Riffice learns from Lendl, moves on at Metropolia Orange Bowl

December 11, 2015 06:48 AM

By Pat Mitsch, special to USTA.com

PLANTATION, Fla. – Sitting before hundreds of press after his historic title victory at Wimbledon in 2013, Andy Murray spoke about how his coach Ivan Lendl had influenced him.
Talking to one reporter on a quiet night in Florida on Thursday, Sam Riffice did the same thing.
The 16-year-old Roseville, Calif., native advanced to the third round of the Metropolia Orange Bowl Junior Championships, beating 10th-seeded Jurabek Karimov of Uzbekistan, 6-3, 6-3, in a second-round match at the Frank Veltri Tennis Center.
Since winning the Orange Bowl 16s singles title a year ago, Riffice (pictured above) has tried to “transition into more of a men’s game,” as he puts it. He’s strengthened his serve and forehand, which helped him on Thursday, as he joined 14th-seeded Ulises Blanch and wild card John McNally as the three remaining Americans in the boys’ 18s draw.
Also on that list of improvements is Riffice’s mental approach to the game, which is where the eight-time Grand Slam champion and former coach of Andy Murray comes in. Riffice is part of a handful of 15- and 16-year-old boys who began training under the eye of Lendl in late October as part of a USTA Player Development initiative to engage former top professionals as coaches.
Unfortunately, that collaboration began with a training camp while the sinewy Riffice was rehabilitating a partially torn hamstring, suffered while representing the U.S. in Junior Davis Cup a month before in Spain. It amounted to limited time on-court with Lendl.
“But I watched all the practices while I wasn’t playing,” Riffice said. “He’s really big on, ‘Every rally and every practice is huge.’ You can’t have one ball where you’re not trying to improve or work on something. You could have an hour-and-a-half practice, but every ball you have to work on something. You can’t slack off at all.
“I think it’s really important,” he added. “You train more like a match. That’s what he’s really big about. You train just like a match – not giving anything away and always working on something, always having a purpose. I don’t think I have it down 100 percent, but I’m definitely doing better than I was before."
Riffice doesn’t have to look far for an example to follow, either. He’s spent several years training at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla. -- his family recently moved to Boca, in fact -- alongside the players who reached the pinnacle of the junior circuit this past year, particularly Wimbledon junior champion Reilly Opelka and French Open junior champ Tommy Paul.
“I grew up with Reilly in the dorms and Tommy, and I’ve tried to learn from everything they’ve done,” Riffice said. “They’ve been great role models for me.”
Top-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway benefitted from similar guidance on Thursday, as he fended off an upset bid from unseeded Alexandar Lazarov. Ruud found himself in a third-set tiebreak with the Bulgarian, then saw a 4-0 lead in that tiebreak turn into a 5-all tie, before coolly winning the next two points and advancing, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5).
“Growing up, I was very crazy on the court, very wild, just screaming, crying whenever it went bad,” he said. “I just always was used to winning back in Norway, where I was the best for as long as I can remember. So whenever anything went against me, I was shocked.
“Then I just had some talks with some good people to help me out, just to find that calm that I need on the court and help me find the player who I want to be.”
The boys’ and girls’ 18s third rounds and quarterfinals will both be played on Friday to make up for rain delays earlier in the week.
Check out OrangeBowlTennis.org for the latest draws and order of play.