2022 USTA Eastern Tennis Man of the Year: Scott Axler

Scott Sode | January 27, 2023

A few years back, Scott Axler—USTA Eastern’s 2022 Leslie J. Fitz Gibbon Man of the Year—was out attending a Broadway show when a young professional approached him.


“He came up to me and said ‘Mr. Axler, I don’t know if you remember me, but I played tournaments at your place,’” Axler recalls. “And I looked at him and replied, ‘I don’t remember your name, but I know exactly who you are. You were the first person who ever took a medical timeout to use an insulin pump. The rules were changed to allow that, and you were one of the first to do it.’ And he said, ‘Exactly. You remember me!’”


Insulin pump aside, a moment like this is a pretty normal occurrence for the Long Island-based Axler. For almost three decades, he has served as one of the preeminent tournament directors in the section—first at Point Set Tennis in Oceanside, N.Y., and then at Robbie Wagner’s Tournament Training Center in Glen Cove. He has overseen both major sectional and national events, and thousands upon thousands of juniors have played competitively under his purview over many years. Naturally, today there are a lot of grown adults across the section who remember Axler and the ways in which he helped to encourage and support their young playing careers.

Scott with son Josh at a junior tournament in the 1990s.

“It’s a great thing watching these kids grow up,” he says. 


Axler himself would have never entered the tennis world were it not for two very specific kids: his daughter, Liz, and son, Josh, who began playing at ages five and three respectively. Liz would eventually capture the Suffolk County Doubles Championship all four years she played in high school and finish in the Top 10 in wins at Quinnipiac University, while Josh would go on to become one of the top juniors in the country—he beat future Grand Slam champion Andy Roddick twice in the 14-and-under age division and once took a set off the highest-ranked American junior at the time, Taylor Dent—and he’d eventually compete for Northwestern University. Back when he was around 10, though, Josh was competing at an intersectional team tournament (called Zone Team Championships) when one of the coaches fell ill. Event officials asked if Scott—who always traveled with his son to various competitions—would step in and help out.

“They asked if I could take his place because at that age I guess I was kind of calm,” Scott says with a laugh. “I mean, they pretty much told me what to do and I did it.”


Buoyed by that experience, Scott endeavored to become more involved in the local tennis community beyond his primary role as supportive parent. He joined the Long Island regional board and ran his first-ever tournament, the Maccabiah Games, which were held locally in Nassau County’s Eisenhower Park. Shortly thereafter, Point Set hired Scott as the facility’s new tournament director. It was in the position that he really honed his tournament directing skillset—and also began to develop a reputation of sorts.


“We used to hold this tournament with all the different age groups,” Scott explains. “And at Point Set there are these three courts [in the front of the facility] that I’d always keep an eye on. Kids in the 18-and-under division were playing a match on the second court, and kids in the 12-and-under division were playing on the third court. One of those 12-and-under kids threw his racquet. So I started walking over to the third court from the first, and as I was passing by the middle court I heard an 18-year-old say, ‘Well, this kid's going to find out what it means to play at Point Set real quick!’ I think I was kind of seen as stern [as a tournament director], which I never thought was a bad thing. As I would say, ‘You’re there to play tennis, not to create antics.’ You had to act like a good sportsman.”

Scott transferred that mentality over to Robbie Wagner’s as well, where, in addition to running more tournaments, he also became part-owner of a facility for the first time. (Scott had already developed a close friendship with Wagner, who happened to coach Josh for many years.) Under Scott’s supervision, the organization has run a wealth of National-level tournaments over the last two decades, “perhaps more than any other Eastern-based venue,” he estimates. One of their biggest competitions for a long time was the now-extinct Labor Day Championships; some of the winners of the esteemed former event included future Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig (in the 14-and-under division) and Top 100 player Sachia Vickery (in the 12-and-under age group).


All of these experiences made Scott an ideal candidate for the section’s volunteer-based junior competition committee. After serving as a member during the 1990s and early 2000s, he chaired the advisory body from 2004 to 2009. In 2009, he also began a two-year term as president of the Long Island region board.

Scott (second from right) poses with USTA Eastern staff members and volunteers.

In all of these consultatory capacities, Scott stressed collaboration. One of the cornerstones of his tenure heading up the board was organizing a meeting with all the tennis facility owners on the island to discuss ways to improve business—not an easy feat considering the parties involved ultimately viewed each other as competition.


“I think conversation is always a good thing,” he says. “People can always talk to each other. The exchange of ideas is very important.”


That mindset is ultimately at the heart of why Scott became more involved in tennis in the first place—and why he has stayed a part of the game for so long. When he takes the time to look back on his career, he most fondly remembers the relationships he built: with Annalies Karp, a former USTA Eastern board secretary who initially helped him become more involved in Long Island tennis; with Daniel Dwyer, a former Eastern board president who owned Point Set; and with Wagner, who has become a longtime trusted business partner.

Scott presents a junior player with an award as part of his role as a member of the junior competition committee.

And of course, he doesn’t just remember those who have mentored him. He’s very proud to have played a significant role in helping countless juniors achieve their own dreams on the court, so much so that they will recognize him and walk up to him at a Broadway show or a restaurant. And some of them still happen to be in his life to this day.

“One of my son’s very first matches was against this kid named Arnaldo when they were eight years old,” Scott says. “And I just went to Arnaldo’s wedding last month. His father and I became best friends over the years, we’ll still go out to dinner. I remember when Josh and Arnaldo played each other in the finals of the state high school championships. It was looking like Arnaldo was going to win. And I remember I said, ‘Well, if my son can't win, it's at least good that my other son is winning.’...The best thing I can say about tennis is all the people I’ve met along the way. I’ve really met some great people.”



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