Easter weekend provided a brief reprieve for 17-year-old Lukas Greif. A native of Evansville, Greif made the trek from Indianapolis to spend time with friends and family over the holiday in Newburgh, Indiana. As a high-school tennis standout living and training in Indianapolis, the trip still was filled with work for the teen.
“About to finish up the recruiting process, so it’s getting busy,” was a text message from Greif that Saturday.
A few days later, Greif committed to the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, as one of the top tennis recruits in the Class of 2018. Florida has a nationally-ranked, top-20 university tennis program.
“I was looking for a school with great academics and a great tennis program,” says Greif. “When I visited Florida, it had everything I wanted in a school and tennis program. The coaches are unbelievable. They preach the philosophy and had the coaching style I was looking for. The team was awesome. They had a great work ethic, and I got along great with each of the guys. Walking around campus, I just felt like I could really see myself there. It felt like a home away from home.”
Greif will play on the male side of the same Florida program his long-time teacher Stephanie Hazlett was a part of.
“I took him on that recruiting visit,” explains Hazlett. “So I’m pretty excited he’s going to be a Gator.”
That commitment to Florida has been part of a very strong few years of tennis for Greif. His latest run in the national tennis spotlight started in April 2016 when he was runner-up in the Easter Bowl 16-under singles in Palm Springs, California. Greif would go on to have a big summer in 2016, winning the United States Tennis Association (USTA) hard court singles national championship and the USTA clay court national championship.
After that, Greif moved on to play in the Junior U.S. Open.
This year, the work has not let up for Greif, who spent the spring months working his way back to the Easter Bowl in Rancho Mirage, California, where he reached the Round of 16 in the 18-under category. The tournament, held from March 25 to April 1, was the second straight weekend Greif played in California.
“Oh, he travels all the time,” says Lukas’s mother Joanie Greif.
Ranked No. 3 in the nation on the HEAD tennis recruiting list and No. 1 in TennisRPI rankings in late April, Greif has lived in Indianapolis the last two years as he works with Hazlett at the Smith Tennis Academy, owned by Bryan and Jeff Smith. The teen made the move in the summer of 2015 to enter into the academy. Not only did it allow him to work with Hazlett, but also brought Chad Stanley, a strength and conditioning coach at the academy, into the coaching of Greif.
“The move for him was needed; it was necessary,” says Hazlett. “It allows him to play with better players. Last year, he played against some guys — one went to Notre Dame, one went to Stanford — and that helped Lukas improve. He spends a lot of time with our trainer Chad Stanley, and that’s helped him get stronger, faster, more flexible. And Bryan Smith has been amazing — to have a male voice Lukas trusts, that has been great.”
From her observations and working with him, Hazlett has noticed Greif physically and mentally has become stronger on the court. He also has become more of an aggressive player.
“I mentally have grown so much with confidence, focus, and intensity in every practice and match. Also, I physically have improved. I have grown, gotten faster, stronger, which has tremendously helped me with all the shots in my game,” he says.
For Greif, tennis has been a big part of his life since he was 3 years old. His father John Greif is an Evansville periodontist who played tennis in college at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois. His sister Abby is a 2008 Memorial High School graduate and played the sport in college at Florida Tech, Melbourne, Florida.
“Having a dad and sister who played tennis at a high level, I was surrounded by the sport at an early age,” says Greif.
He started competing at an early age, too. “I played my first tennis tournament when I was 6 years old. I still remember it,” he says. “It was at Wesselman Park. The net was taller than me, and I could not reach the score cards.”
Greif began his work with Hazlett at the former Advantage Court and Fitness, located in Downtown Evansville atop the Executive Inn parking garage. He played local tournaments until he was 9, then began traveling to tournaments throughout the Midwest before entering in competitions across the country. When he was 13, Greif gave up baseball and soccer and made tennis his main focus.
After Advantage closed with the demolition of the Executive Inn in 2011, Greif trained with Hazlett and Ryan McDaniel at Evansville Tennis Center.
“I followed (Hazlett) to train up in Indianapolis,” he says. He currently lives with Hazlett in Indianapolis since his family remains in Evansville. Bryan Smith also closely works with Greif.
As he still is in high school, Greif takes online classes at Laurel Springs (a distance learning school in California that works with elite junior players) to ensure he will graduate with a diploma. He spent his freshman year at Reitz Memorial High School and attended Holy Rosary for grade school.
Since his move to the state capital, he has done a lot of growing up, both on and off the court, according to Hazlett.
“Lukas had to learn a lot as far as life skills,” she says. “I make him do his own laundry, cook his own food. It’s been fun; I’m extremely happy for him.”
Greif credits the move to Indianapolis with improving his game and getting him more in line with his goal of ultimately becoming a professional tennis player.
“This move has had the most influence in my recent success,” says Greif. “With moving, I started online school, which allowed me to spend more time on court with such great coaches and more time doing fitness with Chad. These factors have helped me improve so much in the past two years. Also, practicing with the players in Indianapolis has been key. The level of these players is very high, and they bring so much intensity to every practice, which makes me push myself more and more every day to improve.”
The chance to play tennis at one of the top programs in the SEC is the culmination of one part of Greif’s journey, but it really is just the start of what he hopes is a long road playing professional tennis.
“A lot of the guys Florida is recruiting have the same goals,” says Hazlett. “Having like-minded people around helps. He’s still got a ways to go, but he realizes it’s attainable.”
Greif and his coaches still are working to put together a schedule for the summer.
“Ideally, he needs to go to Europe, play some more International Tennis Federation events,” says Hazlett. “Lukas may get the chance to play in the juniors of the French Open or Wimbledon.”
That means a busy summer is ahead for the teen. But for Greif, that has become his normal course.