USPTA & PTR Master Professional Fernando Velasco can't get enough tennis, even after 45 years as a certified pro.
© Jennifer Pottheiser
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Based on decades of observation, USPTA and PTR Master Tennis Professional Fernando Velasco sees a great change in American tennis.
"Tennis stopped being an ‘I’ sport," said Velasco, who took part in the USTA League Super Senior National Championships this week in Surprise, Ariz., as part of a USTA Texas men’s squad. "Back in the 60s, 70s and the 80s it was: ‘I’m seeded, I’m number one, I just beat somebody.’ As USTA League grows, I see that tennis in the last 10 years has become a ‘we’ sport: ‘We won as a team.’ It makes no difference if you’re playing position one, two or three.
"This, I think, is why the popularity is growing in my club, where we have 14 different leagues where people play and become friends off the court."
Turning 70 in May, Velasco is the owner, general manager and director of tennis at the Grey Rock Tennis Club in Austin, Texas, and part of a USTA Texas Super Senior men’s squad taking aim at a USTA League National Championship in Surprise.
"It’s a fellowship," Velasco said of his Texas team. "The fun, the smiles are what make it all work. Everyone’s just so happy to be here and the competition is great."
Velasco came to the United States in 1960 as a 17-year-old foreign exchange student from Bolivia, living with a host family in Mile City, Mont. He stayed and attended Eastern Illinois University, where he was a three-year letterman in soccer, gymnastics and tennis. After graduation, he coached all three sports at the high school level before becoming a certified tennis pro 45 years ago. Along with his duties as a teacher, Velasco displayed a knack for club management, going on to serve as the general manager or director at top facilities in Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, Savannah, Ga. and Boca Raton, Fla., before settling in Texas.
Today, Velasco is considered one of the top teaching professionals and managers in the international tennis community, having been selected as "National Pro of the Year" by the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and "International Pro of the Year" by the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR). What’s more, he is one of only nine Master Professionals recognized by both the USPTA and the PTR, a distinction of excellence given for teaching, playing, industry service and education.
True to form, there’s no "I" in Velasco, who summed up his career by saying, "You go out and be consistent, do what you love, do it well, and if [accolades and awards] come, it’s an honor."
Still, for all his titles, Velasco said he’s a coach at heart, and that’s certainly enough to keep him focused.
"It never gets old," Velasco, who works with students ages five to 75, said of teaching. "I get so excited just to wake up in the morning – the lives that we’re changing because of tennis, it’s incredible. The letters I get today from kids that I started instructing when they were 7 years old, now applying for college, they use what I taught them on the tennis court as part of their application.
"I thought I was just teaching tennis, but I was teaching them about life, success and failures. Tennis is like that: You may be performing at your best, and you might not get that trophy or get what you want."
In recent years, Grey Rock and Velasco have worked with the USTA to develop and promote no-cost programming for Wheelchair Tennis players, orthotics patients and those with special needs in partnership with the Special Olympics.
All are welcome in Austin.
"You tell me you want to learn how to play tennis, I don’t care how old you are, I’ll teach with you – and the first thing I’ll teach is how you can love the game," said Velasco. "Hit, giggle, sweat, run, have fun. Then when they can do that, you can show how to do the strokes and then afterward how to play the game."
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