Rumson’s Podesta keeps tennis all in the family

Third generation player is No. 1 in his age group

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

SCOTT PILLING staff Rumson's Nicolas Podesta, who at 10 is one of the top young tennis players in the nation, works on his game at the East Brunswick Tennis Club. SCOTT PILLING staff Rumson’s Nicolas Podesta, who at 10 is one of the top young tennis players in the nation, works on his game at the East Brunswick Tennis Club. Nicolas Podesta doesn’t believe in half measures.Whether it’s in the classroom (where he’s an A-plus student at the Ranney School), playing a pretty mean piano, or on the tennis courts, Podesta wants “to do it to my best.”

That approach has made the 10-year-old from Rumson the No. 1 player in his age group in the United States Tennis Association’s Eastern section. He is the only player from the Shore area to earn a No. 1 ranking. He’s won eight tournaments in the last year en route to becoming No. 1.

“My dad (Jeff Podesta) introduced me to tennis and I really liked it,” said the younger Podesta. “I just enjoy hitting the ball and running around. It’s a lot of fun.

“I really wanted to keep doing it to my best,” he added.

Podesta relishes being No. 1 and the pressure that goes with. It only makes him want to work harder to stay there.

“It feels good to be at the top,” he said. “I have to keep practicing to make sure I keep it there.”

When not playing tournaments, Podesta can be seen at the Brunswick Hills Racquet Club in East Brunswick honing his game under the tutelage of the club’s teaching pro Mike Morris. As he smacks overheads and swinging volleys, hammers forehands and does his drills, there is pure enjoyment on his face. He can’t get enough of it.

Neither can his father, Jeff Podesta Jr., who played tennis professionally in the mid-1970s.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “He started at 5. I haven’t had to push him.”

Nicolas started playing tournament tennis just two years ago and quickly established his domination over his age group, not only with his power, but his court smarts. He knows how to play the angles and what shot to play and when. His swinging volley is a shot others don’t have in their repertoire.

“He’s always asking questions about the game,” said his father. “He’s very inquisitive about the game.”

What has separated Nicolas from the others in his age group?

“He has great hands and he picks the ball up quickly,” his father pointed out.

Podesta’s interest in tennis has brought his father back on the court.

“I’ve got to start to play now that Nicholas is playing,” he said. “We’ll have some fun. We’ll play in some father/son matches.”

Jeff Podesta has come full circle in a way because of his son. Nicolas is actually the third generation of Podestas to play the sport. It all started with his grandfather, Jeff Podesta Sr., who was a U.S. star in the late 1930s before tennis was professional. He retired from the sport after college and strayed away from tennis until his son started playing. They would play in some father/son tournaments, something Jeff Jr. plans on doing with Nicolas.

Jeff Jr., like Nicolas, was introduced to the sport by his father, but never was pushed to play it. He came by his love of the sport naturally, and eventually would play it professionally in Europe (an opportunity his father didn’t have). He put his rackets away after retiring, and like his father, is back on the court because of his son.

Jeff Sr. has seen his grandson play and is most impressed.

“I can’t believe what he does at 10 years of age,” he said, “I’m a proud grandpa. I see him every five or six weeks and he’s shown tremendous improvement. He has the desire and temperament.”

Who knows where tennis may lead the young Nicolas Podesta, but if his father and grandfather are any indication, it will be quite a ride.

His grandfather was one of the top American players in the late 1930s when he starred at Princeton University. Don Budge, the first man to win the sport’s Grand Slam, was his partner in a doubles match and he played an exhibition match against Fred Perry, then the No. 1 player in the world.

Jeff Jr. played with Rod Laver, the only player to win the Grand Slam twice, in an exhibition doubles match, and one of his opponents on the other side of the net was Bjorn Borg. Quite some company.

Nicolas’ favorite player is current world No. 1 Roger Federer.

“He’s always out there to win,” Podesta said of Federer, considered by many as the best player with the chance to join Budge and Laver as Grand Slam champions.

Who knows, maybe someday young Nicolas could be teaming up with Federer in a doubles match.