He’s the grandson of Key Biscayne residents who is making a name for himself in the tennis game, playing tournaments all over the world. Now, Ty Switzer is being coached by the legendary Patrick McEnroe as he tries to realize his ATP dreams.
Splitting time between New York City and Key Biscayne for his entire life, Switzer has gone from being a pint-sized 1st-grader learning to swing a racquet to a nearly 6-foot-1, 14-year-old five-star recruit being mentored by one of the biggest names in the game.
A member of the revered Mac1 program, which only selects the most elite kids to receive hands-on training from both John and Patrick McEnroe, Switzer said Patrick’s experience and ability to communicate the game on several levels is invaluable.
“It’s awesome – he knows his stuff,” Switzer said of Patrick McEnroe’s approach to coaching, where he infuses tidbits he’s picked up as a top-flight ESPN tennis analyst. “I’m working on the basics, and being ready to hit every single ball. We always talk about his experiences at Grand Slams commentating.”
McEnroe, who also spent years of his youth playing tennis on Key Biscayne, saw something special in Switzer from the beginning. “He’s got of a lot of pure athletic ability, and his stroke production is good, to go along with just a lot of natural ability and things you look for in a tennis player,” McEnroe said, breaking down a few of Switzer’s better attributes. “He’s a long, limber, quick, flexible and explosive type of kid.”
McEnroe, who played 10 years on the ATP tour, won the 1989 French Open doubles title and captained the U.S. Davis Cup team, winning the title in 2007. The former player and current commentator said he is helping Switzer realize that sometimes less is more on the tennis court, getting the teenager to master the basics and saving the spectacular only for when it’s needed.
“The thing I’ve been working on the most is bread-and-butter tennis,” McEnroe said. “He almost has too much ability and too many shots, so I’m trying to get him to do the basics a lot better. He likes to hit great shots, but I’m trying to get him to understand he doesn’t have to hit a highlight reel shot. He sometimes likes to make it more difficult than it is...but he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do, and we have a great team and he’s a great kid, so he’s coming along well.”
Having the luxury of being able to compare his own development to Switzer’s, McEnroe said his young protege is progressing toward a bright future. The teacher compared himself to the student, looking at two 14-year-olds from different eras with different strengths and weaknesses.
“I would say he has lot more athletic ability than I ever did, but I was a better tennis player, I knew the right shot at the right time, because I wasn’t a super athlete. He’s a greyhound, a thoroughbred, so sometimes he tries to get away with things by just using his athleticism. The strength in my game was my smarts and ability to play within myself and I think I can help him with that.”
McEnroe warned about projecting too far into the future and talking about making the tour, but admitted it’s not out of the realm of possibility. “He definitely has a shot, and I’d like to see him improve and improve in his age group.”
Switzer’s tennis journey has already seen him overcome shoulder and hip injuries, only to rebound better than before in his tireless efforts to reach his goals. After showing consistent improvement from the time he began playing on the circuit, he and his parents decided to make two major decisions, choosing to home school and participate in fewer tournaments than some players at his level who are competing in the Universal Tennis Rating System, a global system designed to produce an objective, consistent and accurate index of players’ skills in the game.
It’s a 16-point scale (Roger Federer is a 16) where men’s Division 1 players usually rate about a 12. Switzer is already rated as an 11.
His mother Gina believes the more well-rounded approach the family is taking to Ty’s tennis efforts is benefiting everybody. “It’s been exciting,” the sports mom said. “We’re 100 percent supporting him and what he wants to do. It’s his journey and we’re here to be the back support and help any way we can. It’s nice to have a child who has a passion about something early in life, and to be able to support that is wonderful. And we weren’t tennis players, so it’s a learning experience for us. My husband and I get to travel with him and have one-on-one time.
“It is so special, and we can have memories for a lifetime.”
Already, the tennis journey has taken them to parts of the globe many have never experienced.
“We experienced the ITF circuit and went to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Bahrain, Kuwait, Dubai, and now we’re starting the super nationals in the U.S., getting ready for clay court, hard court and the Easter Bowl. It was awesome to see how people live, it’s amazing,” the traveling tennis player said, showing maturity and appreciation beyond his years.
