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Written by Robert Kelly   



My Tennis Network would like to Congratulate Robert Kelly for winning a Wilson Sponsorship

November and December

In the months of November and December, I played the Louisville Fall Southerns as well as the Knoxville Winter Southerns. The Louisville tournament is the same weekend as thanksgiving so my whole family drove down to Louisville. Both of these tournaments are indoors which is my preferred surface: hard. I played both tournaments in the 18s and won my first round in Louisville 6-4,6-0 against a 9 seed.

This was a big win for me because I was just starting the 18s tournaments and I came up against a good  seed so I was very worried the week previous to the tournament. I came out on fire and didn’t let up in that first match. I then won my next match to advance to the round of 16 where I played a good friend of mine who recently shot up the rankings and had been playing extremely well. I won in the third set 6-2 and felt pretty good going into my next. I was then blown of the court 6-1, 6-1 but it was such a letdown after winning a big match that I didn’t get psyched back up for my next one. I then grinded a lot of matches in the back draw out by playing smart tennis and outlasting my opponents. Overall it was a pretty good tournament. By Christmas, I was in Knoxville with my family for the Winter Southerns. I won my first two matches and then lost to the one seed. I made quite a run in the back draw by winning my first two back draw matches and keeping myself in the tournament until the final day. I then won three third set tiebreakers in one day to win the back draw and beat the one seed who I’d lost to in the main draw.

August and September

I went up to Kalamazoo, Michigan for the national hard courts. On the way there, our first flight to Cleveland was delayed so we were going to have to run to catch our connection in Cleveland. When we got to Cleveland, we ran with my tennis bag, which is a lot harder than it looks, and made the flight by two minutes. If the second flight hadn’t been delayed, we wouldn’t have made it to the biggest tournament of my life so far.

We eventually made it. In my first match, I played a kid from Ohio and I came out so nervous and tight that I didn’t hit a winner the entire first set. He won the first set 4-6. I won the second set 6-2 and had the ten minute break. I came out in the third set more focused than I’d ever been for a match. I played smart and hit out on my shots. I went up 5-4 and serving for the match. With 10 different college coaches on the sideline, who were there for my opponent, I was a little bit nervous when I went up to serve. I closed the game out and the best feeling of relief overtook me. I then won my second round 6-2, 6-0. I then played doubles with Jonathan O’Neal and we won a round and then my body decided to cramp and we had to pull out of our second doubles. I felt terrible for letting him down for such a big tournament but I couldn’t help it. I then lost my next singles, 6-1, 6-1, playing mediocre at best. I then had to pull out of the back-draw due to those cramps. I then played a regional in Cary and won the 16s singles. In September, I was invited to play southern cup and represent North Carolina in team tennis. We placed second in the tournament behind Georgia who we lost to 17-10. It was an incredible atmosphere and really loud as teammates would cheer on others and sometimes got a little too competitive.


The month of July was a relaxed one as I got used to the feel of summer. Traveling to England for a week to visit my father’s side of the family was great and I then went to France to visit old friends. I went to Wimbledon and the atmosphere was incredible and one of a kind. I got to see Federer beat Beneteau in the fifth on Henman Hill as well as Azarenka, Hewitt, and Christina McHale. I was in France during National Clay Courts so I didn’t get to play but a week after I came back I played Zonals.

While I was in Europe for three weeks, I played maybe twice with old coaches, and tried to impress them as much as possible on how I’ve progressed, but it wasn’t a lot of hitting so when I came back I was a little rusty. Zonals was a lot of fun and the team atmosphere was loud and exhilarating. I came back not playing well so I lost my first three singles matches but won all my doubles matches at Zonals. In my second singles, I lost a 4 hour match 6-4,1-6,7-6(15-13) so that was a tough lost to swallow but after that I ended the tournament winning 6 matches and losing 3. If every tournament was like Zonals, everybody would love tennis and the team spirit in other sports would be cloned in tennis. I’m going up to Kalamazoo Michigan for the USTA national championships so I’ll hopefully do better than Zonals.


June was a pretty good month with school ending and it finally being summer. Southerns were in Rome, Georgia and I was the 5 seed in singles. My brother also made southerns so I had to come a day early because the non-seeds play a day earlier than the seeds. He won his first but lost his second and won one in the back-draw but overall it was a good tournament for him. I started on the Sunday and won my first quite easily and then my partner, John O’neal, and I won our first doubles and started the tournament on a good note.

