One of tennis’ most endearing qualities is that it can be played throughout a person’s lifetime. Beyond simply playing recreationally, you can continue to compete in high-level—even prize money—tournaments into your adulthood.
Take for example, Dmytro Kovalevych. A coach at Christopher Morley Tennis for the last four years, Kovalevych still regularly plays—and wins—tournaments in the Eastern section. While he is a few years removed from his college playing days, Kovalevych has not yet hung up his racket for good.
“Christopher Morley is a great place for me to work because there are a lot of top-ranked juniors that train here, and I serve on their coaching staff, which helps me get better myself,” said Kovalevych. “During the summer, I don’t work on weekends so I am still able to compete in tournaments.”
Kovalevych is a native of Ukraine where he began to play tennis at the age of seven, but he didn’t get his start in the sport like most other players. His parents, who were artists, were tasked with creating the prizes for a local tennis tournament, and when the tournament was unable to pay for the work, they offered to provide Dmytro with free tennis lessons.
“The man who offered it was the head of the Regional Federation. So my parents said why not,” he recalls. “My level really picked up when I got to be about 10-years-old; I became the No. 1 ranked player in my age group and won the Under 10 National Championship…I also became No. 1 when I was 16 and was a member of Ukraine’s National Junior Team.”
Kovalevych rose up the ranks as a junior to become one of Ukraine’s top young tennis players, but as he approached his college years, Kovalevych had a decision to make. He wanted to continue playing tennis but his options were limited in Ukraine.
“There are no team sports in college in Ukraine and so what attracted me to come to the United States was I could still keep playing at a high level,” he says. “In Ukraine, at a certain age you either stop playing and go right into coaching, or you quit.”
He received interest from colleges in the United States including Princeton, but was only offered one Division I full scholarship, and that was to South Carolina State.
It was a bit of a culture shock for Kovalevych who was deposited into the Historically Black University after coming from Ukraine where, as he says, “there are no black people.” But while he struggled a bit socially, adjusting to a new culture and a new language, that didn’t matter to Kovalevych, as he was just happy to still be playing tennis at a high level.
“They were a really good team and the best in the conference when I got there,” said Kovalevych, who went on to lead the Bulldogs to three more Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championships in his tenure there. “It was great because South Carolina State allowed me to continue playing at a high level. The social life was a little unusual because my friends and family were in Ukraine, and it was a new language. But the guys on the team were so helpful and supporting of me and it was a great four years.”
After his collegiate career, Kovalevych began his tenure at Christopher Morley Tennis. He was first introduced to the program after working at a summer camp in New York while he was still in college, and soon after he graduated he was offered a job.
Kovalevych is now one of the top coaches at the facility, and runs much of the 10&Under programming and classes, while also serving as a member of the coaching staff for top players including Cannon Kingsley and Spencer Brachmann.
“It is still a new club in a great area, and has some of the best kids in the country to come here to play, which is good for me because training them is really exciting,” says Kovalevych. “I’m also looking forward to developing my own kids, some of which just began playing orange ball tournaments, and eventually they will move into the green balls. I am PTR Certified in 10&Under. For me, I love working with little kids and trying to improve the program here.”
While Kovalevych is a full-time coach, he has not relinquished his grip on his playing career as he still competes, and wins, in many high-level tournaments. A couple of years ago he won a Bronze Ball at the USTA National Men's Open, Women's Open, Mixed Open Indoor Championships at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Just this year alone, he has won two prize money tournaments at Sportime Randall’s Island, and most recently captured the title at the Hampshire Hills Men’s Open in Milford, New Hampshire. His continued success as a tennis player earned him the award of Men’s Open Player of the Year at the USTA Long Island Awards Ceremony earlier this summer.
He is straddling the line between player and coach, which is exactly what he wants to be doing currently, and continue to do so in the near future.
“I am a coach and a player. I still love playing prize money tournaments because I enjoy it and have been successful, so I want to continue doing in that in my free time,” he says. “In the next few years my goal is to get better as a coach. I am getting USPTA certified and become a Master Professional, and want to have our 10&Under kids feed into our High Performance programs, while also helping players like Cannon and Spencer get better. It’s very exciting and rewarding as a coach to see kids get better, and it really makes me happy. My goal is to just keep playing tournaments on a high level as I continue transitioning and growing as a coach.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com.