Tae’s Story

Love-All (The Beginning)

The first time I picked up a tennis racquet at the age of ten, it was love at first hit. Before I knew tennis existed, I loved playing table tennis (ping-pong). As a matter of fact, I wanted to become a table tennis professional. However, after hitting my first tennis ball, I found my new passion. Ever since then, I could not stop thinking about tennis. I wanted to play everyday. My mother who saw my burning desire to play, enrolled me in some tennis lessons at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) in New York, where the US Open is held.
 
After training at the USTA for a couple of years in group lessons, a new coach named David Breitkopf, once a top ranked junior who also played the professional tour, joined the coaching staff. The coaches rotated throughout lessons, so I had the chance to work with David from time to time. One day he approached me in the lobby and asked to speak with me. I knew I was in trouble. Immediately, I thought of all the different things I could have done to wrong him. From what I remember, he sat me down and said, “I like your game and work ethics. I want to coach you for a small fee.” Although after a little while, my mom who was divorced at the time could not afford to pay him, so he taught me for free. I met with him about three times a week and got personal attention for hours. He coached me consistently until I went to college. Although I saw him less during my college years, he still made a lot of effort to coach and see me. I owe my tennis career to him.
 
He took me under his wings, teaching me many different aspects of the game. But most importantly, he helped me develop strong work ethics and instilled in me, confidence, which I lacked growing up. I grew up without a father during my teen years and David was like a father to me. He drove me to tennis tournaments when my mother was too busy working. From all the hard work we put in, I was able to win some tournaments in the juniors and reach my highest ranking, number 17 in the North-Eastern Division, in the 18 and under age group.
 
I received a Full-Athletic Scholarship to the University of Stony Brook in Long Island, New York, where I played top singles and doubles for most of my college career. At the end of my senior year, I was awarded Scholar Athlete amongst all the athletes in the University. Although I had a set back during my senior year from having herniated disk surgery in my lower back, I still wanted to compete.
 
After graduating college, I flew to Seoul, Korea during the fall of 2000, to train with tennis professionals. It was a good experience. However, at the time, with my back still not being in good shape, I struggled physically to keep up with the other players. The very cold winter was approaching and training became less frequent, so I decided to head back to New York. I trained in Korea for three months.
 
Shortly after returning home from Korea, I still had the desire to train with top players. I contacted the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Florida for a spot in a teaching/playing program. They accepted me. For the next 8 months, from January-August 2001, I lived with some touring professionals and coaches. The best part was that I was able to train with top national junior players and professionals. The director at the time, Guillaume Raoux, once a top 30 in the world tennis professional, gave me unforgettable tips that I utilize until this day. Another highlight was when I had the chance to be a training partner for Andrew Ilie (50 in the world at the time) for two weeks before the 2001 US Open. The Academy decided to discontinue the teaching/playing program and instead, offered me a full-time tennis coach position. I was not quite ready to stop competing. So, once again, I decided to head back home to New York.
 
I continued to compete in local prize money tournaments, teaching more hours of tennis on the side to fund my tournament traveling expenses. I then reached ranking number 11 in the North-Eastern Open Division in 2003. However, the more time I spent teaching, the more difficult it became to train and play tournaments simultaneously. I played competitively for another year, then decided that being a professional tennis player was no longer for me. At the age of 24, I decided to solely focus my attention on teaching tennis. Initially, I started teaching tennis to make ends meet. Though the more time I spent teaching, my passion grew for coaching students on improving their skills, as well as, encouraging maturity in them through tennis. Looking back on my tennis development, being a part of the game has taught me to be a better person. It taught me how to win and lose like a good sportsman, how to work hard and to never give up in a game, to fight till the end. It helped me to be positive and focus on the task at hand, “one point at a time,” and much more. All these positive skills I’ve acquired through tennis still affects me daily. I want to share this piece of me with my students, of how my coach, David Breitkopf, has trained and inspired me. By the way, we still keep in touch.
 

Me with David Jimmy Connors

Photo taken in 1994 at the National Jimmy Connors Tournament in California, sponsored by Reebok.