On the second day, I played a friend from Tennessee and went up 5-0 in 20 minutes and then my dad arrived and I promptly lost the next three games but closed it out to win the first set 6-3. In the second, he started out hot and neither of us could break each other. He was up 5-4, and then 6-5 but I broke him twice to send it to a tie-break. After being down in the tie-break 3-0, I went up 5-3 and then won the match 7-4 in the tie-break. It was a tough match but gave me some experience in clutch situations for the later rounds. I then played a really nice guy and a good guy so I was pumped right from the get-go and served well and let him beat himself. I won 6-3, 6-2. It gave me a huge confidence boost and helped the resume.  In the quarters, I played a guy from North Carolina and won the first set 6-2, and in the second set I let a lot of opportunities get away at various points of the set and lost 6-4. It still being main-draw it was a full third and I was up 5-3 and choked that away to 5-5 when my opponent took a medical because he was feeling woozy and I then won the next 8 points and he only won one point. After the match, he had a full body cramp and was stretchered off to the ER where he was until that night. It was incredibly hot as you can imagine. I was now in the semis of singles and in the finals of doubles. The final was after my 7-5 in the third win so I was a little tired. Me and John won the Southern Closed in Doubles 6-4 6-4. Much to my disappointment I lost in the semis to a speed demon who forced me to make errors but I still felt like if I had played with less error and a bit more mentally tough that I could have been in the finals. It was a good run but it can always be better although my partner and I were extremely excited about the doubles championship.


In the month of May, I had exams and the tar-heel qualifier. The exams went pretty well but stressed me out so much that I threw up the night before my biggest exam. The tar-heel qualifier was pretty good as I got third but as always it could have been better. In the semis. I lost the first 6-3, and then was down 5-4 in the second and my thoughts weren’t the most positive I’ve ever thought of but I broke back at 5-4 to make it 5-5 and then held a 13 deuce game to go up 6-5.I won the set on another break and went to the 10 minute mandatory rest/coaching break. I went into the third set feeling really positive as I thought my opponent was getting tired and I was feeling rested and ready to go. No one was breaking the other and at 4-4 I was up 40-15 and went for a huge first serve and it went out by a hair. On my second, my opponent ran around his forehand and hit a crazy winner. On the second game point, I hit a kick serve out wide and got a short forehand which I shanked and choked the rest of the match away. It was devastating and that’s an understatement. I then had to play the dreaded third and fourth place match whom everybody I’ve ever met at a tennis tournament hates. Even though I felt incredibly tired, I pulled it out in the incredible heat 7-6(3)); 6-4. In the end I fulfilled my seeding of 3 but it didn’t feel like a good tournament at all.

Being so close yet so far was amazingly hard. The entire week afterwards, whenever I had a spare minute my mind would go to that forehand shot at 40-30. Incredible. Got to semis of dubs with Jon O’Neal where we lost 9-7, but that score was a little flattering to us. Other than that it has been a relaxing May as Roland Garros has been on and me and my brother haven’t missed a minute of it. I was glad to see Maria Sharapova win the French to complete the career grand slam winning all four grand slams. Next up is 16s Southerns in Rome, which my brother also qualified for, even though he’s mainly a soccer player.


April started off pretty well. I won the North Hills 18s Southern L3 but little did I know things would go down from there. Right after, I went to the beach with two of my friends, Daniel and Luke Deacon, and my brother Jeremy, for Spring Break. I don’t remember any of the first two days because I got a concussion. My friends have told me that I fell on a tennis court playing soccer-tennis but they could be lying to me and I might have fallen some other way. I have pictures on my phone of me on the beach before my concussion but I don’t remember any of it, very bizarre. After my fall, I was knocked out for several  seconds so it was pretty serious........

Daniel and Luke told me stories of me talking about some weird stuff after my fall so that’s when my mother had to evacuate me off Bald Head island to the emergency room in Southport . The first thing I remember was waking up in a foreign room that I had never seen all by myself and was very scared. I had to take two weeks completely off tennis and this didn’t bode well for the NC Spring Closed tournament.  I played with two 30 minutes hitting sessions with my dad the Thursday and Friday before the tournament. I won one match but then lost 10-7 in the third and then didn’t put up much of a fight in the back draw and got killed. Lesson learned is maybe better not to play a tournament if I haven’t prepared properly.  I have been practicing really hard these past couples of weeks to try and get ready for the Mobile AL tournament this weekend and getting my fitness back.

