A Coach's Impact: Claire Liu on Coach Mike Gennette

May 10, 2016 01:55 PM

Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif., won her first pro singles title at the $10,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Orlando, Fla., last year at the age of 14 years, 9 months, 25 days old, becoming the youngest woman to win a USTA Pro Circuit tournament since Anna Kournikova in 1996 and the sixth youngest ever. In junior play this year, Liu peaked at No. 23 in the ITF World Junior Rankings in January and reached the final at the USTA International Spring Championships in April, while in 2015, she won the girls' 18s ASICS Easter Bowl title, advanced to the Orange Bowl quarterfinals and reached the third round at junior Wimbledon.

Liu is one of eight junior girls who was recently named to the 2016 Team USA National Junior Team, and she is currently the youngest player in the Top 600 of the WTA rankings at No. 535. She recently took time to write about her first coach, Mike Gennette, who began working with the rising young star when she was five years old.

By Claire Liu

Every tennis player has that story about how they first started playing tennis or how they fell in love with the sport. This is my story.

The first lesson I ever had was at California Lutheran University with the men's head coach, Mike Gennette. I don't remember what happened or how it went (I was five), but I do remember coming back week after week to have another lesson with him.

Claire-Liu-with-coachOne of the earliest memories I have of Coach Mike is when I was hitting serves, and we were coming down to the last ball in the basket. When I picked up the final ball, he said, "If you make this, you win the championship." I didn't know what the championship was, but I didn't care. Making the serve was a matter of life and death. Unfortunately, I missed it and immediately started bawling my eyes out. I thought it was the end of the world. But Coach Mike just smiled and said, "There's always next time."

The next week came, and so did the chance to redeem myself. When I picked up the last ball and Coach Mike said those same words to me, I knew there was no way I was going to miss my serve. I hit the ball, saw it land in and immediately became the happiest person in the world. That was the day I knew I wanted to really win a championship. I wanted to be in a stadium, hit the winning ball and see thousands of people clapping and cheering for me. But, at that moment, seeing Coach Mike and my mom and dad smile was good enough for me.

Ever since I was five, I have been working with Coach Mike. He was the first person to open my eyes to the hard work and dedication it would take to make it big. To this day, I do the same drills that I started when I was 7. Although I knew they were the right thing to do, it didn't stop me from glaring at him and mumbling under my breath. He definitely noticed my grumpiness but kept encouraging me, even though I was ready to quit. He knew that the times I didn't want to do anything were the times I needed to work hard. Whether it was staying out late or waking up early, he dealt with what he had and took advantage of every minute.

Even though I have been traveling more and seeing Coach Mike less, I always try to see him whenever I'm back home. You can never go wrong with going back to basics. With everything else in my life changing and evolving, it's great to have that one constant (other than my family) who keeps you clear-minded and grounded. He was the one who introduced me to this amazing game, and I can't thank him enough for that. Thank you, Coach Mike, for everything you've done for me and all that we've gone through.