Proudly representing the Association of Tennis Professionals, Merrick, N.Y.-native Scott Lipsky recently took a break from giving opponents service ace-induced whiplash and enlightened Long Island Tennis Magazine on the man behind the racket.
Scott began his journey towards the dual worlds of professional tennis and Long Island celebrity status … at the tender age of six. While most of his post-toddler peers spent their time either unproductively glued to a television set or wreaking household havoc, Lipsky had discovered a more vocational approach to his childhood fun.
“Well, my parents had some rackets sitting around, and one day, I just picked one up and started hitting balls against the back of my house,” recalled Lipsky. “I just kind of got going from there. It wasn’t too long after that when I eventually asked my parents if I could take some tennis lessons.”
Currently strictly a doubles player on the ATP tour, Scott received his first formal instruction at the Mid-Island Indoor Tennis Courts in Westbury, N.Y. When asked to bring up his first tennis memory that didn’t involve leaving tennis ball imprints on the facade of his house, Lipsky is quick to cite one of his earlier competitions. He was forced to learn the hard way that only his racket (or the ground) is supposed to touch a ball in play.
“I remember playing a match, and [my opponent] hit a ball that was going out, and I caught it in the air and I thought it was my point,” states Lipsky. “The guy then told me that it wasn’t my point, and I was confused because I had never really played any matches before. I didn’t know you couldn’t catch the ball, and you had to let the ball drop before the point is over.”
Scott had no intentions of letting that particular rule comprehension distract him from what he eventually wanted to accomplish. When discussing the pros he admired growing up, Lipsky names “Pistol Pete” Sampras as his all-time favorite. However, Lipsky feels his own style of play differs a bit from the serve-and-volley style that Sampras employed during his years of dominance.
“I’m not really a serve-and-volley type of player. I’d like to think that my serve is definitely a weapon of mine, which was pretty similar to Sampras, but it’s hard to be exactly like him because he was so good. I considered myself pretty much an all-around player. I could come to the net, and finish points off at the net, or fade the baseline and grind if I needed to.”
While attending John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, N.Y., Lipsky played for the school and tested his skills on the competitive United States Tennis Association Junior Circuit. By this time, he would hone his court marksmanship at various tennis locales throughout the Island, 90 minutes a day, six times a week.
Although many top-ranked youth players elect to forego the high school tennis scene and just play the Junior Circuit, Lipsky believed that his skills flourished within the group dynamic.
“Tennis is an individual sport, but I think it was fun to be part of a team. You need that sort of team atmosphere once in a while, just so you feel like you’re part of something more than just playing by yourself. I felt like high school tennis was a good way to do that.”
Still, many other blue-chip junior players flock to tennis academies in warmer climates to dedicate themselves to their craft year-round, however, the routinely uncooperative New York weather would prove not to be much of a hindrance for Scott’s development.
“I never gave moving a lot of thought. Obviously there were some opportunities, and a couple of my close tennis friends ended up moving to different academies down in Florida. My parents never really wanted me to do it. They wanted me to go to a normal school. I think if I would have gone down to one of those academies, I may have burned out.”
His philosophy kept him moving in the right direction, as he captured a USTA National Doubles 16-and-Under Championship Title with partner Jeremy Wurtzman, a feat which he reveres as his most glorious experience from the junior level. Scott began to believe that his own impressive tournament displays among the game’s up-and-coming elite, were an indication that he could use tennis as a launching pad to go as far as he wanted.
“When I was playing national and international tournaments in juniors and having success … it made me realize that it’s definitely a possibility that I could make a career of it later on.”
As his days of razing a path through the high school ranks began nearing their conclusion, Lipsky’s play found him high on the radar screens of a few prominent collegiate tennis programs and left him in a fortunate enough position to enjoy the ride.
“I definitely enjoyed the recruitment process. It was fun getting a lot of letters, knowing that people wanted you to go to their school. It was really the first time I had been to colleges, and it was fun going around and seeing how those kids live and what they do.”
The final verdict came down to whether Lipsky would be brandishing his racket clad in Duke Devil blue or Stanford Cardinal red. In the end, he opted for the latter, and headed for what would be an exciting change of scenery on the West Coast.
“I went on a trip to Stanford, and I just fell in love with the place. It was such a beautiful campus and the people were nice. The tradition of Stanford tennis was so great and strong that when Coach Dick Gould called me and offered a full scholarship, it was really hard to turn down something like that.”
With the usual zeal that has defined him as an individual, Lipsky refused to shy away from the new responsibilities that assimilation into the high-profile Stanford realm of athletics and academia would bring.
“I knew it would be hard to play on the team the first year or two, because there were so many good players. I was definitely up for the challenge in trying to make myself the best player I could be.”
Nor did he did seem fazed that his rigorous tennis schedule would cause him to miss out on the occasional collegiate social gathering.
“Sometimes my schedule caused me to miss a thing here and there, but there are so many athletes at Stanford, that everyone knows what’s going on. There were some parties on weekends that I couldn’t go because we had a match the next day. Or, there were times we were out of town for matches, and there were certain events going on at school, but I wouldn’t trade being an athlete for anything.”
