| By Steven Kaplan

Each Sunday morning, I direct the Reebok Academy for The City Parks Foundation at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. This past Sunday, I was asked if Fernando Verdasco could use one of our courts. It was a request I couldn't refuse. Up close, Verdasco is an imposing athlete; powerfully built, he looks more like a football tight end than a traditional tennis player. He muscles the ball around the court like a football player with sheer brute force rather than efficient technique. Verdasco would not have fared very well back in the day when wood rackets were the convention. Wood is too flexible, he would have needed a racket the size of a tree to have the stiffness his mechanics require. Then again, he might be strong enough to swing a tree.

The metamorphosis of the gene pool of the Spanish tennis players in the last several years continues to be astounding. They all seem to look like Spartans. It reminds me a bit of what happened in baseball over a decade ago. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa said they were "just working hard in reaction to their new-found home run hitting strength." As it turned out, the scientists in the lab were working hard too. Some players like 1983 French Open Champion Yannick Noah have suggested that Rafa's body defies the natural laws of genetics. He is now getting the Jose Canseco treatment.

In addition to his superhuman strength, Fernando Verdasco was a super nice guy, especially to the Academy kids. He was patient, kind and posed for a picture with every single young player that asked. Viva Verdasco!

Steven Kaplan

Steve Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation, and executive director and founder of Serve &Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally- ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.