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Tennis Talents
State-ranked tennis players Zach and Sam Kennedy follow dad's lead

By Doug Gorman

dgorman@news-daily.com

Zach and Sam Kennedy can't agree on who is currently the world's best tennis player.

Zach, 14, is partial to second-ranked Roger Federer, while younger brother Sam Jr., 12, throws his allegiance to top-ranked Rafael Nadal.

There's one thing their father Sam Sr. who also serves as their coach, does know - his two sons have bright futures in the sport.

The Stockbridge residents are each ranked fourth in their USTA Georgia age divisions and their tennis resumes are growing every day.

"I just love it," Zach said. "I want to be the best."

His brother Sam Jr. echoes his brother's passion for the game.

"I love that it's competitive, and you have to work very hard," Sam Jr. said.

Sam Sr. exposed his sons to tennis from an early age after taking early retirement from his job and then becoming director of tennis for the Boys and Girls clubs of Atlanta. By the time his sons were five, they were already playing tournament tennis and falling in love with the game.

"Their mom and I separated, so they were around me all the time," Sam Sr. said. "They had to go with me to the tennis courts, so they have been hitting balls since they were two and three years old."

Earlier this month the brothers each competed in the Georgia State Closed tournament in Macon, the largest USTA Junior event in the state.

Zach finished second in the 14-and-under category, while Sam Jr. took fifth in the 12-and-under.

Zach lost to Columbus' Christian Guray, but the duo teamed up and won the doubles title.

The home-schooled tennis players spend several hours a week on the court, and it shows.

According to their father, the Kennedy brothers are natural athletes.

"I was an all-american in basketball when I was in college," Sam Sr. said. "Their mom was also a good athlete, so the athleticism came naturally."

Even though the Kennedys play in different age groups, they have teamed together for doubles competitions, often winning those events.

The siblings don't feel any pressure being coached by their dad.

"It's not like we call him coach when we are out there," Zach said. "He's still dad."

Sam Jr. agrees.

"No matter what, I'll always call him Dad."

Sam Sr. has his own opinion on the coach/father relationship.

"I am tougher on them than I am on other kids sometimes," Sam Sr. said. "But I think that's natural."

The brothers have taken part in the Easter Bowl tennis tournament, one the country's top junior events. For the Kennedy's, it was an eye-opening experience, as they got to see first hand what it takes to play at such a high level.

"When they first started to play tennis, they would win on athleticism alone," Sam Sr. said. "As they get older, they have to win on tennis, fitness, training and the whole gambit."

Both brothers love clay court surfaces, and may one day dominate the French Open at Roland Garros. However, don't be surprise if both brothers are one day playing on the famous grass courts at Wimbledon or the hard-court stadiums at the U.S. Open.

Still, before the Kennedy brothers think about collecting a pay check on the men's professional tennis tour, there is a detour leading straight to college.

"I want them to take tennis as far as they can, but I do stress the education part," Sam Sr. said. "I know you can get hurt, so you better have something to fall back on."