USTA 12s Nationals

On The Hunt: Get to Know 11-year-old Longines Future Tennis Aces Competitor Adam Neff

(May 28, 2013) After winning the USTA Boys’ 12s Spring Nationals last month, 11-year-old Adam Neff has earned a spot to compete against hopefuls from fifteen other countries in the Longines Future Tennis Aces event in Paris, France from May 30-June 1.

One look at Neff and you can hardly believe he is only 11 years old. Having grown ten inches over the past year to a height of 5’8” (173cm), his coach of four years, Lance Luciani, laughs at the thought that his pupil will soon tower over him. In fact, doctors anticipate he will grow to a height closer to 6’5” (196cm) by the time he’s done growing, and according to Luciani, he is looking to develop Neff into a similar body type of former world No. 1 Marat Safin.

Neff’s trip back to Paris, this time for the Longines event, signals a “second chance” for the young player as he attempts to redeem himself. Earlier this year while traveling to a junior tournament with his coach, Neff came down with a bad case of Norovirus, and was unable to eat for 10 days, losing 13 pounds. Not surprisingly, he lost in the first round “and it really hurt Adam because he lost to someone he probably shouldn’t have lost to,” Luciani offered. “He felt bad that it happened, and when he heard about the Longines event and how the winner of the 12s Nationals had an automatic bid, he said that it was his chance to go back (to Europe).”

At the 12s Nationals, Neff didn’t drop a set en route to the title, guaranteeing him the all-expense paid trip back to France this week.

Pupil and coach began working together shortly after Luciani’s ten year stint at the IMG Academies teaching students strategy and tactics, including several current professional tennis players, and Luciani jokes about his already four-year partnership with Neff:

“You can only coach a kid for that long if you like the kid, and Adam is a really nice young gentleman.”

The skills that Luciani has ingrained in Neff as well as Neff’s own goal to become world No. 1 one day, has allowed him to be a player mature beyond his years. Luciani imparts words of wisdom, teaching him that although “you may lose a few battles, you are not losing the war,” and Neff has won 85% of his matches in the past year using that slogan. The absolute trust and respect between player and coach, and Neff’s teachability on court, has only propelled his chances at becoming a future breakout star.

“A lot of coaches are about today, and today’s results,” said Luciani. “I once had a coach, who after Adam’s match, pointed out to him that he had missed his backhand 17 times, and then asked him ‘Don’t you think you should have changed it?’ And Adam said, ‘No, my coach told me this is the footwork I’m supposed to use.’”

“And now, one year later,” Luciani elaborates, “because Adam’s body (after having grown ten inches) matches up with what I wanted him to do back then, he’ll now make that same shot 16 out of 17 times.”

And Luciani continues, referring to the steps in his program: “It may be ugly in the beginning, but eventually it’s going to be beautiful.”

The system that Luciani employs is a self-designed program called “Strategy Zone” which is a “very aggressive system based on Andre Agassi and how he built points … and teaches a lot about footwork, targets, amounts of spin, stances and more.” The first four years are spent working on offense “to get a good base,” adding in several new skills every six months. Because Neff has now been with Luciani just over four years, the second stage of the program — the defense — was introduced this past January and “it’s already starting to show up in his game,” states Luciani. “Defensively, we’re working on slicing a little more on his backhand side, and we have a fitness trainer who is working right now on his movement to his right, so he can get to the ball earlier and go from a defensive situation to an offensive situation quickly.”

Neff’s at-home training includes two hours of tennis in the morning, followed by one hour of a private fitness session with his trainer, and an additional hour of tennis in the afternoon, followed by a recovery session every evening. If you’re thinking that this sounds an awful lot like a professional athlete’s schedule, well, you wouldn’t be wrong. In fact, many pros hold this similar schedule while preparing for some of tennis’ biggest events.

And to go along with the training, Neff’s backyard is equipped with every tennis player’s dream: a state-of-the-art facility and courts.

When Neff and Luciani first started working together, Neff’s father asked Luciani what he needed in order to give Neff his best chance at becoming a pro. Luciani gave some pointers, construction began and now, their backyard in Bradenton, FL has one of the best facilities in the world. Among it are three tennis courts: 1) a European red clay court akin to the surface of the French Open, 2) a slower hard court like that used at the Sony Open in Miami with seven layers of cushion “to ensure we can save his knees,” states Luciani, and 3) a faster hard court like that found at the US Open with eleven layers of cushion.

It also includes a full 2800 square foot indoor gym with a recovery area, including a CVAC unit like that used by Novak Djokovic. In fact, Luciani researched the manufacturer of that same recovery pod and leased a unit for five years to allow his pupil to have optimum recovery after playing. “There’s nothing like it for recovery,” he states. “If you get injured, you get well really quick.”

Neff’s parents are both doctors and have put everything into Adam and his two younger sisters to become the tennis players their kids aspire to be. Though “successful and busy” individuals, “his parents are extraordinarily supportive,” says Luciani. “They don’t get upset at losses; they just brush them off and are really down to earth … They built (the house and facility) so that their kids can grow up and have a chance to do whatever they wanted to do in tennis. His parents trust me because they know I have their kids’ goals in mind.”

With his efforts culminating this week in Paris, Neff will vie for a shot to win the Longines Future Tennis Aces event, and as Luciani reiterates his and Neff’s long-time goals: “We’re on a mission, there is no other goal. Number two is a failure, bottom line. We’re on a hunt.”