From Left to Right: Mike Silverman (Director of Reebok Urban Youth Tennis in NY),
David Breitkopf (My Coach), Me, Jimmy Connors (former #1 player in the world).

My Coach’s (David Breitkopf) Side of the Story

In 1993, after four years working as a journalist for upstate newspapers, I returned to teach tennis at the USTA National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open. I discovered a crop of very talented young players that were far advanced above the kids I had taught back in the late 1980s at the Tennis Center.

Many of these players would go on to become highly ranked, even nationally ranked players. At the time, it actually whetted my own appetite to compete again. I too had been a nationally ranked player in the 1970s, and had competed with or against players such as John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.

One day during the summer of 1993, I was playing doubles with three of the best kids in the camp. One of them, a 13-year-old Korean boy, had a big forehand and a clever American twist serve that I had trouble returning. He was also a bit cocky, laughing when I couldn’t handle one of his shots. I studied him for about a week, making inquiries about him to all the other staff pros. None of them were teaching this young boy, Tae Byon, privately. None seemed particularly interested in doing so, which surprised me because he was so talented. But then again there was an embarrassment of riches at the Tennis Center that year, and all the pros were booked to the hilt with numerous talented kids. I suspected I had found a diamond in the rough.

I approached Tae and asked him if he was taking private lessons from outside the Tennis Center. He said no. His mother could not afford to give him private lessons. He had learned how to play mostly through Korean group lessons, which if you’re familiar with them can sometimes have up to 30 kids on a single court. There is not a lot of chance to delve into the intricacies of stroke mechanics in such an atmosphere.

It dawned on me that Tae had essentially taught himself how to play tennis, modeling it after his ping-pong playing. His story so inspired me that I told him I’d take him on as a student gratis if he promised to work hard and drop the cocky posturing, which I could see masked a lack of confidence. We practiced early in the morning, late at night, whenever we could. I drove him to and from tournaments, and Tae’s mother welcomed me warmly into the family.

The attention paid off. He became a highly ranked player in the East in both junior and men’s divisions. He received a full tennis scholarship to the University of Stony Brook, where he played number one singles. He eventually played professional tennis as well. Today he teaches tennis in Irvine, CA. He too has worked with world-class players. My relationship with Tae is unique, admittedly, and something that I would not expect to occur again.

Still it shows that in a sense we are all diamonds in the rough when we are young, even not so young. Everyone has their talents and their potential. It sometimes only requires that additional ingredient of someone paying attention and praising and nurturing those talents.

Written by David Breitkopf


20 Responses to “Tae’s Story”

  1. Hi,
    it was really nice to read honest text from both of You.
    I am a club player in Finland. I have played tennis 25 years and I am still learning, a lot, every time I’m on court.
    I assume that it must be so hard to be a professional tennis player at ATP tour. In Finland we have only one very good tennis player, Jarkko Nieminen. His has been top player at least 10 years and he just celebrated his 30th birthday.
    In Finland there are people who thinks that Jarkko is not a good player because his has not won Gran Slam or has not been ranked at ATP’s top ten list. That is totally wrong. It’s just so hard job to be top ten player. Competition is so so hard.
    So anyway, I like to thank you both for this site! Tae, Your teachings are super and I have been able to enhance my game so much because of Your tips and videos. Thank You for doing this!
    Yours,
    Antti

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    lockandrolltennis Reply:

    Really appreciate you posting! It’s great I’m making an impact around the world! I do agree with you that becoming a professional tennis player is not easy. Any player within the top 200 in the world are amazing players. It’s always minor things that sets the great players apart from the good players. As the saying goes, “tennis is a game of inches.” Please spread the word out about this site! Thanks

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  2. My younger brother has done some amazing things. His playing career has also been interesting. His pro was also someone special; Magdelena Maria Berescu Rurac.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your story. Its so nice to hear tennis being more than just sport, but affects every aspect of life.

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    lockandrolltennis Reply:

    Thanks for reading and posting! IMO, there is no greater sport. Of course I’m biased. =)

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  4. Hi Tae,
    I’m a specialist in surfing the net to find the best videos and improve my game…! I have probably gone through most of them, even bought DVDs… until I found your forehand video.
    I love your forehand so much that I actually saved the video on my hard disk and played it continuously for the past month.