And he always remembers where he started.
The teenage snowbird has been playing the courts of the Village for as long as he can remember, growing up part-time on the Key, learning the game he loves while going on adventures with his grandmother Teri Scott-Abandonato, who helped create magical South Florida memories for the athletic adolescent. “I honestly think it was great,” Switzer said of his early days in the Village. “That’s where I started at 6 years old. I did the summer camp there, and that’s where I started to play tennis. It was great being at Crandon. I got to watch Andy Murray and I looked at him and said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ and I’d go every day and watch him practice.”
After practice, he remembers spending quality time with his grandma. “The beach is awesome,” the teenager said, adding he still loves to visit from New York as often as he can. “She would take us in the car and say, ‘Oh, it’s a surprise,’ and we’d end up at the arcade and play games all day. It was awesome. I loved it – she wouldn’t tell us where we were going at all.”
Grandma Teri gushed with pride when talking about her grandson. “Tennis has given him a lot of focus and direction, and it’s something he loves, it’s his passion. When they were little they spent the whole summer here,” she said of Ty and his two brothers, Reed and Clay.
“When he and his two brothers were little we used to get them up early in the morning before the sun came up and take them down to the beach in their pajamas and feed the seagulls and run along the beach as the sun was coming up. And they thought it was great and strange to be in their pajamas on the beach. It was so fun,” she said. “As young men, they are maturing with direction and passion, and it’s wonderful to see how they have developed.”
But it was tennis that made the biggest impression on the youngest Switzer.
“If it wasn’t for Key Biscayne, I don’t know if he would be playing tennis,” his mom said. “My husband and I didn’t play, and Ty stumbled onto tennis at the Ocean Club at the tennis camp and then the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center, and then with Pablo Arraya.”
Switzer’s favorite player is Frenchman Gael Monfils, the super-athletic ATP star. “I love how he is on the court, his athleticism and all of his talent,” Switzer said, describing his idol. “I met him on Key Biscayne when he was practicing and got a picture.”
With an aggressive style of play to go along with exceptional skillsets, Ty, with his team’s help, is focusing on other aspects of athletics that they believe will help in the long run. “It gives me time to do all my physical training and trying to be an all-around athlete and not just a tennis player,” he said.
Being a well-rounded kid participating in other activities is important to the Switzer family as well. They recently returned from a skiing trip in Colorado, where the tennis player got a chance to take part in his other passion. “I like snowboarding a lot, but I have to take it easy to prevent injuries,” he said. “I’ve been doing it since I was 5 or 6 years old.”
A typical teen in many ways, Switzer, who wears Nike Vapor tennis shoes when he plays, is a giant “sneakerhead” who has turned his athletic shoe passion into a profitable business.
“I’m big into the sneaker game,” he said. “I buy and resell shoes, I get shoes that are hard to get - I got some Jeezy’s (Kanye West’s brand). I’ve got 24 pair and people couldn’t get them and I was able to sell them for $400 each, and I only paid $220 for them. I love sneakers, I probably have 40 pairs not counting the ones I’m selling.”
But snowboarding and sneakers take a backseat to his backhand as he prepares to win tennis tournaments en route to his short-term and long-range goals. “Next, I think I want to win one of the super nationals on clay or hard courts,” he said.
Meanwhile, his parents are keeping a close eye on his career, looking at it from every angle.
“He’s playing in tournaments he needs to play, but we’re not point chasing; we’re not gonna burn him out, we’re looking at the bigger picture,” his mom said, talking about the approach she and her husband Lou are talking with Ty’s journey.
“We assess where he is every few months. We don’t have a goal for five years from now. We reassess regularly because things can change very quickly.”
But even knowing that making it to the ATP Tour is a long shot for even the most talented players, it’s a goal Switzer can’t get out of his mind, and he’s willing to do what it takes to try and make it happen. “That’s my ultimate goal, to be top in the world, and every time I’m working to be the best. I don’t think about it every day, but sometimes I do and it makes me want to work even harder.”