© Illinois Sports Information
Evan Zeder in action while playing at the University of Illinois
© Illinois Sports Information
Evan Zeder hits a backhand during a match
© Illinois Sports Information
Former University of Illinois standout Evan Zeder is now the Sales and Sponsorship Manager at Athletic DNA, a high performance apparel company. He recently took time from his schedule to answer some questions for USTA.com.
USTA.com: Your company, Athletic DNA, has just launched its clothing line. Tell us a little bit about the company and the product.
Evan Zeder: Athletic DNA is athlete owned and athlete inspired. It was founded to cater to the specific needs of competitive athletes. Our high-performance apparel utilizes the latest in textile technology. The way we look at it is we all have Athletic DNA. It’s just a matter of how hard someone is going to work to get it out of them.
Our products are tested and validated by world-class players. We have spent the last year product testing our apparel. Guys like Robert Kendrick, Peter Luczack, and Ryler DeHeart have to report back to our product person and let them know what they like/dislike. We have been fortunate enough to have our clothes tested in every extreme and on the biggest stages. In the past year, Ryler and Robert specifically have played on center court of the US Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and this was all before we even launched. What better way to know your apparel is doing its job? We take pride in the product we are putting out there. Athletic DNA is committed to our athletes and to our sport.
Most of the people involved in the company have an extensive tennis background, so we are excited to bring something different and new to tennis. I think we all have the opinion of, let’s get something out there that can give tennis the respect it deserves. We have an extensive sponsorship program, and Athletic DNA athletes, coaches and academies are our business partners. We actually give stake in our company to those who make us a success.
USTA.com: You seem to have a great tie in with both college and junior tennis -- many of your play testers were former top collegians now on the tour, and your initial marketing campaign is targeting U.S. junior players. Was that always part of your initial business plan?
Evan Zeder: I would say it was. Working in junior tennis and making a brand that can help tennis grow, not just socially but more so competitively, is something we all take pride in. All the guys in the company grew up playing every tournament you can think of, whether it be in the U.S. juniors or internationally, like our CEO Dan Willman did, and I think we all thought there was a need for a brand that identified with tennis players. Tennis is no longer short shorts and country clubs. It is one of the toughest sports out there, and we intend to continue to show that some of the best athletes in the world are playing tennis. That is why we have introduced our ADNA Select Program, which has extensive sponsorship opportunities for junior players, ranging all the way to top 500 in the country being eligible for discounted rates.
As far as our play testers, we have been fortunate enough to bring players on with the same beliefs as us and people who are just all around good guys. Guys like Robert Kendrick and Peter Luczak were friends of guys in the company and have really been a part of this since the beginning. Those are the type of guys who live the true tennis life. They go one week from playing in front of 10,000 people at a Grand Slam, to the next playing in front of 200 at a local Challenger. They are great character guys who are true tour veterans and know every side of tennis, and we were fortunate enough to talk to them when things started, as they were friends with guys in the company, like myself, Michael Calkins and Dan Willman.
USTA.com: Do you have any hopes of eventually designing a line for college teams?
Evan Zeder: I think down the line that would be really nice. I would like nothing more than to see our clothing out there for a big NCAA match. College tennis memories are my personal best in the game. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than playing with a group of guys who are really like family and competing for your university and something bigger than yourself. I loved college tennis, so obviously in the future that would be something I think all of us at ADNA would enjoy to watch.
USTA.com: You played your college tennis at Illinois, winning the NCAA Team title in 2003. What is one of your best memories from your years in Champaign?
Evan Zeder: Can I say that on here? Haha. My best memory playing-wise would have to be in Chicago, when Illinois hosted the National Indoors for the first year. I was on Court 3, doubles, next to all of my closest college buddies in the bleachers, and they all got to see my partner, Pramod Dabir, and me win the tie-breaking doubles point against Georgia in the quarterfinals.
Besides that, it’s just the team at Illinois. Those guys are family to me. Whether it be alumni or guys on current teams, it is the closest group I know.
USTA.com: What did you learn from your college tennis experience there? How has it shaped your values and your business philosophy?
Evan Zeder: I learned a lot from the experience. I was fortunate enough to have, in my opinion, the greatest coach ever in Craig Tiley. Craig has moved on now to become the director of development for Tennis Australia and the tournament director for the Aussie Open, but I was lucky enough to have him for all four years at Illinois. He, Bruce Berque (who is now the Michigan head coach) and Brad Dancer (current Illinois coach) taught us a lot more than tennis. To have 12 guys a year, straight out of high school and all of them wanting to try and play professionally as well as have a good time in college, I don’t know how these coaches do it.
But I would say Craig was amazing at showing me how there was a time for work and a time for fun. We worked our butts off in college. We were up doing weights at 6 a.m., three days a week, and countless hours of practice, while every other kid on campus is sitting around with all the time in the world. It really kept you focused. Craig would have us training as hard as possible, and when the time came for a little break, our coaches were all about us having a good time and enjoying our college lives.
I think all athletes really learn great work ethics early on. In college is where I really learned to separate work, studying and enjoying myself, though, and that was all through that team.
USTA.com: Who have been your biggest influences in your career?
Evan Zeder: My family. My parents worked very hard, not only professionally at their careers, but in raising my siblings and me. They taught me my values and help motivate me.
Besides my family, it was easily the family at Illinois – not one specific person but more so the overall experience and how close everyone is with that program. Any coach, player, trainer or supporter of Illinois tennis would go to any length to help one another succeed.
Being around people like that has led me to be doing Athletic DNA because I see the same type of passion here.
USTA.com: And, finally, Mike Calkins, your business partner at Athletic DNA, also played at Illinois. If you were to play a match today, who would win between the two of you?
Evan Zeder: No comment. Yeah, Mike would wax me right now. He is still on the court a lot, running a high-performance academy on top of doing Athletic DNA. The only shot I have is playing indoors on a fast court. That way, I can try to get it to a tiebreaker with the serve and get him a little nervous. Wait, Mike was the most reliable guy in our lineup. Never mind, right now I have no shot against him, unless someone takes out his knees before the match.