NEW YORK — Denom Anderson edged his then 5-year-old daughter into tennis with his own needs in mind.
“It was really hard finding practice partners,” Anderson, from Matawan, said. “So I decided to teach her how to play tennis so I’d have someone to practice with.”
It’s why he’s here now, 12 years later, tennis racket bag slung around his right shoulder waiting for his daughter, Robin, to start practice.
“That’s how I got into all this trouble,” he said.
The trouble he’s referring to was all around him. Outside of the players’ area at the U.S. Open here in Flushing Meadows, a network of parents, coaches and representatives usher hoards of 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds around from one tournament to the next — the Open’s junior boys and girls division just another stop on a long, and often turbulent road.
And in the middle are Anderson and his daughter, 17-year-old Robin. Anderson doesn’t want to be considered a “tennis dad,” never did. He normally limited Robin to just one tournament a month.
But this year is the first time his daughter won’t be enrolled at Matawan High — her senior year.
She’ll sign up for online courses once she gets home from the tournament and begin a comprehensive makeover on her serve and swing.
This year will be when the two finally choose one side or the other on the fine line they’ve been walking. Whether to give up temporary hopes for a normal lifestyle, and college, in lieu of that of a scattered young pro, or go in a different direction.
“I kind of think I might have a chance at this, but I’m not sure,” Robin said. “Maybe I’ll go to college. I’m just going to play a lot for the next year and I’ll see how I do.”
Robin will face former Wimbledon junior champion Laura Robson in the third round of the junior girls tournament today.
Anderson thought back to the time Robin won the regional “Little Mo’s” Tournament when she was 7. To those consumed by the junior tennis circuit, this was seen as a rite of passage into the upper tier of young prospects, as it showcased the best 10-and-under talent in the country.
But once Anderson found out where the national tournament would be held, he figured it would be all right to skip out on it.
“It was so surprising because they called me up and said, ‘Now that you won, you have to go to Texas,’ ” he said. “And I was like ‘what?’ That’s when I realized what this was. So I was like, ‘No, we’re not going to Texas.’ ”
He wanted his daughter to see where tennis could take her but not drastically change their lifestyles.
But the paths of Melanie Oudin, Ryan Harrison and other teen phenoms make it hard to resist change.
A majority of the most successful players under 20 during the past two U.S. Opens made the push early. Oudin, who advanced to the quarterfinals when she was 17, turned pro at 15.
Harrison tore through the qualifiers and reached the second round at 18. He also turned pro at 15.
Sam Querrey, the last American man to get booted from this year’s tournament, turned down a college scholarship to go pro.
But Luke Jensen, a former French Open doubles champion and now women’s tennis coach at Syracuse University, thinks that’s a misconception. The drive has to be there now, but the decision to go professional does not.
“They think because they haven’t made the pro tour, the big splash at 14, 15, 16 that it’s unrealistic,” Jensen said. “But the reality is, if you look at the tour, the majority of the girls playing from around the world are 24, 25, 26, just like in the workplace and anywhere else. You go to college, you pay your dues and then around 24, 25, 26 you start making it, you start finding your way.”
In a way, Denom Anderson’s mind-set is still the same as it was back when they could just skip a tournament. Not worry about how one result will affect the next.
Not worry about whether Robin will play tennis for money, or pursue a career in math or science — her periphery interests.
It was a lifestyle Denom and Robin sort of stumbled on anyway, and the reason why he hasn’t turned into a tennis dad just yet.
“I don’t really worry about it,” Denom said. “My approach is, it’ll take care of itself. When you get there, I think the decision will make itself.”