Give These Guys a Hand

David Sprague (r.) and Robert Young (l.) at 3.0 Seniors.
By Doug Drotman, USTA.com

In 2006, David Sprague of St. Paul, MN was confident this was the year he would qualify for the USTA League National Championships. But his hopes were dashed when he tore a tendon in his right elbow. Not only were his chances of competing at the Nationals over, but his tennis future was in doubt.

After trying everything from cortisone shots to physical therapy and consulting with several doctors, he determined his best course of action was a PRP (rich protein) platelit injection. This meant no tennis for a year … or did it.

A tennis fanatic for more than 14 years, after 18 years of playing racquetball, the marketing consultant/executive coach was nearly a 4.0 player. He decided to keep on playing – left-handed. He joined beginner clinics and began learning to hit the ball with his opposite hand. After about six months he was ready get back into competition and joined a local 3.0 team.

One year later he was able to begin using his right arm again, but since he had worked so hard and enjoyed some of the advantages of being a lefty, he decided to play righty and lefty.

“I find it a real advantage never having to hit backhands,” admits Sprague. “Also, being able to alternate my serves keeps my opponents off guard. Once they get used to the spin on my left-handed serve I can switch to my more powerful right-handed serve.”

Asked if he is a better tennis player, Sprague admits “I am still easing back into the 3.0 level, but I am clearly a more versatile player.”

Little did Robert Young of Pleasant Hill, CA, know that a left-shoulder injury suffered in a truck accident in Vietnam in 1971, would be his ticket to the 2009 USTA League National Championships. Young, who had played tennis left-handed for more than 40 years, and reached a peak of 4.5 in 1976, had never qualified for the Nationals.

In 2008 he was forced to stop playing tennis left-handed when he could no longer take the pain from his arthritic shoulder. Rather than having surgery, Young, who swings a golf club and baseball bat right-handed, decided to make the switch. He enlisted the help of local tennis pro John Vargas and began taking weekly lessons to learn the game all over again – this time as a right-handed player. A 3.5 player, he then petitioned the USTA with a medical appeal asking to be reclassified as a 3.0 player if he agreed to play only right-handed.

“The hardest part of making the switch was remembering which pocket to put the extra ball into,” joked Young. “Actually I have trouble with balls hit directly at me. Forty years of instinct tell me to hit it lefty. But I did learn that my reflexes at the net are much better righty. I get to balls righty I never got as a lefty.”

Upon returning from the Nationals, Young is scheduled to have a complete shoulder replacement which will keep him on the sidelines for six weeks. When asked if he plans to go back to his old ways after the surgery, Young declined.

“I’m a righty here to stay. “I really like the challenge of learning the game all over again.”

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Find a 2009 National Championship:

Apr. 9-11, 2010
Senior Mixed Invitational
Orlando, FL

Apr. 23-25, 2010
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Surprise , AZ

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4.5 Senior | 3.5 Senior

Oct. 30 - Nov. 1, 2009
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Nov. 20-22, 2009
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