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Charlie Garfinkel: Buffalo Tennis Academy developing future stars

Todd and Debbie Miller are the owners of the Miller Tennis Center. Todd’s accomplishments in tennis are legendary and Debbie has always been known as one of Western New York’s leading tennis professionals and a great organizer of events at Miller.

Todd is one of only 33 “International Master Professionals” in the world. Other members are iconic tennis all-time greats such as Wimbledon and U.S. Open singles champion Arthur Ashe, multiple Grand Slam Singles and Doubles champion Billie Jean King and Dennis Van der Meer, one of the greatest tennis coaches of all time.

Miller has been responsible for creating the Buffalo Tennis Series, the Buffalo Tennis Hall of Fame and the Muny Tennis Hall of Fame. His latest project, which Miller says is the ultimate training program for the area’s top juniors, is the Buffalo Tennis Academy, aptly named by Debbie.

“Debbie teaches many of the program’s high school girls and directs the Under-10 program, which eventually leads the girls to our higher training programs,” he said.

As a tennis player, Miller was outstanding. He played for Sweet Home High School with David and Peter Loder. They were the mainstays of one of the greatest high school tennis teams in WNY history. At UB, Miller played first singles and won almost 86 percent of his matches – the highest winning percentage in UB history. After college, he won the Buffalo City Open Singles in 1985 and many doubles titles. His game was marked by excellent serves and volleys combined with great mental toughness.

Miller was a coach at the Bollettieri and Kesl Academies in Florida years ago, two of the most outstanding academies in the country. As he taught, he learned that in order for juniors to attain their goals, it was essential for the program to have the highest level of pros to teach students who show great talent and ability to progress to the next level.

The newly named Buffalo Tennis Academy will feature a great number of courts that are dedicated to the junior excellence program. Eight courts will be used during the winter and 16 courts during the summer. From September to June, group training sessions will be conducted seven days a week and five days a week during the summer. The program includes intensive drilling, stroke production, strategy, tactics, tournament preparation, video analysis, and supervised match play. There is also a challenge ladder for over 80 players that will be constantly updated. Nike will also be giving complimentary clothing packages that will feature the Academy’s logo. Why has this program been so successful? “In addition to Debbie and myself, we have arguably the greatest teaching staff ever seen in Western New York,” Miller said

The staff includes Lee Nickell, UB Men’s Head Tennis Coach and two-time MAC Conference Coach of the Year; Jordie Kindervater, formerly ranked sixth in Canada and former team captain at Alabama; Joe Schafer, former number one ranked player in Western New York and first singles star at Davidson; Yevginy Shkotnik, UB associate coach and traveling coach for Junior Wimbledon Champion Noah Rubin; Lance Vodicka, who played 11 years on the pro circuit, winning three titles; and Alexi Kalinin, former UB captain and Western New York’s top-ranked player in 2013.

“Unlike other area tennis facilities, our pro staff is not a collection of strictly local pros,” Miller said.

Miller is extremely proud that his Buffalo Tennis Academy includes 30 students who are USTA Sectionally ranked. Some of these stars include former high school sectional champions such as Harry Wang, Jack McClaren, and Jesse Hollins. Hollins, 13, won the ECIC and Sectional Championships without dropping a set.

Other players are Gabi Kivovich, Nichols’ No. 1 player, Ross DeRose, current Monsignor Martin Champion; Alex Dashoff, who has two wins over DeRose recently; Will Hobbs, Gow School’s No. 1 singles player; scholarship players Sydney Siembia and Nikki Legler, who will play at Loyola College and Rhode Island, respectively, next year; North Tonawanda’s Greg Hastings; and Ilia Palavestra, the International Little Mo Champion.

Other players that Miller stresses are on the rise are Phil and Bode Vance, Derek Roehner, Avana Gulati, Jonah Murphy, Arielle Nealy, Joey Baudo, Lillian Sullivan, Eileen Wang, Jillian Ndzielowski, Artemis Pados, Lauren Karoglan, Madigan Humiston, Lauren & Erika Cromwell, Jerry Xiao, Courtney Kessler, Carolyn Wang, Adam Pasierb, Parker Venator, Paige and John Szymusiak, Zack Gewurz, James McElhinny III and Jason Berkun.