NJTL 50 for 50:
Erin Maher | June 7, 2019
As the USTA Foundation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Junior Tennis & Learning network, USTA.com looks at 50 NJTL leaders and alumni who helped shape this incredible community dedicated to helping youth strive for academic and athletic excellence on the tennis court, in the classroom and in life.
In this installment, we catch up with Jean Desdunes, a USTA National Coach since 2005. Desdunes also served as the Head Men’s Tennis Coach at the Georgia institute of Technology, where he coached four All-Americans, and served as a USTA National Team Travel Coach, where he helped train Todd Martin and Vince Spadea, among others. He was also a two-time All-American and four-time All-ACC at Clemson University.
The Jean Desdunes File
Name: Jean Desdunes
NJTL Chapter: NYJTL in Highland Park, New York, NY
Role with NJTL: Past participant
Age became active in NJTL: 9
USTA.com: How did you first start playing tennis?ADVERTISEMENT
Jean Desdunes: I was born in New York, and was just following my brothers to the park, and they started an NJTL program which is part of Skip Hartman’s program now. That was one of the first programs that Arthur Ashe put together. They had a summer program, and just like any of the current programs, they put a team together. It was a team that the majority was my cousins and my family and a few other kids from the neighborhood. We ended up winning the city [championships], and we went to nationals, and did well. Enough that it caught Don O’Dell’s and Charlie Pasarell and Arthur Ashe’s eye, and from there I earned a scholarship to go to train at Perry Hopman’s Tennis Academy in Long Island, N.Y. At the time, that was where John McEnroe and a lot of the top players in the country were training. Mr. Hopman was the Davis Cup captain for Australia, so you would have a number of pros that would come through there like Arthur and Stan Smith, Ken Rosewall.
USTA.com: What would you say was your favorite aspect of the NJTL when you were involved with it?
Jean Desdunes: As I said, the team was made up of some of my family, it felt like a family. I was obviously one of the younger ones on the team. It was just a really healthy, fun way to spend our summers. We would go there and spend almost our entire summer playing tennis and traveling. It was especially fun when we got the chance to go to Washington D.C. for the Nationals, that was a big-time trip. I just remember it being fun and a great family atmosphere and a fun way to spend a summer.
USTA.com: What is the greatest lesson that you learned from being involved with the NJTL?
Jean Desdunes: Well, all those life lessons that sports can teach you, even when you don’t realize you’re learning those things. Hard works pays off, discipline. I had to be on time, they taught me all those things. All those little lessons, I now look back, and they still play a big role in my life, and just the way they supported the community. It gave me a purpose as far as giving back. That’s probably the biggest lesson that I’ve learned. I went from that NJTL program, then when I moved to Florida because of tennis because Mr. Hopman moved to Florida, so I moved to Florida as well. I ended up in Miami, where I ended up meeting Bobby Curtis. Bobby Curits also had an NJTL, and Bobby Curtis was “Mr. Tennis” in Florida, and even now the state championship is called, “The Bobby Curtis”, so he had an almost identical type of program, so my life was seamless with one great mentor after another. Just the idea of giving back to communities and kids.
USTA.com: You met Arthur Ashe. How was he as a person, and what was your impression of him?
Jean Desdunes: Just a very calming figure, very positive. At the time I met him, he was very busy, he was one of the best in the world playing on the tour himself, but he still found time to come by and shed some wisdom on us, and evaluate us and give some pointers. So I met him a few times in my later life as well, before he passed away. He was so wise, and at times, he was not the type of person that spoke a lot or spoke loud, so you kind of had to listen to well. The idea of playing and being a pro was etched in my mind because of him, but the only thing he ever sold was to get an education and going to college. At the time I didn’t understand that, and I thought he was discouraging me. But really what he was doing was giving me the foundation to be successful. vIt wasn’t until later that I realized the type of leader he was and had been to us
USTA.com: Tennis is still such a major part of your life, and it’s your career. Do you think that being a part of the NJTL community influenced where you are at today?
Jean Desdunes: For sure. I think the key to any of us, to the people we call “lifers”, you know, I’ve been playing tennis and wearing shorts my whole life. I kid that these are my work clothes. But the key to being a “lifer” is truly being in love with the sport. Some people don’t love the sport, but they love the by-products of the sport, the lifestyle it provides Once you get that, sometimes you walk away from it. But the “lifers” stay because they love the sport, and I think that’s what the NJTL, and the people that ran those NJTLs, those people were such giving people. It grew something in me that is probably the foundation and the cornerstone of the way I approach my coaching style
Pictured Above: Jean Desdunes, third from left in the front row, at an NJTL event. (Photo Credit: Jean Desdunes)