Local teenager Callum Hunter is a tennis superstar in the making. He has just returned to Coffs after spending several months living and training in Italy. Callum tells us about his journey and the experience of living with an Italian family.
What first drew you to playing tennis, and how old were you when you started?
Tennis looked like fun. My mum organised tennis lessons for myself and my older brother Ben with local coach Tony Polack. I was 8- years-old when I started playing tennis.
Who are some of your sporting idols?
My sporting idols are current professional tennis players: Juan Carlos Ferrero (winner of the French Open Grand Slam Event); Roger Federer (arguably the greatest player ever); and former tennis professionals Stefan Edberg and John McEnroe (both excellent serve/volleyers).
You’ve recently had the pleasure of spending 3 months living and training in San Remo, Italy. What was that like?
I had a great time in San Remo, which is in Northern Italy. San Remo is located only 30 minutes from Monte Carlo and 45 minutes from France. I was invited to attend Bob Brett’s tennis academy for 3 months earlier this year.
I was billeted with a really nice Italian family – a local school teacher Marilena Mameli, her son Simone and their cat Charlie. I loved it. I was treated like a son, not a guest.
Marilena would often watch my tournament matches. She shared my wins and was also there when I didn’t win. Marilena was like my second mum. We would visit Marilena’s parents and friends many times for lunch and dinner. I also learnt to speak some Italian and experienced their customs.
Something I learnt with Italians is that family comes first, second and third. Italians are not driven by owning big cars or big houses. If their family is happy, they are happy.
Tell us about the academy itself and coach, Bob Brett.
Bob Brett is an Australian professional tennis coach living in nearby Monte Carlo while running his professional tennis academy in San Remo, Italy. Bob is one of the greatest professional tennis coaches of all time, having previously coached world ranked players including Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic, Paul McNamee, John Lloyd, Johan Kriek, Mario Ancic. He currently coaches current tennis professional Marin Cilic.
Bob is very, very busy, as he also has a contract with Tennis Canada. Bob’s tennis academy in San Remo is world class. We would train, play and exercise 33 hours each week on the red European clay (the best court surface for junior development in the world).
Between Monday – Friday, we would train 4 hours each day and do 2 hours of fitness each day. It was very, very tiring, but heaps of fun. I loved it. Players at the academy came from all over the world, including Europe, Russia, Canada and India.
We hear you won a few junior tournaments while you were in San Remo…
I was lucky enough to win 3 tournaments while in Italy – two at under 14 tournaments and one men’s category 4 organisation in the Italian Tennis Federation.
Tennis in Australia seems to be struggling a bit, while Europe dominates the world rankings. Why do you think this is?
Europe is way ahead of Australia when it comes to tennis development, because they have slow, red clay courts, where you learn to construct each point rather than blast winners on the lightning fast synthetic grass (carpet) which we have everywhere in Australia.
The coaches in Europe are excellent and also spend an enormous amount of time on the correct technique for each shot. European players also spend more time than Australians practising on the tennis court each week and work very hard.
There is no substitute for hard work. European players are not more talented than Australians – they just work harder, and their results are better.
What are some of the challenges you face as a young tennis player?
The biggest challenges facing myself and other Australian juniors: the long distance and time to travel to play tournaments in Australia; playing on synthetic grass; our weather, as it rains a lot in Australia, which means less time for practice (San Remo has one of the lowest rainfalls in the world); being so far away from Europe. When I lived in Italy, you could visit 5 – 6 countries in a couple of hours. Everything is so close.
What keeps you motivated?
I love tennis. That’s what motivates me. If you don’t love tennis, you can’t train 33 hours a week. I’ve had some great coaches over the years, like Tony Polack and Jarred Kelly in Coffs Harbour, who have both taught me a lot.
How will you be continuing your training now that you’re back in Coffs Harbour?
I’ve got to catch up with some school work and some friends. I need to train and play 20 hours per week, otherwise you fall behind the other European kids very quickly.
What are your plans for the future?
To return to San Remo in Italy to complete my training. If I stay here in Australia, I’ve got no chance of ever achieving my goal to become a successful professional tennis player. I’ll miss seeing my family, but tennis is what I love.
You have to be based in Europe to succeed, as they have plenty of professional tournaments each week, with usually only 1 – 2 hours travel to each tournament.
Thanks Callum. Good luck with your playing career.