As the world celebrates the Holiday season and the beginning of the New Year, the tennis industry begins to look to the beginning of the new tour year with the Australian Open Series. Players spend their time with family, travel to training camps throughout the world for drilling and conditioning, and take much needed cool down time secluded somewhere around the world. Players even take time to support their charities and participate in fund raising events like tournaments and autograph signings. When we caught up with Jesse Witten he was preparing to leave for St. Croix for their annual charity event at the St. Croix Tennis Club.
We were privileged to ask Jesse Witten as he prepares for his upcoming tour to ask him a few questions about his life in tennis, his childhood in tennis, his charity supports, and some of his thoughts.
A Childhood’s Awakening
Jesse Witten born October 15, 1982 in Naples, Florida and currently still resides in Naples, Florida. He has been on the professional circuit since 2005, and he is currently ranked 167th, stands at 5’10” and weighs approximately 190 lbs. Jesse began playing tennis at the age of 6 and at age 15 he got the bug. He began training and competing heavily; realizing that he actually was very talented in his skills in tennis.
Tennis World USA: What was the most memorable moment in your childhood learning and training in tennis of your coach and his teaching skills?
Jesse Witten: I had many different coaches and memories but one that stands out the most is when I had coach by the name of Warren Eber who made tennis and learning very fun. I was only 10 years old and attended clinics with my sister as wells as the coaches two kids. I still until this day remember one game we played called football tennis. It was awesome. Basically playing tennis with a variety of football rules and terms, which will keep any little boy obsessed with sports interested and intrigued in tennis.
Tennis World USA: I know you realized early in your life you wanted to become a professional tennis player; but what type of commitment did you make upon yourself physically and mentally to do this? After looking back at your decision and commitment what advice would you give youth readers that want to or even think about going professional?
Jesse Witten: I actually never really planned on being a pro tennis player. Yeah every kid dreams but for me it wasn't about tennis. I just enjoyed playing and being around my friends every day after school which kept the sport very fun. When i started getting older and was starting to win a lot of matches and doing really well in tournaments things began to change. I was able to get a full scholarship to the University of Kentucky to play tennis. Once I was in school I adapted to the format and the really hit it off with my coaches and teammates and began doing really well. I would play some professional events during the summer just to see what it was like. After completing college tennis I made the move to pros. I would advise and do advise anyone I talk to that college is the best route and I would do it all over again if I had the chance. It is a great stepping stone for so many things in life.
Tennis World USA: How was your 2010? What are your tennis goals for 2011?
Jesse Witten: 2010 overall was a good year. Very up and down as far as results but was able to achieve to of my goals by qualifying and playing in the French Open and Wimbledon. for 2011 i would love to qualify for the last major i haven't played in yet, the Australian Open.
Tennis World USA: What has most stick in your head about the 2010 year for you and how your game has improved?
Jesse Witten: As above, the French Open and Wimbledon experience. The improvement i showed this year was the ability to be more consistent in my play and results.
Tennis World USA: What tournament in the 2010 year would you consider going back and doing all over from the mistakes that you made?
Jesse Witten: There are a bunch of those. You could have one of those every week. If I had to choose one I would pick the match I played at the US Open. I let one slip away after having a commanding lead.
Tennis World USA: Have you ever thought about what you will do when you stop playing tennis?
Jesse Witten: I don't really like to do this. I'm living in the moment. I would love to do something involving sports and most likely tennis. I would love to start an academy of my own with some elite kids that want to get better and love tennis.
Tennis World USA: What do you think about the state of tennis in the United States; and what do you think about college tennis and recruiting problems concerning the number of American players compared to players brought in from other countries?
Jesse Witten: I think US tennis has a bunch of good players right now...we may not have a lot of top ten guys but there are plenty knocking on the door and several who had a great 2010. I feel like college coaches want the best players they can get that are willing to work hard and a lot of times that’s from overseas because those kids don't have as many opportunities in their home country but at the same time there should be a rule of how many foreign players can be on one team so it doesn't hurt the opportunity of our own players here in the US.
Giving back to the fans
Tennis World USA: Jesse please tell us about some of the charities that you support and did you pick those charities?
Jesse Witten: I have supported many charities such as 48 hours of tennis for the St. Matthews house, Haiti relief, the Gullickson foundation, Underprivileged kids in St. Croix, as well as some other small local events.
Training makes the Difference
Tennis World USA: Can you explain what type of training that you go through before a tournament? Can you explain a typical day when you're playing a tournament?
Jesse Witten: If it's right before a tournament I tend to play a lot of points and sets in order to get match ready. A typical day waiting for a match is a lot of waiting around. Wake up and eat breakfast. Warm up usually an hour before match time with another player. Wait to play. After the match depending on the result, maybe hit a few more balls if something didn't feel right and then off to the shower. Grab lunch and just hang out. Probably watch a movie eat some dinner and get ready to do it all over again.
Tennis World USA: How do you do after losing a match and how do you cope with that feeling? Do you sit down later on and look at the match you lost and pick yourself apart in regards what should have been done?
Jesse Witten: Losing is never easy. If i feel like i played well it makes it a little easier but when you lose to someone you think you should best or just don't do anything right or that your capable of s the most frustrating. If i lose i usually like to be alone for 15 or 20 min to get over it and then I'm good to go, for the most part.
Tennis World USA: What player do you feel brings the best in your game out and what makes that player be able to do bring the most out of you?
Jesse Witten: Recently I have had some battles with Alex Bogomolov. We have grown up playing and competing at high level since we were 14. We both know were in for a fight every time we step on the court. The playing style is what makes it such a good match. We both run down a lot of balls and are able to break serve at any moment so there is a lot of momentum changes. We make each other better.
Tennis World USA: How many hours do you spend on the court every day? And in the gym?
Jesse Witten: It all depends on the time of year and if there is a tournament. I vary a lot compared to other players. I usually spend a few hours on the court a day while preparing for a tournament. I prefer playing other sports and activities and running over the gym any day.
Tennis World USA: What is your least favourite part of training?
Jesse Witten: The gym and long distance running.
The Fans Make All the Difference in your Career
Fan Question: Over the holiday season from the time around Thanksgiving to the beginning of the year what do you do in regards to staying mentally fit to drill and condition?
Jesse Witten: I try to get away from tennis for a few weeks just to refresh before i start up the training again. This really helps me after a long year to regroup or else it is grueling.
Fan Question: When you travel on tour how many people usually travel with you in regards to staff and what do they do?
Jesse Witten: Usually no one; it is very expensive. This past year my girlfriend traveled with me the entire year which was very nice to have her with me and someone to help out in the tough times and tough losses as well as keep me focused on what the goal is out there on the road. I was very lucky to be able to do that this year. Not many guys get that chance and I’m glad i did.
Fan Question: How do you feel about the coming year (2011) and what does the first 6 months look like for tournaments?
Jesse Witten: It's hard to tell right now. Until the year gets started i never know what to expect. I ended last year very strong so that makes me excited for the beginning of 2011. I don't have my schedule figured out just yet but it begins in Australia and then goes to Hawaii. From there i play in Dallas, San Jose, Delray Beach and then Miami. This is about the first 3 months of the year and as far as I’ve gotten. Things change depending on where your ranked and how expensive the travel plans are so you have to be flexible...one of the toughest things to do.