Racket Sports by Charlie Garfinkel: Vodicka took long path to become teaching pro - The Buffalo News

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Racket Sports by Charlie Garfinkel: Vodicka took long path to become teaching pro

Lance Vodicka is the new tennis pro at Miller Tennis Center. He is originally from St. Louis and his dream as a youngster was to be a full-time playing tennis pro.

He did extremely well in his playing career, winning three Futures Doubles tournaments, one with local Rochester star Marcus Fugate. He also reached the quarters and semis, respectively, in two Futures tournaments, played in more than 120 Future, Wild Card and Challenger tournaments in 24 different countries, and achieved a world wide ranking of 702 in singles.

He started hitting tennis balls when he was barely 3 years old. His parents would play as much with his older brother as they could. When they were done Lance would use a racquetball racket (which is much smaller than a tennis racket) and would hit with his father almost every day. Right from the start he was hooked on the game.

His dad built a tennis court in 1987 and Lance’s game really started to improve with a great amount of play. By the time he was 5 he was taking clinics and watching tennis on television. “I would watch John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Michael Chang and Pete Sampras play,” Vodicka said. “I wanted to be like them and become a top professional and hopefully win a Grand Slam.”

By the time Vodicka was 7 years old he was playing in 10 & Under tournaments in St. Louis and had a tennis coach named Rich Chappius, who later became his stepfather and was greatly instrumental in his tennis success. When he was 8 Vodicka was winning 10 & Under local tournaments and represented his district at the sectional level, where he proceeded to earn a high ranking. In his first 12 & under match he lost, 6-0, 6-0. However, he was not to be deterred and defeated the same opponent two years later handily. When he was 12 it was evident that he had some outstanding skills, especially his forehand. When he was 13 he captured a few 14 & Under titles and was ranked in the top 10 in that division in the state.

He went to high school in St. Louis and was one of the top players in the state of Missouri. By his senior year he was ranked first in Missouri, first in the section, and 26th in the country in his age division. He played in all of the National Junior Championships on clay and hard courts.

At 18 he was already playing some Future events. He won the National Gateway 18 & Under Championships and the National Invitational St. Louis Clay Court Championships. Even though he had some offers from top universities he decided to stay home and go to Saint Louis University.

“I received a partial scholarship and was thrilled to be playing for my hometown school,” Vodicka said. “My dad was my biggest supporter and I accomplished a lot because of him.”

In college he alternated at first and second singles, where he got to play against outstanding competition from other colleges. He won 90 singles matches during his four years in college, the most of any team member, and earned one American Tennis Professional point in tournament play. “As proud as I was of these accomplishments I was extremely thrilled to win the Conference USA Sportsmanship Award all four years in college,” Vodicka said. “It was especially important to my dad.”

In 2003 and 2004 his game continued to develop. He turned pro in 2004 and was devastated when his dad died that year. He had to curtail his tournament activities for the next two years due to financial matters. In 2007, with the help of benefactors and other financial sources, he enjoyed a breakout year.

He reached the quarterfinals and semifinals of two Future events in Hawaii and did well elsewhere. In 2008 he continued his fine play in new Zealand, Japan, and Australia, and reached a career high of 728 in singles and 649 in doubles.

Unfortunately, he severely injured his wrist the next year, beginning to teach more and playing fewer tournaments. He also had to learn a new grip on his forehand in order to play. He did play an exhibition match against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who was ranked in the top 50 women in the world, and defeated her, 6-2, 6-3.

“I started playing tournaments again in 2011 for eight straight months,” Vodicka said. “Even though I was playing reasonably well I knew that I was getting older and my pro career was coming to an end.”

He had one last hurrah in August 2012 when he reached the semifinals of the National Grass Court Open. Shortly after, he retired from playing on the pro tour and became a full-time teaching professional in the St. Louis area.

“I have no regrets about my pro career,” Vodicka said. “I was fortunate to play at a top level and greatly enjoyed playing against many top players for a long period of time.”

As for his new teaching position at Miller Tennis Center, Vodicka said, “My wife is from the Buffalo area and we had made some trips back to this area from St. Louis. I had heard many good things about Miller Tennis Center and was thrilled when Todd Miller offered me a teaching job after looking at my credentials and watching me teach a few lessons at the club.

“I really look forward to working with the adults and youngsters and helping them improve their games.”

email: thegreatgar@verizon.net

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