Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Profile: Mark Stern- A Tennis Northeast ‘Addict’

If Mark Stern hadn’t found Tennis Northeast (Metro Boston Tennis League), he wouldn’t be the self-described “tennis nut” he is today.

He is not only a devoted Tennis Northeast (TNE) enthusiast, he is apparently the most ardent enthusiast in the entire Tennis League Network

Why? Because this 3.25 player now holds the record for most matches played in the spring season—an impressive total of 38.

 But what about the 183 matches he’s played in the 24 & 1/2 months that he has been a league member? That’s a lot an awful lot of tennis that has grown from a simple league flyer he saw posted at a tennis court. So, when people talk about the growth of tennis and TLN, it seems that Mark Stern owns a big chunk of it.

Any league rivalries? “I play almost every other week with Lenny Shea. For a while I was getting the better of him, but he has my number now.”

Tennis isn’t Mark’s only activity. It’s bigger than that. He is an exercise addict. He runs everyday with his dog; and as a soccer referee, he runs up and down the field with the kids, teens and adults. He has no interest, however, in becoming a tennis lines person. “It’s too sedentary." 

For Mark, beginning such an intense exercise regimen was a somewhat do or die kind of decision. A two-pack-a-day smoker for 26 years, from age 13 to 39, Mark says, “I finally decided something had to give.” So he quit smoking and started running. He jumped into it with zeal. He has run a dozen marathons, ten of them Boston marathons, and participates in an older men’s running team. In 15 years, his team has won the New England Championships more than half the time, and once placed second in a national competition.

With all that running, where did tennis come in? Mark explains:

“When my son was in the 8th grade, he decided to learn tennis and join the school team.“ Mark took lessons with him. And “that,” he says, “was my big mistake!” His son quit “because his father got too interested.” Now his son plays and writes music, and Mark is the only family member playing tennis.

By now you might be getting the picture that Mark is not only a tennis addict, but an all around exercise addict.”My wife and kids think I’m a nut, over the top on exercise.” Are they right? You be the judge.

You must be curious. How does this civil rights lawyer have all that time to devote to Tennis Northeast? That’s because he works less than full time—“sometimes 40 hours a week, sometimes 15. I’m a very good lawyer, but a mediocre business man.”

 There are two startling facts that would seem to belie his success in tennis. He’ll be 65 in September. And he has rheumatoid arthritis. Neither of these interferes with his physical activity.

 Does he think age is a factor in tennis?

“I get beaten by just as many guys in their 60s as by guys who are 25.” So age doesn’t appear to matter. Neither does his RA since he has no symptoms, which has stupefied his doctors. They saw it in his blood work and on an MRI, but Mark doesn’t feel it at all.

Mark didn’t pick up tennis until nearly five years ago at the age of 60. Why did he join the league?

“I was wanting to play more often than I could find partners. I absolutely love it and I’m completely addicted to it. If you need one more match, you can always call me.” Thus, Mark is always in the playoffs, and “always the lowest ranked player. I usually have 10-12 wins, but I never have won in the tournament.”

Here is something that makes him a truly unique competitor: “I prefer to play with better players and lose 2/3 of my matches, rather than win 2/3 of my matches. That’s one way to “get better and improve as a player.” To assist with that he’s now taking lessons.  

Mark is interested not only in his personal tennis progress, but also to the development of inner-city players. He "has made a personal campaign of collecting racquets players are no longer using to donate to an inner-city tennis program. If you want to donate directly, or through him, email him at"

(Photographer:  Grace Cheech

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Profile: Juan Llerena--From Table Tennis to the Real Deal

A couple of years ago, a writer for wrote about his ardent wish to play just one game--not even an entire set--with Andy Roddick, just to see what it would be like and how he would do against a tennis phenom. (A single point would be challenge enough for most of us.) Believe it or not, Roddick accepted this challenge.

But there was a catch. Roddick had to play with one hand behind his back, and the racket of choice for Roddick was not his Babolat Pure Drive, but one of those heavy cast iron skillets. As we all know, Roddick is a wonderful player, and the best American on the Men’s Tour, with a current rank of #7. The writer got his wish. But it can’t be a surprise to anyone that Roddick won the game against someone who is probably much better at writing about tennis than playing it. (The real question here is why Roddick even bothered to do it. Clearly he’s an extremely good sport.)

