Ramirez Reflects on Stellar Playing and Coaching Career
After playing tennis collegiately at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and spending four to five years traveling to participate in satellite tournaments, Jorge Ramirez took an extended break from competitive tennis. A broken foot put him on the shelf for a while, and Ramirez honed in on his craft as a teaching pro.
Years later as a 35-year-old, Ramirez got back in the swing of things. He partnered with the late Dick Johnson, and the duo tried their hand at the 35 & Over National Tournament. What followed was a four-year stretch where Ramirez and Johnson captured two national championships and advanced to the finals of a third tournament. A mild-mannered and humble Ramirez called it “pretty good.”
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “After not competing for several years, getting back into it and actually being able to win it — that was a pretty awesome experience. Very satisfying. There were quite a lot of good players at the tournament. Players from 25 to 27 different states. So, it’s a pretty big deal.”
Ramirez — a longtime tennis teaching professional at Forest Lake Tennis Club in Chesterfield — got to play in his hometown of St. Louis while also traveling to play in Kansas City and a couple other venues. After his dominant stint alongside Johnson, Ramirez again dealt with injuries — this time knee and shoulder issues — and bowed out from playing competitively.
Decades later, as Ramirez plots to scale back his teaching workload beginning next year, he once more wants to resolve some health woes and return to competing at a high level. If it goes anything like his last run in his 30s, opponents should proceed with caution.
“Now, I’m looking forward to fixing my right knee — which has given me some problems — and maybe try to compete in some senior tournaments. When you compete all your life, you have to get rid of it,” Ramirez said with a chuckle.
After learning to play soccer “as soon as I could walk” in Mexico City where he was born and raised, Ramirez joined a swim team and then discovered tennis at the age of 10. The sport came naturally. Within a year or two of picking up tennis, Ramirez entered some tournaments and found early success.
“So, I stayed with it,” he said.
And he hasn’t looked back since.
Ramirez spent a couple years in the banking and business realm but quickly got into coaching tennis. He dabbled at a couple other clubs but ultimately found the right fit at Forest Lake, where he’s been employed for the last three decades.
“The game has evolved so much,” Ramirez said. “From the old-school tennis to what the modern tennis is all about. There are always new techniques and new things to teach. I try to keep up with information and transfer it to my students.”
Ramirez coaches all levels and age groups. He works with a lot of adults and is currently with some 4-year-olds and a 7-year-old who is already participating in tournaments.
“You have to be very patient with the young ones. Every now and then you get some kids who have a lot of talent and listen well,” Ramirez said with a laugh. “I don’t mind doing it, the younger age. I just take it as a challenge.”
As a prolific doubles player, it’s no surprise Ramirez enjoys the tactical aspect of tennis.
“It’s a very strategic game. It’s a mind game,” he said. “You have to figure out the style of your opponents, like a game of chess. You have to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. It’s the strategy about playing the game — setting up your shots, setting up your opponent.”
Ramirez, who speaks both English and Spanish as well as a dash of French, said the language/accent barrier was initially difficult when he began teaching. He said his background predominantly playing on clay courts aided him in transitioning to mostly teaching on hard surfaces. One of his favorite components of his career is helping players progress.
“Just when you see them improve and develop their skills,” Ramirez said. “Not only in tennis but when you can influence kids in other areas. When you see people develop skills, get better and start competing, that’s pretty satisfying.”
Soon after beginning his own competitive career, Ramirez earned a spot on the Mexico Junior Davis Cup team. Ramirez represented his home country as a 13-year-old up through 17. This afforded him and his teammates the opportunity to travel to Europe, Costa Rica and the United States, with the group playing at such famed events as the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl.
“That was a lot of fun,” Ramirez said. “It was learning about other countries and cultures, different languages. The traveling was very satisfying.”
Ramirez moved to the U.S. as a 19-year-old in the early 1970s to attend and play tennis at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. He has a son and granddaughter who live in St. Louis as well as two daughters on the East and West Coast, one of whom is getting married this October.
“It’s amazing. Time is really flying by,” Ramirez said. “It feels like a couple weeks ago I was in college. And now I’m retiring.”
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