In early November, Huntington 13-year-old Jack Kennedy traveled south to Boca Raton, Florida to compete in the United States playoffs of the prestigious Les Petits As junior tennis tournament.
Adjusting to the outdoor conditions and competing against some of the best junior players in the country, Kennedy put together a dominant run. He did not drop a set during his time in Florida, and won the playoffs to qualify for the Les Petits As event in late January in Tarbes, France.
“It was a great experience playing against some of the top players from all across America, some of whom I had never played against and others who I have been competing against for a number of years now,” said Kennedy.
Moving from the cold conditions of New York, which forces players to train indoors in the fall and winter months, to the warm, sunny weather of South Florida was a difficult transition for Kennedy. But once he got used to the different climate, his game spoke for itself.
After finishing atop Group D in the round-robin stage, Kennedy then defeated Jackson Hinderberger of Texas 6-1, 6-0 in the quarterfinals, then friend and fellow Long Islander Sebastian Bielen 6-2, 6-1 in the semifinals, before toppling California’s Ford McCollum 6-1, 6-4 in the championship match.
“My training definitely helped. My coach Greg [Lumpkin] and I have been working really hard together over the last few months. It was a tough atmosphere down there in terms of the conditions. Going from training indoors in New York to playing outdoors in Florida, it was definitely an adjustment as the wind was a big factor. But after the first couple of matches I got used to it, and it worked out.”
Jack Kennedy and coach Greg Lumpkin work on his serves during a training session at Sportime Syosset.
Kennedy trains with Lumpkin at Sportime Syosset, the Long Island annex of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy (JMTA), and since September he has been a part of the BNP PARIBAS MAC 1 program. In this program, players are provided year-round training and coaching, as well as receive financial assistance for travel to national and international competition.
Through this program, Kennedy has really taken his game to the next level, as the ability to train more extensively and also travel to some of the bigger junior tournaments in the country and abroad.
“To get into this program was definitely one of my goals, and my game has gotten better after training more and competing in more tournaments,” said Kennedy. “It has given me so many more opportunities to put my training to the test at the national tournaments.”
“Jack has been working extra hard off the court in the gym. He has focused on his stretching and mobility to improve his defense and injury prevention,” said Lumpkin. “He is also starting some strength training so he can make an easier transition into the older age groups later this year."
Growing up watching Rafa, Roger and Novak when he was younger played a big role in Kennedy falling in love with tennis. He and his father would watch tournaments on television, and Kennedy grew fond of the fighting spirit and tenacity of Nadal.
He tries to embody those same traits when he plays, and Lumpkin has referred to him as one of the hardest working players that trains there.
“Jack has been steadily improving all areas of his game over the last couple years,” Lumpkin added. “Most significantly, Jack has learned how to manage his emotions and maintain his level of concentration for the most important points in a match. At this level everyone can play great tennis so it really comes down to who can play their best in the big moments.”
Kennedy has taken the road less traveled when it comes to his schooling. Whereas most young players of his caliber decide to get home-schooled, Kennedy attends full days of school at St. Patrick’s School in Huntington. He gets out early only sometimes, if he attends one of the BNP Mac I afternoon programs on Wednesday’s at Sportime Randall’s Island. Through this, he is able to strike a balance between academics and tennis.
“After school I come to Sportime Syosset to train for about two-to-four hours,” he says. “I train on court and then do my fitness and cardio work in the gym. And then after that I do school work. So I try to keep that balance. It can be calming, because I am not always stressed about tennis, and I think it’s important to keep those things separate.”
As he gets older and moves into high school, the option of being home schooled will remain on the table, but Kennedy and his family are taking it one-year at a time, and evaluating the circumstances as they change.
“It’s definitely something we’ve talked about and explored, and it’s not something we’ve ruled out for the future as his schedule changes,” said Bryan Kennedy, Jack’s father. “But we said as long as we can keep the balance there, we’ll stick with this. The whole social aspect of going to school, and he has his friends there, is really important. He already loses out on being able to do things with them on the weekends because of his tennis schedule, so we don’t want to lose the in-school for now. But at a certain point, if the schedule becomes too much, then we would certainly reconsider.”
No matter what lies ahead for Kennedy in terms of his schooling, his work ethic on the court will remain the same. As he prepares for 2022, he wants to improve on his ability to sustain long rallies, and play shots with high margins. Consistency, he says, will be a major key for him as he gets ready to play the top national and international tournaments in the year to come.
Highlighting that tournament schedule will be a trip in January when he heads to Tarbes, France for the Les Petits As, which runs from January 20-30.
“I’ve never been outside of the country before, it’s going to be amazing,” said Kennedy. “It’s Sebastian and I and two other Americans traveling to France. Hopefully we can try some baguettes and croissants while we’re there. It’s going to be an incredible experience, traveling to Europe to play tennis. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.