this was one of the sacrifices I had to make.”
One year ago, Simmonds took that sacrifice a step further so that he could concentrate even more completely on his dream of one day becoming a top-10 player. He left high school and is now home schooled, attending a teaching center for approximately three hours a day where he works with tutors, then spending the rest of the afternoon playing tennis and training at the Junior Tennis Championship Center in College Park, Md.
“[The home schooling] gives me a lot more flexibility to travel and things like that,” Simmonds, now a junior, said.
And as one of the world’s top young athletes, Simmonds has had the opportunity to spend a lot of time abroad. Tennis has taken him to every continent, and he has competed everywhere from France to South Africa and from Canada to Australia.
“Most people don’t get to travel around the world,” he said. “It has been one of the most valuable experiences in my life because I get to see things that other kids haven’t seen, and it’s kind of made me grow up a little quicker.”
Of the many places he has been, Simmonds has yet to go to Italy and would one day like to travel there. “And I want to go to Wimbledon. I haven’t been there yet.”
That will change this year, however. He plans to compete at the Wimbledon junior championships this summer, as well as at the other Grand Slam events and a number of the warm-ups to the Slams. He also wants to try his hand in some professional tournaments and is working with his coaches Grant Stafford, Lex Carrington and Vesa Ponkka to help take his game to the next level.
“I want to get my feet wet in the Futures Circuit so that next year I can make that leap to the next level if I have to,” he said. “I’m going to play some Futures [tournaments] starting in March.”
Although he expects to turn pro one day and would eventually like to make it to the world’s top 10, Simmonds said he has no timeline for his goals.
“I’ll just kind of take it as it comes. I don’t really have plans for college or turning pro. I just kind of take it one step at a time. If I can turn pro, great. If I can’t, I’ll go to school and get my education,” he said, noting that he’d probably study medicine if he decided to attend college. “I’d still want to be part of tennis, though.”
And no question he will. Whether on court or off, Phillip Simmonds has already set aside a place for himself in the tennis history books.