A 4-year-old South Pasadena youngster has won his first Southern California tennis tournament.
Playing in the eight-and-under division in the Andrea Klein Summer invitational on three newly minted 36-foot tennis courts at the Arroyo Seco Racquet Club in South Pasadena, Andre Palmer went undefeated with nine consecutive wins and captured his first title to the amazement of all who watched.
“This was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my 35 years of experience in tennis,” said John Letts, the tournament director. “This kid was hitting one handed backhands, slice backhands, topspin forehand cross court winners and literally diving for balls all over the court.”
Letts, a former Stanford All-American and successful touring pro who won seven ATP tour doubles titles during his career, is a new convert and believer in the USTA’s 10 and Under format. “The new mini courts are specially designed for kids eight and under with the hopes of ‘scaling down’ tennis to make more meaningful play among younger kids,” said Letts, who owns and operates iTennis, Inc. “It really does work. Some of the younger kids from our program wouldn’t have been able to have the same success if they were playing traditional tennis. At this event, a player of any age can get out there and have fun, as well as success.”
Andre was the youngest contestant among the 10 players in the eight-and-under division. The round robin format featured each player playing mini games against each of the other nine contestants. Palmer finished with a perfect 9-0 record to win the tournament outright.
“He just absolutely loves tennis,” explains his father tennis pro Gary Palmer, who once owned his own tennis academy in Pasadena. “He watches the Tennis Channel for hours on end, knows all the players names, and has already adopted many of the mannerisms of his favorites, including Roger Federer (hence the one-handed backhand).“
Coach Palmer wasn’t sure that his four year old would be able to compete with the older kids, and was as surprised as everyone else that his son took home the first-place trophy.
Palmer, who was also initially skeptical about the USTA’s new 10 and Under initiative for kids became an instant believer. “I really didn’t understand the whole 10 and Under Tennis thing until I witnessed it for myself firsthand,” Palmer commented. ”It’s not just because Andre won the tournament. . . . it was more how remarkable it was how the kids were having long rallies and really focusing as they competed.”
According to his father, young Andre took his first tennis trophy home and brought it to bed with him that night placing it carefully on his pillow. For the 4 year old prodigy, it’s just the start. “I want to be a professional tennis player when I grow up,” Andre said with a grin.