Well, for the past few years, Tennis Austin has had its own phenom in Juan-derful-Juan Llerena (anyone familiar with Motown’s 1964 Marvin Gaye hit “You’re a Wonderful One”?) – a 4.0 player who plays with a challenge equal to if not greater than a heavy skillet for a racket, and one hand behind the back. At age 2 Juan was in an electrical accident that resulted in the amputation of his right arm.

Today, Juan is a left handed 4.0 player. A 4.0 player? Yes, you read it right—a 4.0 player. Juan, who plays a few times a week, describes himself as an all around player, but explains, “My weakness is my backhand.” Now, many of us have a weak backhand. Perhaps he compensates with a spectacular forehand – using a racket, not a skillet.

And, just in case you have been Juan-dering: ”No I don't wear a prosthetic,” Juan explains.. “I haven't had one since I was about 12. They weigh too much (think skillet), and I already adjusted my everyday life to have any use for it.”

Juan found Tennis Austin online in 2008 and has been a smash ever since. He is one of its strongest competitors, having won the 3.5 division in the 2009 fall league, and, more recently, the 4.0 division in the spring league.”

So much for a weak backhand. “My tennis serve is strong--100 mph. I place the ball on the racket, flat, pop it up and swing. It took forever to figure it out. Opponents are in wonder when I beat them.” Really? Well, just ask his nemesis, Macon Schoonmaker. So Macon, we’re asking. Whadya think?

Just how did this 4.0 tennis Juan-der get into tennis? He and his sister played table tennis together. When he was 10, out of the blue she gave him a tennis racket. “I took to it naturally, like it was second nature.” But, Tennis Austin, look out! There could be another Llerena phenom coming up though the ranks. Max Llerena, Juan’s 21-month-old son, can already bounce a tennis ball on a racket. (Here is Juan with his Juan-derful wife Courtney.)

So for Juan Llerena, it’s been a unique journey from table tennis to a tennis court. Overall, He is a big fan of Tennis Austin. What he likes most is that, because the league is structured according to ability and rating, “I am able to find people at my level who like to play seriously.” He adds, “Everything has been working really well.”

He likes Tennis Austin well enough that he recommended it to a good friend. “He does play in my division and I also played him in Spring finals.” Now remember-- Juan was the recent winner of that. So, Juan, how’s that friendship going? Tennis Austin is a part of the Tennis League Network.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Profile: David Pond – A Strong Player Who Took Just a Single Lesson!

So far, our profile players have come from Tennis Boston, Tennis Philly and Tennis DC. But it’s now time –and only fair—to leave the Eastern Seaboard and head across the country to the Pond in Orange County, CA, known as David Pond--our current TLN profile. David has been a member of Tennis Orange County since 2008. With a skill level of 3.75, he is yet one more strong TLN competitor, with a superb league record of 69-41 In 2009, he was the champion of the spring season men’s competitive group, and before that he was the 2008 summer champ.

Reaching these high points took some dedication, since, although he played in high school, David had stopped playing after college for 15 years. What was his motivation to return to tennis?

“I was doing mostly mountain biking and wanted to add cardio and I had always loved tennis.”

Once again, the Internet has played a significant role in sustaining another one of our sport’s souls (not soles!) David learned about Tennis Orange County when “I typed in a search for tennis Orange County.” And he is grateful that he did.

“The Tennis OC thing has really gotten me going,” says David. “It’s an important part of my life.” Now he is such a fan of the league that he volunteers to post signs “to get the word out.” Like other TLN players, he likes about Tennis Orange County because of its flexibility, among other things.
”You can play as much or as little as you want. If you don’t like who you are playing, it’s easy to find someone else. You can play someone better or more competitive, or just hit around. Or even agree to ‘Let’s just break a sweat’ matches.”

What would he say are his most memorable matches? They fall into different types.

Some matches were quite long, 2-3 hours. “Some guys I never beat and should have.” And in true Marat Safin style “One guy cursed out of control and slammed his racket.” Another opponent was answering his cell phone while playing. And only once, in a hotly competitive match, did he have an argument about line calls. But for David, it’s all good.

“Mostly I’ve had some great, competitive matches; and 95 percent of the people have been so worth playing.”

Some other things to know about David: His favorite player is Andre Agassi. His favorite shot is a slice backhand. He follows pro tennis and has been to Indian Wells and the U.S. Open.

Although he had a couple of injuries during the past year—a pinched nerve and some back pain-- with ice, rest and a three-week break, David still manages to play 2-3 times a week! His home court is in Santa Ana, and it’s clear that he is eager to play.

“I can play after 3p.m. during the work week and am flexible on the weekends. Just let me know.”