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Wed, Dec. 11

Column: Tennis-playing families add to the richness of the game

There's Bob and Mike Bryan, Serena and Venus Williams, John and Patrick McEnroe, Luke and Murphy Jensen, Manuela, Katerina and Magdalena Maleeva and Tracy, Pam, John and Jeff Austin.

The parents of all of these siblings produced top tennis players who no doubt had an interesting road while reaching the top ranks.

Knowing that only four percent of the players that go through the doors at the famous Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy become players who make the Tour, what are the odds of two or more kids from the same family to have that happen?

If you look at most of the kids who eventually reach a professional level in any given sport, there has been at least one parent who has been there every step of the way.

Their parents own love for that sport, desire and many times professional background has been handed off through many different processes to their offspring.

Take for example Jimmy Evert who was one of the top tennis players in the country growing up and eventually became a teaching pro in Florida.

He took the time to instruct all of his kids tennis on a daily basis, with daughters Chris and Jeanne making it to the pros.

He knew the path to take and laid it out for them.

Wayne and Kathy Bryan, whose twins Mike and Bob are now the top doubles players in the world, ran a tennis club in California.

Kathy was on the women's tour and he a top college player before they married. Their boys lived and breathed the sport, all the while being groomed to see how far they could climb.

From fun local events, to state, sectional and then national competition, the twin brothers found their way to Stanford.

After success there, they went on to play the tour.

So, what are the rules of engagement one needs to follow to allow brothers and sisters in especially close age proximity, to grow in skills and aptitude without killing one-another?

You've heard of Cain and Abel, right?

The Bryans didn't allow their boys to play against each other if they were in the same tournament.

They made this decision after going through the process a couple times with very negative results.

Practice drills were open season, and the competition was fierce, but at the end of the day no one had to look at a trophy one won over the other.

When at tournaments and getting ready to play a match having a sibling to warm you up, give you some reassurance, root you on and be there through thick and thin sharing your experience is a real plus, most of the time.

Being built-in practice partners, comrades in arms, not to mention getting feedback that is not candy-coated, having someone who has your back and at times inside jokes that no one else would get are what you can count on with a close brother or sister.

If you're the older sibling, a younger brother or sister might look up to you so much they'll do anything they need to do to be the same or better.

But it can backfire.

They might need to find a different path for their own identity, or because they feel they'll never measure up.

How tough it must be for Serena and Venus Williams when they make it to the finals in one of the Grand Slam events.

With millions of people watching on TV, and thousands in the stands they can't just say they aren't going to play.

It's been said they have to be careful not to look at each one's body language and facial expressions, especially when one is playing poorly.

And at the end of the match, not showing the full expression of joy that would normally come out when their sister is feeling just the opposite.

Bottom line is most of what sibling rivalry brings to the table is a good thing.

It promotes a bond that's everlasting, builds you a thicker skin, and can make you try harder.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or

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