    Unfortunately I also had a bad back since then and haven’t been able to get back on the court… Can’t wait to go out there and try it :)

    As far as David is concerned, it’s so refreshing to hear these kind of stories.

    Thanks for the great site and videos!
    Christophe

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    lockandrolltennis Reply:

    I’m glad you found this site! Hope that your back gets better soon! Play on.

    lockandroll

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  5. yo, finding your channel, well might have been destiny!! i used to play tennis for my high school team but due to a car accident during my sophomore year i had to quit. Now im a freshman in a community college and im trying to prep up myself to try out for the mens team(perhaps even play for a university when i transfer out). I knew it will be hard but i wanna compete again even if i have to start from scratch… i cant go to my old tennis coach since he went back to japan to retire, so i enrolled in a college tennis class and play whoever is at the tennis courts… Browsing on the web for help i saw your youtube channel and BOOM! i saw my skills improve although the power is not there yet, i know i can improve.. i watch your videos over and over again trying to redo what i see and it has helped.. thanks for building this site!!
    LOCK AND ROLL BRUH!!

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  6. Tae

    How are you doing? How is tennis on the hard courts of California versus the Clay of New York. The David is now using a two handed forehand. We are gettting older.

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  7. Hi Tae:

    I admire your passion for the game and your story. You were lucky to have a mother who was encouraging you to play tennis. I’m sure being asian, that isn’t something that is encouraged too much as a career. I also have a passions for the game, but like most Asian family it was not encouraged too much, but just as a hobby or for the sake of just exercise. I’m older now and have a family, but I still have a love for the game as much as I did when I was younger. My high school was too poor to have a tennis team but I managed to learn the game by watching and reading. With the introduction of the internet, learning has not limits. Thank you so much for your videos because as I get better so does my love for the game. I wish the best with your coaching.

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  8. Hi Coach Tae!!!!
    I read your bio finally. It was interesting to know your past life. The picture down with your coach, you look the same but with beard and yeah……… I hope I get that good too….
    Anyways, thank you for your teaching.

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  9. hi coach tae!
    finally……………………………………………………………….I learn HISTORY!!!!!

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  10. Helllo Tae. Kimchi was my nickname growing up. I’m a middle-aged, half Korean. I fell in love with tennis about 5 years ago and play almost every day lately. The coaches usually think I’m younger since I am small, fast and have elements of the modern game. When they see my wrinkles up close, they realize I am just crazy. My backhand is pretty good, and I have good top spin (especially considering my age). However, I’ve been told that my hips need to come around and through even more on my forehand. I’ve been trying and trying to get this execution down (as well as cleaning up unforced errors.)

    When I came across your video on the monkey arms….wow….what a simple concept! Wish someone had explained it like this before. Can’t wait to go through the whole website. What a great way to transform your passion into a vehicle to help others. Kinda like Khan Academy for tennis players, but funner. In the end my goals is to be fit and have fun, which is already happening. I’m not going to win any big tournaments…just want to beat up on the locals my age…both men and women.

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  11. so you have a clinic where you or your staff give private or group lessions?

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  12. Great site, nice instruction, inspiring. I started playing tennis again after 20 years when my 10YO son got into it. I played as a junior in the 80s then stopped completely when I went into the army. I basically had to self-relearn all my strokes and I am also trying to help my son with his game.
    Wish u all the best with your teaching career and life.

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  13. such a touching story ….

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  14. It is a crispy, beautifully put together tennis teaching site. Not full of infomation that would get you lost, but video and instruction that are succinct and to the point.

    How to you do that helicopter pin of racket? Can you post some instruction on that?

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  15. Thank you! Really appreciate your comment.

    -Tae

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  16. Well written – it just shows the positive influences that Tennis can bring and you have recognized that. It is very evident you take pride in what you have been through and that is very important. Thanks to David for seizing the opportunity – hard to find such things today!
    It is interesting my kid’s coach sent me a link to a tutorial on your site. My kids have played your team kids quite a few times in the league. See you again this season! Thank you for posting these tutorials – my kids seem to like it – I hope they will view it often.

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