Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Leandro Gutierrez
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, USTA Florida is recognizing members of Florida’s rich Hispanic community whose talents and dedication help to grow the great game of tennis every day — at every level. We applaud them all for making tennis a better and more inclusive sport, and for making the face of our game more accurately reflect the dynamic diversity of our country.
Leandro Gutierrez is currently the Head Pro at Salvadore Park in Coral Gables, where he teaches tennis to people of all ages. Originally from Uruguay, Gutierrez said that tennis has played a massive role in his life. A few months after he was born, his family moved to Brazil, where he would live until he was eight. Then his father was transferred to Poland, which is where he was first introduced to tennis.
Leandro Gutierrez’s Journey in Tennis
He first picked up a tennis racket when he was eight years old. Growing up as a fan of soccer, Gutierrez was hesitant to get involved with a new sport, but is thrilled that he did.
“I would go to the court with my family in Poland, and I would be the ball boy. I have older brothers, so I wasn’t allowed to play because I was young,” Gutierrez recalled. “But they would always let me play during the last five minutes.”
Those five minutes at the end of each day were part of what planted that itch into Gutierrez to dive deeper into tennis. Gutierrez started taking lessons twice a week, where he would learn the fundamentals of the sport.
After a couple classes, he was signed up for a weekend tournament. Even though he was going in with little expectations since he was new, he won the event, which got him fully invested in the game. “Kids love to compete because the competition aspect is what makes it more appealing for people to get involved.”
Once he moved back home to Uruguay, Gutierrez became invested in tennis, spending all his free time at his local county club. Here he would practice, make friends, and begin his long career in tennis.
As he grew up, he got involved with the International Tennis Federation (ITF), European Circuit, and South American Circuit all before moving to the United States. Once in the US, he received a scholarship to play at an academy in West Palm Beach, Florida, where his performance on the court earned him another scholarship to play junior college tennis.
Following his two years competing in junior college, Gutierrez decided to try out the pro tour for around two years, but quickly realized that wasn’t for him. This caused his tennis journey to halt as he didn’t know what was next for him.
“Once I stopped playing competitively, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Gutierrez recalled. “I started to work at an ice cream store. I didn’t have any money, I had to bike just to get there.” However, this bump in the road would open the door of opportunity to him.
His friend, who would become his mentor, was the director of tennis at the Palm Beach Polo Club, and he needed a hitter to rally with some guys coming in from the senior tour. So, Gutierrez accepted the offer, changing his life forever.
After a day of hitting, he connected with tennis pro Guillermo Vilas, who was from Argentina. The two South Americans were talking when Villas asked Gutierrez what he did for a living. When he found out he was selling ice cream, Villas immediately told him that he needed to be teaching the sport and not selling frozen treats.
Villas shouted over to the touring pro and asked if he was looking for teachers. He told Gutierrez to show up the next day, tell them who sent him and go from there. This would be the break Gutierrez needed as he began his teaching career at Grove Isle, where he would stay for 10 years before his next chapter.
Gutierrez would pursue an opportunity to become a Director of Tennis. This came at the Country Club of Coral Gables, in South Florida, where he worked for another four years. He would then move on to the Williams Islands from 2008 to 2013, before accepting what would become his current position.
In 2013, Gutierrez settled down and became the Head Pro at Salvadore Park in Coral Gables, where he teaches tennis to all ages, hosts events, runs programming, and promotes fun exercise for everyone.
Why Gutierrez believes it’s important to celebrate Hispanic Culture
Gutierrez thinks that it’s extremely important to recognize and celebrate Hispanic culture, especially in Florida, due to the state having such a large Hispanic population.
When he first moved to the states, he said he had a hard time meeting other Hispanic people both inside and outside of tennis. So, when he started playing tennis in Florida, it was with a crowd he was unfamiliar with.
He wants to see the sport take further steps when it comes to celebrating Hispanic culture and making sure that they feel included in the sport. Some of the greatest tennis players to ever touch the court come from Hispanic cultures, and Gutierrez believes the sport should continue trying to grow the game in the Hispanic community.