When asked if he would rather play doubles or singles matches, he revealed that he was happy regardless of who occupied the court with him or was on the other side of the net.
“I really didn’t have that much of a preference. Growing up, I always had better success playing doubles, but I would say every tennis player wants to be a singles player. It was a challenge to play both, and I tried to do as well as I could.”
As a Stanford freshman, Scott’s presence paid immediate dividends, applying the finishing touches to a powerhouse team that would win the 2000 NCAA National Championship. He would eventually earn All-American honors three different times and rose into one of the nation’s premier doubles tandems, along with partner David Martin. Soon after graduating from Stanford in 2003 with a degree in American Studies, Lipsky’s dream of making it to the level of professional tennis had become an inspiring reality.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” Lipsky reflected. “It’s hard when you’re playing tournaments to really think of it like that, but if I take a step back and think about everything I’ve worked for since I was five or six years old, it’s all basically worth it to be able to play with the best in the world.”
Despite being content to be where he was, he found that his early days on the tour were a bit less flashy and more daunting than originally expected.
“When I just graduated and was playing the lower level Future and Challenger Tournaments, it was a grind. There were a lot of times when I’d question what I was doing because I was playing for such little money, and no one was there watching when you’re playing in these small towns in Mexico. You just have to think about what you’re doing and what you’re trying to accomplish. But now that I’m playing on the ATP level, I think all of those other tournaments and everything else was definitely worth it to get to where I am now.”
Sponsored by K-Swiss and Wilson, Lipsky travels about 30 weeks a year playing in worldwide ATP tournaments, including a few Grand Slam appearances. He has graced the Arthur Ashe Stadium courts in front of his fellow New Yorkers at the U.S. Open, which he thoroughly enjoyed; but he says that nothing can compare to the mystique and electricity in the air at Wimbledon.
“You can just feel the tradition and history when you walk on the grounds, literally. It’s weird. You can just feel how special a place Wimbledon is in tennis history.”
The highlight of Lipsky’s professional career thus far came when he and David Martin defeated the renowned, duo of Mike and Bob Bryan in February of 2008. The record-setting Bryan brothers were then ranked number one in the world in doubles.
“That was kind of a surreal experience, that whole week,” Scott felt humbled after the victory; one that saw his still fledgling tennis career come full circle. That day, Lipsky and Martin earned their first ATP title and career high placement within the world’s top 40 in doubles play.
“We played them in San Jose, which is pretty close to Stanford, so that was fun. We had some friends of ours up there watching and it was great playing against former Stanford players, who have been great for the game of tennis. Playing in the HP Pavilion was a fun experience. And then to beat the number one doubles team in the world, in the finals to win our first tournament … I was honored.”
Referring to his future ATP goals, Lipsky believes that playing at a level where he keeps making yearly improvements is paramount. “Rankings-wise, I’d like to be able to get into every tournament out there. I’d like to be ranked in the top 20 or so in the next year, year and a half … and get seeded at the Grand Slam tournaments in doubles.”
In order to achieve those goals, Scott believes he’ll have to make a few small mental adjustments along the way.
“My main weakness is my mental state on the court sometimes. I can get too up or too down, and usually the down part is what gets me and really makes my doubles partner mad. But, I’m working on it and have seen improvement.”
However, Lipsky feels his outlook during each match could also be advantageous. “I don’t think I could have got to where I am now without some form of strong mentality. Just being able to go, week in and week out, dealing with losses, and maintain a positive attitude is also definitely a strength. When only one person can win a tournament every week, everyone else is going to lose.”
He maintains that the American presence in professional tennis is fairly pervasive despite juggernauts Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer monopolizing most of the press clippings.
“I think we’re doing well right now. We are lacking a number one, but it’s hard when you have guys like Federer and Nadal, who are just twice-in-a-generation players, winning every tournament. We’ve got two guys in the top 10 in Andy Roddick and James Blake, and there’s probably about 10 others in the top 100, so I think they’re doing well, just not as visibly as you would like to see.”
Lipsky says he and his countrymen always pull for each other to win, or may give each other strategic tips when facing certain opponents because the overall success of American-born players reflects well on the entire United States program. There is also a strong sense of patriotism that goes into representing one’s homeland on an international athletic stage.
The small amount of time that Scott spends off the court is spent at his home relaxing in the nonchalant environment of Huntington Beach, Cali. Compared to Long Island, he feels the weather is nicer, allowing him the picturesque benefit of practicing outdoors and the people are generally more laidback, but he points out that the Pacific Coast traffic certainly isn’t any easier to navigate through.
“First of all, you need to have fun playing the game,” states Scott when asked for some words of wisdom for young Long Island tennis players. “If you’re not enjoying it, and not having fun, then it’s not worth it, especially when you’re a kid. It’s a lot of hard work, and you need to be dedicated. But overall, just have fun and try to enjoy what you’re doing. Give it 100 percent of your attention when playing. Obviously, finishing school is the first priority, but when you’re on the court, work hard and don’t give your coaches any attitude because they’re only trying to help.”