Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Profile: Juan Llerena--From Table Tennis to the Real Deal
A couple of years ago, a writer for ESPN.com 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.