Years ago when I was in college, I was talking to a couple at length. They were telling me how they were starting to get their two children into tennis and they were really excited about their younger child (I'll call him Tommy.) They explained that Tommy (age 7) had grace and fluidity on the court and all the pros who saw him play really thought he was a natural. Their older child (I'll call him Mitchell) also played and although he loved it, didn't have the same naturalness as their Tommy. Mitchell was 9 years old and they kept him in tennis mainly because he loved it and had a dogged determination to be as good as he could be.
I remembered their names and years later, I checked them out on the computer. Mitchell was a top-player in his section, a legitimately good national player, with a game that had tons of upside (I heard from another coach.) Tommy on the otherhand, continued to play tennis but never reached the level of his older brother. There were rumors that he didn't really want to play tennis anymore.
Moral of The Story:
When judging potential, every likes to look at grace, speed, efficiency of picking up technique, etc. However, one thing that is truly overlooked is one's inherent love and determination towards tennis.
I truly believe that ANY child who picks up a racquet at the age of 6 or 7 could reach top-5 in the east if they have the internal drive, willingness to make changes, correct direction and a guardian who is willing to sacrifice time and money to help their child achieve his goals.
On the USTA web site they define what they look for in talent evaluation..it says this:
Note that it's the athlete who loves to play and compete..not the parent. So if you would love your child to play and participate in tournaments and the child has talent, it is not enough!!
Yes, if you are looking to have a future Grand Slam champion, the child needs to have it all going on. But, if a top-sectional or even national junior ranking is what you are going for...don't estimate desire!!
Ricky Becker is the Director of Tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club. He independently coaches high-performance juniors and adults of all-levels year-round at Bethpage Park Tennis Center. He has coached hundreds of ranked junior players. As a player, Becker was awarded Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis Team and 1989-1992 Roslyn High School Tennis Teams, and was ranked number four in the United States in the 18 & Under Division.