Just got back from Spring Southern Closed in Mobile, Alabama. Did OK, fulfilling my #5 seeding by getting to quarters before getting  thoroughly beaten by Chase Smith who played at a very good level against me. Won a couple of rounds of dubs with Jon O’Neal, so overall, a decent if unspectacular tournament. Director of tournament called out parents and coaches for their behavior, saying 40% of parents behaved inappropriately – I think he was exaggerating to make his point. Many players and families stayed in the 20 story Mobile Marriott, which was fun except for a 3.30am fire alarm Saturday morning set off by paint vapors on the top floors that were being renovated. We walked down 16 flights of stairs since you don’t use elevators in these situations. Talk about an early warm up!


I went down to the Norcross bullfrog, and I drove down the Friday, a 6 and a half hour drive. When we got there we went to warm up. Me and my papa were worrying about the weather and whether it would rain during the weekend or not. In the back of my mind, was the Augusta National Open that had been affected severely by rain the weekend before. The weather was terrible in Norcross, but it wasn’t rain, it was wind. The wind was so bad I whiffed a shot, not hitting the ball at all and fell while doing it, looking great as always. While in Atlanta, my papa and I stayed with his college friend, and he had a great time with him. His house is quite large and is neighbors with Tyler Perry’s castle. On Friday, my partner, Walker Duncan, and I got a bye first round and then played a great team and won 8-4 and then we went on to win the doubles tournament which is better than losing first round as we did in Mississippi.

In the singles I won my first two rounds but it was tough with the wind blowing. A week before the tournament I had gone on a college visit trip with my family (met the Georgetown coach who was very friendly) and had to warm up for this tournament with only a few days of preparation. I wasn’t very sharp at converting on break points and game points and made error came after error and I wasn’t feeling that confident about my game at the time. I came up against a good friend in the round of 16 and the first few games were tight but I let them slip away and I got killed 6-2 6-2. It was a somber dinner with my pops afterwards but I got over it as I had to play the doubles match that evening. In the back draw I won 2 matches but because there had been a little bit of rain at the beginning of the tournament, it meant they couldn’t finish. The friend I had lost to in the main draw then went on to the final and lost to another friend of mine. After my second back draw match had finished I got in the car and got home at 2 in the morning and my parents forced me to go to school the next day. Later that week after a practice session I went out to eat, and I saw the Florida State basketball team at dinner and they were really friendly even though they didn’t know who I was. I’m still a Tar Heel, but I now have a soft spot for the Seminoles. It’s good to know that some athletes are still humble enough to acknowledge regular people as they see them on the street.



he first bullfrog of the year was in Ridgeland, Mississippi the last weekend of January. We stayed in a weird hotel called the Cabot Lodge but it served free sodas and popcorn from 5 to 7 which made it worthwhile. Flew out on Thursday and then warmed up Friday with a friend from Chapel Hill. Me and my partner got a bye in the first round of doubles for we were the 1 seed. When we played our first doubles we came out cold and went down 0-3. The lights made it hard to see the ball but we got used to it and got it to 3-2. We got it to 6-6 on my serve, neither of us playing well. I was then broken and we lost 8-6. I think it was because we got the bye first round and the other team was warmed up by their first round match.Being the 1 seed and losing first round was very hard and my friends let me know about it the whole weekend. In singles I was the 3 seed, I won a tricky first round match in a third set against a very solid player but I wasn't hitting my groove in this match but I grinded it out 6-1, 2-6, 6-0. In the second round I played my friend from Chapel Hill that I warmed up with on Friday and in the morning before our match. I took care of business playing really well and beat him 6-0, 6-3. That evening was hard seeing everyone playing doubles and I was used to going deep in the draw for doubles but I still had singles. Before my third round on Sunday I didn't feel like waking up at 6:30 and going to warm up so I slept in until 9 and warmed up with my dad in a parking lot by a boarded up restaurant, it wasn't the best but it would have to do. I played a guy who unexpectedly beat the 9 seed. I came out kind of stiff and battled my way to win the first set 6-4, I then hit my groove and starting playing some good tennis and won the second 6-2 winning my third round against a solid player with a huge forehand.

