Elson De Cantuaria gives credit to the USTA and its Professional Tennis Management college program for the success he’s had founding and operating the Match Point Tennis Academy out of the Cabrillo Park Tennis Center in Santa Ana over the past nine years.
While studying for his physical education degree and playing tennis for Division II power Hampton University in Virginia some 25 years ago, Brazil’s De Cantuaria changed his degree from P.E. to marketing during his junior year as Hampton became one of the first school’s to offer the PTM emphasized degree.
“My junior year they started offering it, but they said I would have to change my degree to marketing if I wanted to stay in the PTM program,” De Cantuaria said. “And I’m so glad I did. I think that is one of the main reasons for the success I have had with the academy both as a coach and a business person. What I learned was the business and marketing side of tennis; the administration side, and it’s been very useful. And now I’ve been running a very successful academy for the past 20 years.”
De Cantuaria, who recently turned 50, said another reason for his success is because he takes a special interest in the students who attend his academy. “We have a very low turnover rate, and I still have kids who have graduated from college who come back and visit,” De Cantuaria said. “We have also had some incredible stats when it comes to finding the balance between athletic success and academic excellence. Forty to 50 percent of our seniors get to play college tennis and the average GPA has been above 4.0 for them over the years.”
He added: “You become a major part of their upbringing. You are seeing them five, six days a week around the club and spending that time with me. You are helping raise them. It is very satisfying. For them to return and visit, it is extremely gratifying.”
De Cantuaria knows the importance of academics as he graduated first in his entire marketing class and was offered a scholarship to attend Michigan State to continue his MBA, but instead elected to move to California and open up his academy.
“The primary thing we try to emphasize and to find a balance between is athletic success and academic excellence,” he said. “I’m very strict when keeping up with the kids’ grades.”
De Cantuaria, who ran academies at the La Habra Tennis Center and then Anaheim Tennis Center before taking over at Cabrillo, currently has one red clay court, and is hoping to get approval to build two more. He said that European players like Djokovic, Murray, Warinka and Nadal often possess a bigger all-around game because of their development on clay, as opposed to American players who often have a big serve and big forehand, but lack in the other strokes. “I feel it’s harder for top American players to have consistent wins over the players who have trained on clay because they are often one or two dimensional,” De Cantuaria said. “I would like for the kids I am training to work developing their entire game a couple of times a week on clay.”
Back in 2000, De Cantuaria was named the Inside Tennis Southern California Men’s Open Player of the Year. It’s his love for being on the court that he says in infectious and rubs off on his students. “It is something I really enjoy,” said De Cantuaria, who had a near career-ending rotator cuff injury in college that kept him sidelined off and on from 1994 to 1999. “I really love to play tennis. Like they say, find a job that you really like and you will never have to work again. That’s how I feel and I always wanted to work in tennis and I always wanted to be on the court.”
So his plan is to return to competition and try to become the best 50-year-old tennis player in Southern California, and beyond. “I was one of the top Open players, then I stopped playing and got hurt and the same thing happened in the 35s, the 40s and the 45s,” he said. “This time, I’m going through some serious training and not going to get hurt. I think I have another 10 years of good senior tennis left without getting hurt.”
— Steve Pratt