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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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Scott Hill has hit the tennis court running since becoming the junior tennis director at Tri-State Athletic Club in August. “I’ve been getting a new program in place, training the professional staff, and now everybody is wanting tennis lessons for the winter,” says Hill, who is encouraged by the work load. “Kids go to school until about 3 in the afternoon, and I’m booked from 3 to 9 p.m.”

Hill instructs about 150 children ages 4 to 18 in the junior tennis program. “That is my niche, my area of expertise,” Hill says. “I usually teach about 50 kids each day. I have one group that averages 25 to 30 kids, and a group of 25 on Saturday. On Sunday we have match play.”

Hill, 45, is immersed in high school tennis. The Henderson, Ky., native worked for more than 15 years at the world-renowned IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he taught a significant number of top juniors and coached more than 50 professional tennis players including Maria Sharapova, Venus and Serena Williams, Tommy Haas, Xavier Malisse, Max Mirnyi, Jelena Jankovic, and Sabine Lisicki. Adding to his list of accomplishments, more than 150 of Hill’s students have earned NCAA scholarships to colleges including Stanford University, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Duke University, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Sharapova and Jankovic were 13 and 14 when they were at the academy, and I was responsible for their training,” Hill says. “Venus and Serena — I trained them after they had won a couple of Grand Slams. Tommy Haas had trained there since he was 10 years old, and he was like a brother.” Sharapova, Jankovic, and the Williams sisters have become international superstars in the sport with top world rankings.

“It is definitely something that keeps me interested in working with juniors, seeing them go from being an above-average player to No. 1. You get a lot of satisfaction watching them do those things,” he says. “I was the traveling coach of the best juniors they had, the top ITF (International Tennis Federation)-ranked players in junior tennis. I took players to Africa, Paris, Spain, and to different places in the U.S.”

While at Bollettieri, Hill saw potential in a 16-year-old boy playing junior tennis and guided him to stardom with private coaching sessions. “He had the same agent as Maria Sharapova, and I knew the agent,” he says. “By the time he was 20, Jimmy Wang was No. 86 in the world ATP (Associated Tennis Professionals) rankings. He was in the main draw of Wimbledon, the main draw of the U.S. Open. To me, that’s more important than training Venus and Serena, because they were already accomplished.”

In 2007, Hill and his brother, Greg Hill — who coached at Bollettieri for 15 years, has professional wins over tennis greats Andre Agassi and Derrick Rostagno, and was the first All-American tennis player at Texas A&M — started Greg Hill Tennis Academy in Sarasota, Fla.

Hill’s appreciation for the chance to work with founder Nick Bollettieri also is readily apparent. “Most of my knowledge was gained at the Bollettieri Academy. Nick and I were very close — we played golf, spent holidays at his house — we formed a very close relationship,” he says. “I was on court with him every day for 15 years, and I was like a sponge. I tried to absorb all the information from him I could, especially on how he ran the junior tennis program. I’m basically running that same program here at Tri-State.”

Bollettieri sent a message to the Tri-State membership when Hill was hired: “Scott was one of our best coaches on staff. I have the utmost confidence in Scott’s coaching ability. You will be in very capable hands working with him.”

Don Martin is the general manager at Tri-State and is very much in tune with Bollettieri’s endorsement of Hill. “Scott has brought a level of professionalism for youth tennis that has not been seen in Evansville in my 22-plus years,” Martin says. “His insight, compassion for kids, knowledge of emerging tennis trends, and experience in the junior, as well as collegiate and professional tennis level, is absolutely phenomenal for the Tri-State area.” 

Hill was a talented junior tennis player in Henderson, Ky., and he spent much of his youth playing at Tri-State Athletic Club. At Henderson County High School, he won the Kentucky State High School Tournament Singles title and was named All-American in 1985. Hill is in the Henderson County High School Athletics Hall of Fame, and held a top 25, 16-and-under national ranking. He played college tennis at New Mexico for a year, then finished his education at the University of Louisville before heading to Florida to start his teaching career.

Doug Cash, who was working at Tri-State at the time, saw the talent in Hill and helped him develop as a coach. “He was very influential in my career; my family didn’t have a lot of money for me to be traveling around playing tennis, and Doug was able to get members at Tri-State to sponsor me,” Hill says. “In a lot of ways, Doug made it possible for me to play in national tournaments and international tournaments.”

Cash was a manager at Tri-State, and worked his way through the ranks to become the CEO of Tennis Corp. of America, which runs a large number of tennis centers in the U.S. It was Cash who reached out to Hill to see if he was interested in returning home to work at Tri-State.

“Doug called me and asked if I would be interested in coming back,” Hill says. “I didn’t know, but Doug said, ‘We want you to come up and visit, make sure you really like it, meet everybody, work with the kids a little.’ So I came up here to see if it felt comfortable, and I knew it was a fit from day one.”

His goal is to make the program better, more intense, and more organized. Since coming aboard, he has started a satellite program in Henderson. “I feel blessed to, in some way, give back,” Hill says. “I feel like I owe it to this community, and I have a lot of family still in the area.”

Tri-State Athletic Club is located at 555 Tennis Lane. For more information, call 812-479-3111 or visit www.tristateathleticclub.com.

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