Parks, Sports

A Red Hook native brings tennis to the Hook, by Nathan Weiser

Pablo Sierra loves introducing tennis to young athletes.

I take the game on the road,” Pablo Sierra said. “I call it actually tennis anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”

He started his own tennis organization called the South Brooklyn Tennis Association (SBTA), which focuses on Red Hook, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge for kids 10 and under.

Pablo Sierra is a native of the Red Hook projects who fell in love of the sport of tennis as a teen and is on a mission to introduce the sport to the youth.

Sierra thinks that more young athletes should have a passion for tennis, and he wants to be a part of that revival.

Sierra first started playing tennis when he was 14 years. He was introduced to the sport by hearing Bud Collins on the TV.

“We need to develop more players to be able to represent American tennis,” Sierra said in a recent interview. “I would watch Billie Jean King, Elena Stazi, Roscoe Tanner, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson. I would watch them and say this is pretty neat. That kind of got me interested in it.”

Sierra couldn’t afford lessons, so he bought an instruction book. There was not a tennis court near him, so he would improvise, just like he does today when he coaches tennis.

“I used to go down to the old Red Hook Stadium and hit against the wall,” Sierra added. “They had a stadium where people could sit. It was pretty high. On the backside of it, you had walls that people would use for handball. That is where I started to practice hitting the tennis ball.”

One day someone who was conducting a golf clinic in the neighborhood saw him and made a recommendation that would give him access to play on a real court.

The instructor recommended that he go to the National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) to develop his skills a little more. They had various free programs around the city that Sierra took advantage of.

“I would pick up lessons here and there,” Sierra said. “Some of them were in the city. I spent a lot of time over in Highland Park back then. It was fun. I used to travel there and use a lot of the courts.”

He founded SBTA in 2010 as a non-profit 501 (c) 3 NJTL/CTA promoting Kids 10 and Under Tennis. SBTA is a member organization of the United States Tennis Association.

The Red Hook program begins the first weekend of May at Bush Clinton Park. He provides rackets and balls, and also incorporates pop-up nets and other miniature equipment to be able to set up anywhere.

Knicks star, Carmelo Anthony has a local basketball program that Sierra has been able to lure some of those kids to his tennis program. Two brothers from Anthony’s program joined the tennis program.
Lightning quick

“One of them came over and I showed him the ready position, how to hit the forehand and how to hit the backhand,” Sierra said. “It was really funny because you had him hit a few, and he was lightning quick.”

His brother was watching. Sierra turned to him.

“He had it down,” Sierra said. “He picked it up. He was excellent. You need to be able to almost pinpoint where you want the ball to go. There is an awful lot of strategy, and you are always working to set up your opponent.”

“On the Saturdays, we will do some forehand, some backhand, we will teach the serves, the volleys, just enough to get them started and comfortable hitting the ball,” Sierra added. He tries to find other free programs where he can send the kids after they finish with him so they can continue advancing in the sport.

“I could set up my own (CTA) if I had the space, but I truly enjoy just taking the game out on the road because you never know who you might touch,” Sierra about teach the youth in the city. “You might go into a neighborhood and find a little kid out there who might not even know that he loves the game and he will try it for the first time and will fall in love with it.”

Sierra wants anyone who is nervous about playing to give it a try. He worked with a mother who didn’t think her son could play because he was having a trouble focusing on school. Sierra told her that he should play tennis is because to hit the ball, you have to focus on the ball.

“You start off slow, and then it is something you develop like anything else,” Sierra added about the determination needed to play the game. Sierra thinks that one can learn a lot by playing tennis.

“I have never ever seen anyone walk away with a frown on their face,” Sierra said. “The kids just want to come back and back and back.”

Sierra joined the board of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) in 2002. He was recently nominated to be president of the Metro Region of the USTA.

“It is volunteer [based], but it’s an awful lot of fun,” Sierra said.

His website, southbrooklyntennis.com provides links to other free programs for kids to further develop their skills.

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