Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob played two years of college tennis for UCLA. An All-American in singles and doubles, he was the No. 1 player in the nation before turning pro in 1996. He would go on to reach a career-high ranking of No. 63 in singles and No. 18 in doubles on the ATP tour.
A question Gimelstob faced is a difficult one for young players with big ambitions: should you try and turn pro, or stay in school? The former student-athlete shares his perspective.
There are a couple of factors in this decision. First, the game has become so much more physical that players need to be more developed. Players are also seeing that they can play much later in their careers, so they’re not rushing out onto the tours.
College tennis is seen as an opportunity to develop in a variety of ways, so more players are going to school. It is an excellent way to improve not just your game, but also to grow emotionally and physically. You can really enjoy the experience, much more than the grind a young pro must endure.
I go back to the same three questions when a promising young player is deciding whether to turn pro:
Are you able to compete at the highest levels—i.e., beating players in the Top 100?
Are you receiving a significant endorsement opportunity or some kind of financial incentive that you must take advantage of at this point to turn pro?
Would you dominate college tennis? Meaning, is the competition just not there?
If you cannot answer “yes” to two out of these three questions, then you should be playing in college.
In my case, I turned pro after two years in school, when the answers to all three of those questions were “yes”. Yet I was still conflicted. I was ready to turn pro, but I also loved the college experience and its value so much that I wish I could have stayed.