On Saturday evening I learned that a friend of mine from Chapel Hill who went to clinic with me had died in an accident and I couldn't get over it, couldn't get my mind off of it. I was devastated. He was only 14. I was in the quarters and was going to play a guy who had moved to America a few months ago from the Dominican Republic and he had a lot of buzz around him because he was new and no one really knew how to play him. I came out really pumped and playing really well and went up 3-0 in no time giving him no time to get into the match. I kept up this form of hitting winners and playing really aggressively and won the set 6-1. I knew that he was a really good player and that he wasn't going to go down without a fight but I came out in the second a bit less aggressively and he took advantage. The second set was a real battle with neither of us breaking the others serves until at 4-3 I broke him. At the change-over I was pretty confident that I would serve out the match and that I had it. I was wrong. I played a loose game and his took advantage breaking me immediately. I then played a really good aggressive game and broke him making it 5-4 me. I was determined to win the match but I got very tight and worried that I was going to choke away the second set. I played the next game like there was no tomorrow focusing very intensely on every single point. I lost the first but then hit an ace. He then jumped on a second serve and hit a clean winner. At 15-30 I was really scared but I came out and served and volleyed, placing my volley deep and then put away the over-head. At 30 all I played some amazing defense and he controlled the point moving me around the court and he then hit an approach that I tracked down and hit a lob that hit the intersection and the baseline and sideline and came to net. He then hit a forehand at my feet that I volleyed short and he hit a lob on me and while running back I hit a shot that I saw Federer hit where you're running back and you hit a forehand above your shoulders down the line passing him and giving me match point. I had to let out an "ALLEZ" after this huge point. I then closed it out and moved onto the semifinals. On Monday morning I played my doubles partner for the tournament whom I had beaten on our previous two meetings but lost to him in the semis in an ugly fashion. Just couldn't find my normal game, but my opponent certainly found his! The tournament overall was a success and I fulfilled my three seeding.
R.I.P. Blake Hubbard.



am Robert Kelly, a sophomore at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I live in Chapel Hill now but I haven't always lived in the U.S. I was born in Prague, Czech Republic (to English father and American mother) and moved to Fontainebleau, France when I was almost two. It was in Fontainebleau (25 miles outside of Paris) that I first started playing tennis, at about four years old.

The tennis club where I started playing was also the place where the soccer and rugby teams played (the sporting center of the town.) France has a great system for tennis. It doesn't cost much to take lessons, since the coaches are mainly paid by the town or government. If you start to show some tennis potential at age six or seven, the state (department) starts giving you extra free training sessions, paid for by the French tennis federation. I was lucky enough to receive this extra training for a while, which also meant going to tournaments alone with my coaches in other parts of France for a few days at a time. Eventually I stopped getting this extra training because I was also playing a lot of soccer and didn't want to commit 100% to tennis. So I continued to work with my Fontainebleau coaches until age eleven, which is when we moved to Chapel Hill from France. One of the reasons I started playing tennis was that it is a popular, respected sport in France. Along with soccer and rugby, it is one of the most important sports, and gets a lot of coverage in ‘L'Equipe', the main French daily sports newspaper. So I was a little shocked when we moved to the U.S. to realize that American Football, basketball and baseball are more important over here. If Gael Monfils had grown up in the US, I am sure he would have become a basketball player, and Tsonga would have made a great running back, or maybe tight end. This is why France, a country much smaller than the US, has more successful players on the tour. My parents are glad it was too late for me to switch to American Football, but I think it would have been a fun game to play.

When we moved to Chapel Hill, I continued to play soccer as well as tennis, and just last year, right before the soccer season began in September, I decided to quit soccer and focus completely on tennis. Playing soccer made it difficult to get to the big tennis tournaments, since I couldn't accumulate enough points to get into Bullfrogs. Now that I am just playing tennis, I have been able to get my 16s Southern ranking up high enough to get into Southern L2s and L1s. Now I need to figure out how to get into some regional nationals, but still have quite a bit of work to do on that front.

I enjoy the individual nature of tennis, and the mental side of the game. Sometimes matches can be like chess matches, where you have to out think your opponent. I really enjoy doubles too, since that puts the team element into tennis, and is great for developing your serve and volleying. I also enjoy the socializing at tournaments - it's great that you can be adversaries on court one minute, then laughing and joking together off court the next (depending on the guy).

I'm not sure where my tennis will take me. Hopefully I'll play somewhere in college, but as my parents say, the tennis tail cannot wag the dog. I want to go to a good academic university. If tennis helps me get there, so much the better. My favorite tennis player is Gael Monfils, since he is a real showman. I like the way Andy Murray plays with so much variation, but he is a bit of a dour Scot off the court. I heard his model girlfriend left him because he played too much X Box all the time but if I went pro I would definitely not be like that.

Last Updated on Friday, 01 February 2013 20:54
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