Newport, RI – The National Tennis Club (NTC) hosted the first event of the 2011/12 court tennis season – the US Junior Doubles playing for the Lieb Cup. An enthusiastic group of players, ranging in age from 8-17, descended upon the club on Friday night for a weekend of tennis matches and drills, culminating in the finals on Sunday.

The Lieb Cup is a mix of coaching and match play, with the purpose of developing junior players. Named in honor of the late John Lieb, who had the foresight to establish a fund for the development of junior players, the Lieb Cup is in its eleventh year. From the start of the weekend to the end, it is amazing to watch the improvement of the kids through intense coaching and play. Even more interesting is to watch the progression of the kids over a several year period. Confidence, combined with a few inches of height, a few more pounds and strength can turn a shy 10 year old into a force to be reckoned with at 17! Footwork, volley, and groundstroke drills can instill a sense of confidence.

The weekend was totally in the hands of NTC pros, Rich Smith and Jake Worseldine, who literally spent every minute with the kids. In addition to the basics of the game, an important part of the weekend is teaching the kids about the history and etiquette of the game. During the weekend, Rich and Jake taught them about the game – who was the first world champion, who is the current world champion, the height of the net, how the balls are made; right down to what is the governing body and who is the president! On Sunday, they were given a written quiz – just like school! Caroline Lippincott scored the highest with 23 out 25 correct answers, but the rest of the juniors were right behind her.

The etiquette portion taught the kids about the proper way to change ends, conduct on court and general sportsmanship. On Sunday, as a “live” quiz, the juniors watched a match between “Bad Boy Jake” and “Rich Nice Boy Smith”. Bad Boy Jake showed up late, dressed in black with mismatched shoes. He proceeded to lie, argue, cheat, scream, and act in an unsportsmanlike manner – his way through a match with Rich. Meanwhile, the kids wrote down all of the “bad things” and were even astute to notice his sloppy footwork and bad racquet skills!

Then, it was on to the finals. After preliminary matches, the pairings were determined. Gamble Freydberg and Bennett Van Liew won the B Division over Connor Buettner and Morgan Harris. All four players, displayed good racquet skills, and extraordinary sportsmanship.

The US Junior Final was comprised of Caroline Lippincott and Jacob Mason versus Cameron Buettner and Gamble Freydberg. Lippincott and Mason came out strong in the first set, only to lose their nerve midway and the set 6/4. Buettner and Freydberg, with confidence on their side looked to have the momentum shift, but Lippincott and Mason re-grouped and won the second set 6/0. With Mason and Lippincott on the hazard side at the start of the third set, they elected to change receivers. Despite this “dicey” decision, they managed to go up 5/1 in the final set. Buettner and Freydberg, though were not going down without a fight – clawing their way back to 5/3, at which point Mason and Lippincott decided to close it out for the gold medal! Final score – 4/6, 6/0, 6/3.

Good volleys, speedy footwork, and the start of some cutting groundstrokes were the order of the day. Combine that with understanding chases and strategy, made for a fascinating final and the makings of some future stars!

Lest you think the kids worked hard all weekend, they did! However, we still had time for fun, including devouring a huge party pizza on Friday night. We also took advantage of the warm temperatures to explore a corn maze, followed by a “kid-friendly” dinner at a local spot and on Sunday, the kids did their footwork drills outside on the Hall of Fame lawn tennis courts!

One cannot stress enough the amazing job that Rich and Jake did in running the weekend. They were with the kids every minute, combining teaching with patience and humor. And, in turn, the kids responded by stepping up their level of play and behaving with the pros and to their fellow players.

In addition to Rich and Jake, thanks go out to the National Tennis Club for hosting the weekend, Beth Winthrop for providing breakfast and lunch each day and Bill Burgin for doing the “official” group photographs. Finally, a special thanks to the Lieb Fund for which the weekend would not be possible.

In closing, let’s make it everyone’s goal to increase the number of junior players in this country. Introducing more juniors to the game will insure growth in the future. Besides, you never know when one of these young players, might become one of your doubles partners in the future!