2015-04-16 / Around Town

New Tennis Director to Put Ball in Youth Court

By Olga Enger


John Austin, the Tennis Hall of Fame's tennis director, came out of retirement for one last professional game in 1986, after he pulled a wildcard to play in the ATP La Quinta event against 15-year-old Andre Agassi. Austin said in his entire career, he had never seen a ball hit so hard. (Photo by Olga Enger) John Austin, the Tennis Hall of Fame's tennis director, came out of retirement for one last professional game in 1986, after he pulled a wildcard to play in the ATP La Quinta event against 15-year-old Andre Agassi. Austin said in his entire career, he had never seen a ball hit so hard. (Photo by Olga Enger) It is a score of love-love for Wimbledon champion John Austin and the International Tennis Hall of Fame, as the retired athlete begins a new set serving as tennis director. Austin moved from Scottsdale, Ariz., last week, leaving his wife Karen, a teacher, behind to finish the school year.

Standing at 6’4” with broad shoulders, it’s easy to imagine a young Austin zealously competing against his opponent on the grass courts of the Tennis Hall of Fame, as he did in the late 1970s. Off court, Austin is an affable and jovial character, who talks about the dog he left behind in Arizona and confesses his weakness for cookies and ice cream.

“I’m truly privileged to be here,” said Austin. “The Hall of Fame has a rich, rich history. I want to create a culture of tennis." Austin hopes to build up the junior program and inspire younger players. “Tennis is a life-enhancing sport. I’d like to get the kids to play and enjoy this game, teach them to work hard. If a champion comes out of it, that’s icing on the cake,” Austin smiled.

Young tennis players will have an opportunity to work with one of the best.

Upon his retirement from the professional tour, Austin became a coach for players Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, Jim Grabb, Chuck Adams, Robbie Weiss, Alexandra Stevenson, and Amy Frazier, to name a few.

When asked about his coaching style, he said he would describe it as encouraging, cooperative and positive. “I want to make you the best you can be. You never know. So I keep encouraging,” explained Austin.

The tennis champion knows firsthand what a supportive tennis club can do for a child. His mother, who took to the sport after he was born, became the shop manager at the Jack Kramer Tennis Club in Southern California, where Austin grew up. She encouraged her five children to play, reminding them it was a game they could continue to enjoy into adulthood, unlike most team sports.

“I resisted it at first. I was overweight and unathletic,” confessed Austin. “My nickname was Pig-Pen.” His mother’s persistence to play the game paid off. All her children went on to play competitive tennis and four went to Wimbledon.

In 1980 Austin partnered with his sister, Hall of Famer Tracy Austin, to win the Wimbledon Mixed Double Championship. That was the first time in Wimbledon history for a brother/sister team took the title. The pair also reached the Wimbledon mixed doubles final in 1981.

Austin competed on the ATP World Tour for six years, achieving a ranking of world No. 40.

During his playing career, Austin achieved victories over then- No. 1 John McEnroe, former French Open champion Yannick Noah, Andres Gomes, Wojtek Fibak, and Tim and Tom Gullikson. In college, Austin was a member of the victorious 1976 UCLA NCAA championship team, and he was a 1978 NCAA doubles champion. He also reached the NCAA doubles final in 1977.

While pursuing his teaching career, Austin kept his own game strong, attaining two No. 1 USTA national rankings in the Men's 40 Singles in 1997 and Men's 35 Doubles in 2002.

He joins the Tennis Hall of Fame at a time of exciting change. Todd Martin took a significant leadership role in September, when he was named Executive Director, following Mark Stenning's more than 25- year legacy. Then, Stu Upson was named Chief Operating Officer of the Tennis Hall of Fame on January 15 of this year.

“We are undergoing a major renovation that would support expanding a junior program,” said Tennis Hall of Fame Communications Director Anne Marie McLaughlin. The project will result in an all-new indoor facility with three hard courts, and the addition of three new indoor/outdoor courts. The club also offers 13 grass courts and one clay court.

In his new role, Austin will oversee tennis programming at the Hall of Fame Tennis Club, which enjoys an active membership of adult and junior players. It is also open to the public for drop-in play.

The grass courts are scheduled to open May 20. The construction project is expected to be completed in September.

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