Turn Pro or Go To College? Rising Tennis Star Tommy Paul signs with Nike

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In April 2015 Tommy Paul, one of the most promising US Tennis players, announced his commitment to the University of Georgia. Yesterday he signed with Nike.

What happened to Tommy’s life in the last months? The young gun simply had oustanding results winning two ITF Pro Circuit events (Spain F13 and Italy F11) and above all he won the French Open Junior crown (beating US fellows Michael Mmoh in the semifinals and Taylor Fritz in the final).

Paul’s decision puts in the spotlight the question: which is the better solution for a young player, going to college or turning pro?

Personally, I do not have an answer valid for all players. I think turning pro is surely the right choice if your talent is stunning and you are already surrounded by a very strong team and it can surely be Paul’s case.

In December 2014 the International Tennis Federation (ITF) published a very interesting review.

It takes on average about 4 years for a Junior top 100 to achieve the ATP Top 100 and less than 20% of boys are able to do it.

And Boys teenagers in ATP top 250 are a rarity.

If you consider this data you would agree that developing through college the tennis technique, discipline, mentality, physical training, and how to handle the media is a great choice to arrive on Pro Tour well prepared.

US top tennis players (World #18 John Isner and #30 Jack Sock) made different choices and both ended up as successful choices as they both are in the elite of World tennis. This is what they said about this article’s subject.

John Isner

“Without college I wouldn’t be here today, I can say that with 100 percent certainty. I wasn’t nearly good enough to go pro after high school. I didn’t even have pro aspirations.

“I got so much better at Georgia. Once I did get so much better, I realized I could maybe play professional tennis. For me it was the right decision. I had to go there. But everybody’s different.”

Jack Sock

“Even through junior year, senior year of high school, I always thought college is what I was going to do,” Sock said. “I was really looking forward to playing on a team, having teammates, enjoying that experience.

“But I felt I was ready. Just made the decision to turn pro. Just still getting used to the traveling and playing week after week.”

I had the chance to interview Tom Jomby that after a great NCAA Career with the Kentucky Wildcats turned pro in September and when I asked him which was the best match of his life he replied:

The best match I’ve ever play was in college in 2012 during the Southeastern Conference regular season and University of Georgia. We were both schools undefeated and the winner was most likely going to win the conference. In a dual match in college it’s the best out of 4 points, (doubles point count for one and then 6 singles) it was 3/3 overall during the dual match and was the only match remaining on court, in front of more than 1000 people. It was at the University of Georgia and was down 4/2 in the third and ended up winning 7/6 . It’s by far the best memory of my life. 

Also Gina Suarez-Malaguti (former junior #109) ddescribed the help of playing college tennis:

The pressure you used to have in matches changes completely. In juniors it was about beating a girl that you grew up with, seeing friends at the check-in table, dealing with drama created by parents, etc. College is about playing for nine or ten other sisters. It’s about making that extra step to get to that ball, staying in the match a few more minutes, hitting that extra ball, going in for that extra private lesson, running one more mile. College tennis not only teaches you more about tennis, but it also teaches you more about yourself – it lets you discover the limits of your body, and it helps you discover how much are you able to do and how hard you can push your body.

These quotes explain perfectly how good a college experience can be: playing in front of big crowd, facing big pressure, feeling responsibility for other people are things that a young player at first steps in the ITF Pro Circuit could be not able to manage.

Last but not least here you can find a “Going to College or Turning Pro? FAQ”. It is a bit dated (2010) but still worth reading.

Which is the right choice for Tommy Paul? Only time will tell.

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