Bryce thrives after playing alongside the big shots
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
SPENDING a month training at the renowned Nick Bollittieri Tennis Academy in Florida looks to have already paid off for Coffs Harbour tennis player Bryce Cunningham if the result of a social hit during the week is any indication.
"On Wednesday he beat me in a set for the first time ever," Cunningham's coach, Danny Souza, lamented.
"I think he's a lot more consistent, especially with his depth and he's just giving me a lot less opportunities and that just comes from the thousands and thousands of balls that he's hit."
An opportunity to be coached by Nick Bollittieri and his mammoth number of coaches that work at the academy was months in the making for Cunningham, his father and Souza.
When you consider that the great coach has had players the calibre of Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Mary Pierce, Anna Kournikova and more recently Maria Sharapova under his tutelage, it's no wonder that the local 17-year-old moved heaven and earth to make the trek to the States.
On his first day though, Cunningham admitted to being slightly intimidated by the gruelling daily workload that everyone is expected to go through.
"It was very intense, six hours a day, full on fitness two hours a day, it was like an army camp," he explained.
"There's all different coaches, we had a different coach for every shot. A forehand coach, backhand coach and so on. Every different shot had a different coach so there was hundreds of coaches there."
As demanding as the training was, did Cunningham feel that he had his eyes opened about the training regimen required to get to the top?
"Not really, I like to think that I train pretty hard wherever I go," he said. "I've been through a couple of acadamies like that but that was definitely the toughest one but I got through it pretty good."
What did open his eyes was the top players who were at the Academy during his stay in Florida.
"Max Mirnyi was there, who is top 25, Sharapova was there for a little bit and Radek Stepanek was there," the right-hander said.
"Sharapova's just as good looking as you think but she's a lot taller than you think as well, a lot bigger."
With the training behind him and the improved form evident, Cunningham took off yesterday for Perth to compete in the International Tennis Federation- sanctioned Perth Junior Open.
There he will be chasing his first ranking points on the world junior tour as he takes his first tentative steps towards a professional career.
Cunningham only needs to win his first round match this week to get those first points and an official world ranking. With a strong work ethic behind him, it should be nothing more than an initial step in a long journey.