Self-improvement, Growing the Game Key Motivators for Captain Jon Tchen
In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month occurring in May in the U.S., check out this USTA St. Louis feature on Jon Tchen, who is Vietnamese-Chinese.
Jon Tchen’s two children, Sam and Rachel, wanted to give tennis a try when they were in junior high school. Instead of waiting for his son and daughter to begin taking lessons, Tchen — a self-starter who enjoys sports and is passionate about education — signed up for tennis lessons himself to in turn teach Sam and Rachel how to play.
In the process, Tchen fell in love with the sport and has been playing ever since. About 20 years later, Tchen competes in USTA St. Louis matches close to every other day year-round and serves as a team captain, too.
“I got hooked. Ever since, I just loved the sport,” Tchen said. “I kept going, started building up the desire to get better. I was playing at Frontenac in a league. One of the USTA captains asked me to join the team because he was short players. That was 12 to 15 years ago. I’ve been playing USTA for that long. I got hooked up as a player. Then all the sudden, I helped co-captain. Then people leave and go elsewhere, and you are elected captain for that year. There’s no turning back.”
Tchen has captained a USTA St. Louis 4.5-level Sunday men’s team for more than a decade. Additionally, he manages a Tuesday night league that combines competitors and captains from that Sunday offering.
“We compete on Sunday morning,” Tchen said. “But on Tuesday, we are all friends.”
On Thursdays, Tchen and a bunch of his buddies play in another league. He also participates in a 55 & Over 8.0 mixed league and an 18 & Over 9.0 mixed league, not to mention an 18 & Over tri-level offering. Tchen’s only tennis regret is that he didn’t start playing the sport earlier in his life.
“I love it. I know a lot of folks begin when they’re in their 20s, and I wish I would have done that. I do enjoy the sport as is right now, I just wish I could be better at it. At a 4.5 USTA level, it’s not easy. Most of the folks are in their late 20s and early 30s, and they have played either college or high school. To compete at that level, you have to be in shape and fairly decent. Otherwise they’re basically going to massacre you every time. It’s not fun to be beaten all the time,” Tchen said with a laugh.
Tchen was born in China and lived in both Mozambique and France. He grew up most of his life in Brazil before coming to the U.S. to attend Abilene Christian University in Texas. After graduating with a degree in medical technology, Tchen worked in a hospital for a couple years and then went into medical sales. He took a medical sales job in St. Louis in 1985 and has owned a recruiting firm in the biotechnology/healthcare sector since 1997. The 63-year-old is married to his wife, Peggy.
Tchen noted tennis is a great way to stay healthy. He has played on 55+ and 60+ teams and looks forward to continuing to compete as he gets older. He said one aspect of tennis that draws him in is the motivation to constantly improve his craft.
“I always want to be better,” Tchen said. “I’m still hoping one of these days I’m going to play like Federer or Nadal. It’s thinking, ‘What if I just tweak this a little bit? I might be able to hit a harder or better shot.’ I’m still hoping for that improvement one day. I know it’s going to be harder. It’s a pipe dream or pie in the sky. But it keeps me wanting to get the better of myself.”
Tchen even kept his tennis game humming during the Covid-19 pandemic. He recalled his team competing in district action with players wearing masks or face shields. Though Tchen initially got into co-captaining and captaining to help his team improve and potentially reach USTA Nationals, he said his mentality has since shifted.
“The main reason I want to do it is to get more players involved in wanting to play the game,” Tchen said. “Those who have the desire to play should be able to play. We want the game to grow. We want to make sure everybody who wants to play or is on the fence of wanting to play should play. And find a team to get involved with. It’s a wonderful platform to build relationships.”
Tchen, whose home facility is Missouri Athletic Club West, frequently travels to Florida and has cultivated friendships with tennis players in the state. Tchen said as soon as his flight lands in Florida, he reaches out to his buddies to schedule hitting sessions. It’s also those St. Louis-based friendships with captains and competitors — plus the ongoing drive to get better — that keeps him coming back.
“Let’s face it — a lot of these folks, I see them two to three times a week,” Tchen said. “Besides your work environment, you don’t see folks that often. You play with them year-round. You cannot help that those are your buddies. It’s a great sport. But it’s also a great support system — folks from your team and your competitor’s team.
“It’s a platform that allows us to be challenged and challenge others. To sharpen your skills and be a better player. What draws me is it’s a camaraderie among ourselves. It’s a good way to build relationships with folks who have the same mindset, always wanting to improve. A lot of folks who play USTA have that team mentality. It’s a common goal you want to help your team get to the next level.”