Published 12:00 am Monday, February 9, 1998

By Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / February 9, 1998

LAPLACE – Mike Bryan has had a long involvement with the sport of tennis.

His parents met at a tennis tournament. His dad and two of his olderbrothers teach for a living. Bryan himself has played tennis for 25 yearsand competed in the sport at Episcopal High School of Acadiana and atNortheast Louisiana University. He even played professionally for a littlewhile.

Bryan is the head tennis professional at Belle Terre Country Club, comingto the River Parishes in September from River Oaks Country Club inHouston, Texas, where he was the assistant golf professional. Bryan isthe first full-time tennis professional that Belle Terre has hired.

Bryan said he is busy getting everything organized and getting themembers used to having an organized schedule for tennis. He is also busyorganizing more tournaments at the club and looks to have eighttournaments this year besides the usual holiday events, starting with theBelle Terre Tennis Invitational in March.

The invitational, which will be held March 27-29, is open to any playerwho wants to participate. Non-members need a National Tennis RatingProgram rating in order to participate. This would be the first year for theinvitational, and Bryan said he hopes it helps get more people to join theclub.

Bryan is also starting a junior program in March, which will also be opento members and non-members. The club held a small program over theChristmas holidays and Bryan is looking to expand on it. The program willbe held from March to April.

Bryan said it is hard right now getting youngsters into tennis because theysee other sports like baseball and basketball more. Bryan, who ran crosscountry in high school to stay in shape for tennis, said there are goodathletes who can play two or three sports but that it is rare. He seesathletes who are decent in four sports but who could be very good in oneor two of them if they limited their concentration to them.”I would like to see kids make a choice on what they want to do and do itas well as they could,” Bryan said.

A lot of athletes who pick up tennis at a young age are introduced to it bytheir parents. The New Orleans area has a disadvantage because of the lackof professional tournaments in the area. In Houston, there was atournament that many of the top professionals from Jimmy Connors toPete Sampras played at, and the young members of the club would serve asball boys.

Bryan said the only time you see a lot of tennis is when the U.S. Open is on.

In fact, Bryan said play picks up around Wimbledon and the French and U.S.Opens. And while Bryan admits that Tiger Woods probably hurt tennis alittle bit with the exposure he brought to golf, he does not think tennis isdying down.

Bryan played No. 5 singles on a NLU team that was ranked 15th in thecountry. As for the differences between a club professional and a tennisprofessional, he said most club pros at their best are a notch or two belowthe touring pros.

Bryan said that while it is often overemphasized about how hard the proshit the ball, it is the pros’ speed that makes the difference. He said all thepros are really fast and have one big weapon, whether it be their serve orforehand, that can win points easily for them when they are playing well.

Bryan said one thing he didn’t like about the tennis profession is that foryears one did not need to be certified to be a tennis pro. Now, he said, theUnited States Professional Tennis Association has started having a way tocertify professionals. Certification includes a test on the history of thegame, a written test and a teaching and skills test. “It gives credibility to being a tennis professional,” Bryan said.

Bryan said he wears many hats as a club pro, from teaching to schedulingleagues to running the pro shop. As for teaching, Bryan said it all depends on the individual. Players whohave played sports before have an advantage because they already have afeel for hitting a ball and learned hand-eye coordination.Bryan, who has taught for 10 years, said the hardest shot to learn is theserve, saying it invokes a lot of rhythm and timing. He said the best wayto learn the sport is by taking lessons. Unlike golf, which can be playedalone, the toughest thing about starting tennis is finding players at yourskill level.

Bryan said he wants to let people know that there is a lot going on tennis-wise at the club. There are currently women’s leagues Wednesdaymornings and Thursday nights. After Mardi Gras, Bryan said he wants tostart a men’s league.

The invitational in March is only the first of the tournaments being heldthis year at the club. In April, the singles and mixed doubles clubchampionship will be held. Golf and tennis tournaments will be held at theCajun Cot Plout in May.

In June, there is the men and women’s doubles club championship,followed by the junior tennis tournament in July and the Nifty 50stournament in August.

The Belle Terre Tennis Fall Festival, a member-guest tournament, will beheld in September. And in October, the Belle Terre Pro Am tennistournament will be held for the first time. Bryan said he is looking tobring in eight pros from around the area to play with members.

Bryan also runs the tennis shop at the club. At the shop, members and non-members can buy everything from balls and rackets to clothing. The clubwill also string rackets.

To get more information about the Belle Terre Tennis Invitational inMarch, call the shop at 652-9094.

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