ShareThis Page

Move south pays off for Pittsburgh area tennis players

| Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

Tennis player Jon Ho expected to spend only a few months training at the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center in Florida several years ago.

"I went down for the summer," said Ho, 18, of Franklin Park. "My family and I stayed in a hotel, thinking we wouldn't be there very long.

"I felt myself improving. I was getting a broader range of competition than I was in Pittsburgh. I asked my parents if it would be possible if I could train there all the time."

The move, which became permanent, paid off.

Ho, a Wake Forest University recruit, is ranked 33rd in the nation by the United States Tennis Association in the boys age 18 level B division, and first in Middle States in the boys 18 division.

His sister, Jessica, 15, who also trains year-round at Brandon, has done even better, ranking third in the nation in singles and doubles in the girls 16 division. She won the girls 16 singles title at the USTA Winter National Championships in December at Scottsdale, Ariz.

She is ranked No. 1 in the girls 14 and 16 divisions in Middle States, which consists of Pennsylvania, Delaware, the panhandle of West Virginia and most of New Jersey.

"I don't think either Jon or I would be doing as well if we hadn't come to Brandon," Jessica said.

"Jessica has always worked hard, but Jon has had some disappointments," their mother, Ellan Ho, said. "There were times where I thought he would become discouraged and quit. But he stayed with it.

Whole family supports the move

"Instead of going back and forth between (Franklin Park) and Florida, we all decided it would be nice to live in Florida throughout the year. We bought a house, in addition to the one we own in Franklin Park. Everybody was happy, including Jon, who ended up doing very well."

Jon and Jessica, who travel across the country to compete, play in several Middle States tournaments a year. They are enrolled in online classes at a Florida cyber school, where Jessica is a freshman and Jon a senior. They live in Florida with their mother. Their father, an environmental consultant, lives in Franklin Park.

"When we were younger, I used to tag along with Jon to tennis matches," Jessica said. "Watching him play made me want to play. I wouldn't be playing if it was not for him."

"Jon is a late bloomer," Brandon junior tennis director Andrew Golub said. "He's been overshadowed by his sister, who is more advanced than he was at the same age.

"Jon has the physical tools -- he's tall and lanky and moves well. He's a good athlete, but we've had to work hard on building his confidence so he could become a major college prospect. We've had to convince him how talented he really is."

Jon and Jessica are part of a bumper crop of junior tennis players from Western Pennsylvania.

Others make their mark

Bjorn Fratangelo, 18, of Plum is ranked fifth in the world among junior players by the International Tennis Federation. Last year, he became the first American since John McEnroe in 1977 to win the French Open Junior Championship.

University of Michigan recruit Ronit Yurovsky, also of Plum, is ranked ninth in the nation in the USTA girls 18 division.

Amanda Nord of O'Hara is 49th in the nation and first in Middle States in the girls 12 division.

A.J. Catanzariti of Mt. Lebanon is ranked 26th in the nation and No. 1 in Middle States in the boys 16 division.

"In 15 years, I don't think I've ever seen a group this good," said Tom Benic, an Allegheny Mountain board member. Part of Middle States, Allegheny Mountain covers western Pennsylvania and part of West Virginia.

"Western Pennsylvania has become fertile ground for tennis players."

Catanzariti, who reached the quarterfinals in boys 16 singles at the Winter National Championships, recently moved to College Park, Md., to train year-round at the Junior Tennis Champions Center.

Established in 1999, the center has produced 11 national champions over the past five years.

"I knew since I was 12 that I wanted to move away to train," Catanzariti said. "There are good players in Pittsburgh, but not enough. It's a small city. You get more variety when you train elsewhere."

Catanzariti is training under Misha Kouznetsov, a senior professional who once coached him in Pittsburgh.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.