Scott Hill, who was a tennis pro at Fair Oaks Tennis Center for 16 years before becoming a math teacher, was the very reason Matt, Hillgrove’s No. 1 singles player, decided to play tennis when he was five. Matt picked up a racket one day and attended one of his father’s summer camps at Fair Oaks Tennis Center. From that time on he was hooked.
Scott taught him the game and it wasn’t long before 8-year-old Matt was begging his father to play tournaments, despite being a year under the age limit. Scott continued being Matt’s coach up until his junior season last year when Scott decided to take a step back from private coaching.
Disagreements between father and son while on the court were rare. When asked what made the two of them click as coach and pupil, Scott couldn’t come up with an answer.
“I’m not sure,” said Scott, who is also Hillgrove’s varsity coach. “I feel blessed because it usually doesn’t work. I tried coaching my two daughters and that didn’t work. A lot of ways, I think we’re the same person. It’s surreal how you can see yourself in kids. The first time he played tennis, he loved it and I used to daydream about playing tennis.”
Matt, who had not lost a match this season until North Cobb’s Jaryd Reese beat him in the Region 4AAAAAA finals last Thursday, said he had always loved having his dad as coach.
He remembers the two of them going to the tennis courts for 20 nights straight during a cold February just to work on his net game. Matt was a serve-and-volley player until he changed his style his freshman year.
“He pushed me a little bit but was always okay with what I wanted to do,” said Matt, who recently signed to play at UAB. “He never forced me into playing tennis. I just love playing with him all the time.”
Matt’s dad supported him when he chose to add football to his short list of sports.
And his decision to play football in the fall during his middle school years was the primary reason he was a serve and volleyer. He wasn’t playing enough tennis to improve his groundstrokes, which was his weak link at that time.
But tennis was still Matt’s priority.
“His mom asked me when he was in the ninth grade if he will ever be good,” Scott said. “I said I think he will be good if he quit football and train consistently for a year straight.”
Matt willingly agreed. He worked with his dad to change his forehand grip from an extreme western grip – when a player holds the racket underneath the handle, to the more popular semi-western grip, which players use when they want a good amount of topspin, but still want to flatten the ball trajectory for finishing shots.
He also worked tireless hours into becoming a fulltime baseline player instead of a net player because serve-and-volley tennis was fading due to advanced racket technology and slower courts.
His current playing style resembles that of reigning U.S. Open and Olympic champion Andy Murray. He has a punishing serve and forehand and rarely double faults or makes unforced errors.
“He never gives you a point and makes you run for every single ball,” Reese said. “He’s a great competitor.”
Currently, Matt is working with Fair Oaks coaches Danny Carlson, Jimmy Petit and Colt Gaston.
He will be working with a new coach when he arrives in Birmingham in the fall. Derek Tarr has coached the Blazers for 21 seasons and his teams have won nearly 70 percent of its matches.