South Charlotte

Local tennis club nets some of N.C.'s top talent

Adam Maskill knows talent when he sees it; he was one of the top junior tennis players in England and has beaten several of the top 150 players in the world, including No. 1-ranked 2011 U.S. Open winner Novak Djokavic.

So it might not be surprising that Matthews Tennis, Swim and Golf Club - where Maskill now is a head coach - is home to some of the highest-rated tennis players in North Carolina.

"When I first came here, it was more just fun for me," says Sera Martorelli, 14. "Adam was able to get me more focused and I really improved quickly. After I started getting better, I got more serious and my rankings improved."

Sera, a freshman at Grace Academy, is one of the star pupils at the tennis center. She currently is ranked ninth in the state, 109 in the Southeast and 356 nationally.

"Sera is one of the better players here, but we have a lot of kids in different age groups who are good players and good people," said Artie Small, another teaching professional at the facility. "These kids come here and get some great competition against really good players.

"They become better tennis players, but it is much more than that. We teach our students how to become better people."

Tarun Prakash, a fifth-grader at Charlotte Preparatory School, said, "I have been coming here for five years, and it has helped me a lot." Tarun, 9, is now the No. 2-ranked player in the state in the 10-and-under division.

There is much more to the academy than just bettering players on the court, however.

Sera typically arrives around noon after taking three classes at Grace Academy. She does her homework and hits the court at 1 p.m., often staying through afternoon and evening sessions.

"It is more than just about the tennis training they receive," Maskill said. "They are going to get fitness training, but also get discipline and learn about character, sportsmanship and fair play.

"They learn in a competitive atmosphere where they get to feel a little pressure. The pressure tends to get them ready for professional working environments."

On any given day there are 15-25 players at the club, which features several courts.

The competition is intense. "There is some good competition here," Tarun said. "Playing older kids helps me to play with more focus."

Sera often plays against Will Aukerman, a 14-year-old who is home schooled.

"Will is a good player, and playing against him helps my game," said Sera. "I never want to lose, especially to a boy, so I push myself to get better every day."