As a young athlete, Rancho Santa Fe’s Hudson Rivera tried sports such as football, basketball and baseball — but he couldn’t help but be drawn to the sport of tennis.
“I like that it’s not a team, that it’s just me,” Hudson said.
For the past two and a half years, the 10-year-old has been focusing solely on tennis, and his determination has paid off — in 2014, he won the Southern California Junior Sectionals in the boys age 10 group.
Hudson now plays up a division, against the 12-year-olds. He tries to play in one to two tournaments a month and is ranked No. 7 among fourth-graders nationally by Tennis Recruiting.
The top young player will be part of the Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club’s welcome reception for new members from 3-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31. The reception will feature an exhibition at 4 p.m., pitting the top two adult club members, Terry McClanahan and Pat Dougherty, against Hudson and a fellow up-and-comer, Andrew Salu. Andrew, 9, is fresh off winning the Little Mo Grand Slam.
Hudson is a fourth-grader at Solana Santa Fe School. His family only recently moved to Rancho Santa Fe in September, having previously lived in Seal Beach and Las Vegas.
Perhaps the turning point for Hudson’s young tennis career came a year and a half ago, when he got court time with Andre Agassi, the eight-time Grand Slam champion and Olympic gold medalist. As Hudson’s father, Matt, was friends with Agassi, he helped arrange the meeting.
“Hudson was a sponge, and his improvement was dramatic,” said Matt.
Since that meeting, Hudson has worked monthly with Agassi as well as his wife, Steffi Graf, who racked up 22 Grand Slam singles titles and won an Olympic gold medal. Agassi will also lend an ear to strategize before matches, such as helping Hudson figure out how to dismantle his 10-year-old opponents in the Sectionals.
“He believes in me,” Hudson said of Agassi’s greatest gift to his game.
Nearly every day, Hudson has been fortunate to work with Coach Derek Miller at the Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club. Matt Rivera said Miller has created somewhat of a “mecca” for junior tennis talent at the club. Miller is Hudson’s favorite person and has helped him find consistency in his tennis through individualized instruction and group clinics.
“He’s working extremely hard every moment he’s on the tennis court, which pays off in his play,” Miller said of Hudson. “He’s very aggressive and an extremely fierce competitor. When those two factors combine, you know you’re dealing with someone special.”
Hudson said one of his big strengths on the court is his forehand.
“I have a really good serve for my age and I move really well on the court,” he said.
Matt Rivera would say his son’s biggest strength is how much he loves to work hard. Much to the chagrin of his busy parents, who also have a top-ranked junior golfer in the family, Hudson is committed to practicing three hours a day, six to seven days a week. And despite his natural talent and his fierce competitive nature, he demonstrates good sportsmanship, having won many awards for his friendly nature at tournaments.
Hudson’s goal for 2015 is to get his under-12 ranking under 45 by the end of the year.
“I’ve got to get my serve bigger, because it’s the 12s,” Hudson said. “I have to work on charging the net, hitting the big ball and to be more aggressive and make less mistakes.”
Attendees for the RSF Tennis Club’s welcome reception are asked to RSVP by Jan. 26 by calling 858-756-4459 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.