This summer, Glen Oaks Country Club will have a new Director of Tennis, as Ricky Becker will now be in charge of the club’s tennis events and programming. Becker is a Long Island native who has been involved with the tennis scene here for decades.
Growing up on Long Island, Becker was one of the top junior players in the area during the early 90s. He was a standout player at Roslyn High School and captured the 1992 New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Singles Championship. As a collegiate, Becker helped lead the Stanford Cardinal to the 1996 National Championship, and was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.
Long Island Tennis Magazine sat down with Becker to talk about growing up on Long Island, his tennis path, and his new role at Glen Oaks.
Can you talk about your time growing up playing tennis on Long Island? What are some of your best memories from that time?
Tennis on Long Island used to be much different. The top-players weren’t homeschooled and while there were a lot of players there were not a lot of facilities structured for high-performance training so the top-Long Island players often trained together which got a lot of us closer. But honestly my best Long Island Tennis memories were in high school tennis with my coach Art Peterson, who unfortunately passed away a few years ago. I was really good friends with some of my teammates from when we were in nursery school and even though they didn't take tennis as seriously as I did growing up, we had a lot of fun on the bus rides and matches. For me the high school tennis season was when it came full-circle. This was a time when I could be a serious tennis player, but also just one of the guys on the team, similar to how it was when I played little league and travel soccer with my friends when I was younger.
At what point did you make the transition into coaching?
I always had plans of playing professionally but as I got later into college, I started seeing signs that frankly I wasn't going to be good enough. After four months of playing professionally, I realized that I might very well have the potential to "almost make a living" playing tennis outside the top-200 but I didn't do anything well enough to actually make it and it was a very lonely and costly existence so I figured it was time to start my life. Problem was I didn't know what to do. I had been coaching part-time since my sophomore year of high school but I wasn't ready at that point to shake off the stigma that kids from Long Island who get a degree from a good college should not be tennis coaches. I spent five years working at a large ad agency handling a fabric softener account, writing for a tennis magazine and working at ESPN until 3:30 in the morning every day and none of them felt right. So when I was on my honeymoon with my wife Julie, we were talking and she said to me if you really like coaching then go for it. Other than marrying my wife it may have been the best decision I ever made.
You have played tennis all across the country, what makes the LI tennis scene unique and a fun one to be a part of?
I don't know if it's because we are on an island here but there is definitely more cohesion among the top players than there is in other areas of the country. At nationals, it just seems like the kids from Long Island and the Eastern section have more of a bond than the kids from other sections. At the same time, and I didn't really appreciate or notice this until I was in California but kids from Long Island have a little bit more "attitude" when on the court. When my Stanford teammates heard I won the sportsmanship award here they said it was like I won a consolation tournament and all it meant was that I was the best of the worst which I thought was funny.
How excited are you for your new venture at Glen Oaks? What are some of the things you will try to bring there?
While I am admittedly going to miss the members of Pine Hollow, I am definitely very excited to start a new chapter at Glen Oaks. One of my former junior coaches texted me and said "You made it to the top of the food chain." Everything is first class to the point of we toured 10 of the nicest country clubs in Florida to get ideas and see how we can do things better. I'm looking forward to taking what Glen Oaks has in their tennis program and adding an inclusivity so members who haven't played before or haven't played for a long-time feel comfortable coming down and playing without feeling self-conscious about their level. With this mindset and more events, clinics, teams and coaches, I know I will enjoy coming to the courts every day and the goal is for the members to feel the same way.