When Todd Miller was hired as the head tennis pro at Amherst Hills at age 20, he called the Professional Tennis Registry and asked how he could earn the designation of master pro.
"They just laughed," Miller said.
It took 25 years for Miller to accumulate the body of work needed to earn that title.
But last month, he finally did.
Miller became just the 25th person to earn the Master Professional designation from the PTR -- the world's largest organization of tennis teachers and coaches.
"I'm really goal-oriented. That's how I am. I go after things," Miller said. "That's one of the goals I had out there, but I went years without thinking about it. I didn't consciously do things toward that. I did it because I love what I do, and I wanted new challenges."
The designation of PTR Master Professional is not easy to get. In a way, it's a lifetime achievement award, requiring coaches to demonstrate their broad involvement in tennis over a period of time, including attending clinics and seminars, presenting at conferences and doing community service.
"By the end of putting all these materials together I was pretty sick of myself," Miller said.
But his accomplishments stand out. Miller has been the executive director and head professional at Amherst Hills Tennis Club since 1980. He's a member of four halls of fame, including the University at Buffalo, where he holds the record for highest career winning percentage at first singles (86 percent). His honors include the 2004 PTR Tester of the Year and the 2004 Eastern Coach of the Year.
And it all started with a wicked losing streak against his father. Miller learned the game playing daily with his father, Harry, as many as nine sets a day.
"He spent a lot of time with me when I was little. When I was 6 or 7 years old he played with me every day and he beat me. I would never win a game. He would beat me, 6-0, 6-0, and so on," Miller said. "I would go home crying every day, but I loved it. I was more determined every day. I think he made me more competitive, and not just competitive in tennis but in whatever it is.
"My only regret is that he passed away a few years ago, and he would have loved this. I was blessed. My parents were really good tennis parents, happy when I won and thought it was no big deal when I lost."
Miller once had aspirations to be a sports broadcaster but instead translated his love of tennis into a successful coaching career.
By attending conferences and workshops around the country and reading everything he could get his hands on, Miller worked to stay current in the technological changes in the game and learning new teaching techniques.
"To his credit, he does attend a lot of seminars and keeps up with his education," said Dan Santorum, the chief executive officer of PTR. "It's important not just to him but to his students to make those sacrifices. . . . It's an investment actually, and Todd has really taken advantage of that."
Miller has coached at least 30 players who went on to earn college scholarships for tennis while many others have earned sectional and national rankings. As proud as Miller is of those players, he's just as thrilled for those who learn tennis just for the fun.
"It's really important to me that kids have smiles on their faces when they leave the court," Miller said. "I hope I instill in them a good work ethic but enjoyment in doing it. That's always been my philosophy: try your hardest but enjoy it. If it isn't fun, why do it?"