Can Kamau Murray Build a Next Serena?
January 19, 2016 - Picnic Time
Sloane Williams’s doctrine doesn’t start for another hour, yet she’s already warming adult on a justice during XS Tennis in Kenwood. Though usually 15, she generates considerable energy from her long, skinny frame, slamming offer after offer into an invisible opponent’s court. Her early attainment piques a seductiveness of her instructor, XS Tennis owner Kamau Murray, for a accumulation of reasons.
“Look during her,” Murray says. “Most kids only lay around until it’s doctrine time. She’s out there working. That will compensate off for her.”
But given it’s hardly past dual o’clock on a Wednesday, her participation also raises a question. “Why aren’t we in school?” Murray asks her pointedly.
“I was ill today, so we suspicion I’d come here,” answers Williams, a sophomore during Kenwood Academy.
“You were ill from school, yet you’re good adequate for tennis?”
“I’m feeling improved now.”
Murray isn’t shopping it. “I adore a effort, yet academics come first,” he reminds her.
The genuine training moment, though, happens later, in a loss mins of their lesson. As Murray fires round after round during her, Williams grows fatigued. She stops relocating her feet into position, instead relying on her prolonged reach. Most of her shots go wild.
“Are we meditative about winning a subsequent point, or are we meditative about being tired?” asks Murray, who is fast losing patience.
“What?” Williams replies, respirating heavily, slumping onto her racket, physically vagrant for mercy.
“I said, ‘Are we meditative about winning a subsequent point, or are we meditative about being tired?’ ”
“Being tired,” she answers in a huff.
“Come on!” Murray commands. “Think about a subsequent indicate and win it!”
He smacks a forehand to her right, and Williams stairs into position ideally to glow a lapse down a baseline.
“Thank you!” Murray says in triumph. “You can never win a indicate if you’re meditative about being tired. Do not forget that. It’s always, always, always about a subsequent point.”
Williams drops onto a dais and inhales a red Gatorade. It’s tough to tell either a doctrine has been absorbed. Still irritated, Murray walks off a court. “Sissy girl,” he mutters to himself.
“Sissy” is a word that Kamau Murray uses with rather differing frequency. But he is not a male who worries about domestic exactness or harm feelings. He is about removing results, quite when it comes to his many earnest players. “You can be a smashing chairman and do smashing things,” he says, “but a nation is structured so that if we don’t win, no one cares.”
Whatever we consider of Murray’s approach, a former college actor and ex–pharmaceutical repute has roughly overnight turn a best-known, best-connected tennis manager in a Chicago area, and his repute is flourishing outward a city as well. Recently, a 35-year-old was hired to support Sloane Stephens, a pro ranked in a tip 50. When not fasten a Florida local during tournaments around a globe, Murray plies his trade on a South Side, not accurately famous as a tennis hotbed.
If he has his way—and he’s relentless about removing his way—that will shortly change. Last summer, Murray’s nonprofit, XS Tennis and Education Foundation, that operates a Kenwood club, pennyless belligerent on a $12 million new bottom during 54th and State in Washington Park, on land where a scandalous Robert Taylor Homes once stood. The large new center—backed, both financially and otherwise, by a city, Mayor Emanuel personally, tennis good Billie Jean King, and other notables—will be something of a cathedral to girl tennis, rising in a unsettled partial of Chicago. Spread opposite some-more than 13 acres and anchored by a 116,000-square-foot building, a XS Tennis Village, as it’s being called, is scheduled to open late this year and will underline a whopping 27 courts—12 indoor and 15 outside (four of them clay).
Murray’s skeleton for a core are extravagantly ambitious. For one thing, he wants to attract vital inhabitant youth tournaments to a South Side. But many important, he sees it as a proceed to ramp adult his foundation’s mission: to urge a lives of as many area children as he can.
His representation to relatives is simple: More than a thousand college tennis scholarships go new any year, quite on women’s teams, since of a miss of competent talent. “I tell them that if they follow my plan,” he says, “I can pledge their child a giveaway college education. So many kids, they dump out mentally, out of propagandize and out of life in general, since they feel like there’s no light during a finish of a tunnel. If we can say, ‘If we do right, we will give we this opportunity,’ there is a light: we will go to college.”
He’s done good on that pledge for scarcely 3 dozen of his students who’ve landed tennis scholarships over a past 8 years. The rub, of course, is that his pledge hinges on students following his plan. And that devise means putting in a kind of work, both on a justice and in a classroom, that he mercilessly demands.
“His character substantially doesn’t work for everyone,” says Natalie Whalen, a 19-year-old connoisseur of magnet high propagandize Whitney Young who began lessons with Murray when she was 12 and now plays during Indiana University. “But we like him since he’s real. He always found a right thing to contend to urge my game. Actually, we consider my best training days came when he was additional critical.”
Murray creates no apologies for his ardent approach, observant that scholarship-caliber athletes need to be pushed to strech their full potential. From day one, he tells relatives and kids that they’re all in it for a prolonged haul—until high propagandize ends. It’s an phonetic contract: He’s totally invested if they are. “There has to be a turn of trust and joining with all parties involved,” Murray says. “When we see a immature child for a initial time, we can daydream how this child needs to play to be successful. we can daydream a coaching routine from commencement to end. You have to see that routine through. Every child is different, and we have to commend early how to manager any one individually, to maximize that player’s particular abilities.” His customary rate is $80 an hour for particular lessons, yet a substructure offers reductions, from 25% to 100%, formed on family income; educational education is free.
It’s tough to disagree with his results. Over a past few years, he has constructed a stellar register of players (see “Kamau Murray’s Star Students,” below), many particularly Taylor Townsend, a 19-year-old pro he coached in her initial years on a circuit. The Englewood native, who reached No. 1 in a youth rankings in 2012, was heralded during one indicate as “the subsequent Serena.” Though Murray and Townsend split ways in a open of 2015 (“Sometimes players need to hear a new voice,” says Murray), his impasse with her increased his repute and his Rolodex.
For players who sojourn committed to Murray’s program, XS Tennis represents not only a pathway out of their resources yet an bland refuge from civic ills. “As a singular mom, we can contend a reason my son didn’t breeze adult on a travel is tennis saved him,” says Renell Perry, a late IBM executive from Jackson Park Highlands. Her son, Adam Wright, a product of XS Tennis, went on to play during Tennessee State University. “My son was always in this contest or that tournament, so there wasn’t that idle time that can get immature group in trouble. When we forsaken him off to play tennis, and those doors sealed behind him, we knew he was safe. we am one of a mothers down here who interjection God for Kamau.”