The sport of tennis flourished in 1980. The year marked not only the centennial of the prestigious U.S. Open, but the establishment of a dynasty in tennis at Andover.
Gregory Wilkin, current Boys Varsity Tennis Coach and Instructor in English, joined the Andover community in 1980. His impact was immediately apparent as he led the Girls Varsity team to an undefeated season.
Although Wilkin’s coaching ability and values remain sharp to this day, the sport is nearly unrecognizable from the way it was played 34 years ago.
When Wilkin started, the courts, located in the parking lot beside the Smith Center, were made of uneven “Har-Tru” clay that required near-constant watering and sweeping. Rackets were usually made out of wood or stainless steel and made a booming sound when the ball was hit flat.
However, one thing remains the same: “Tennis is the greatest sport ever invented,” said Wilkin.
Wilkin has a rich tennis background to back up his 15-year certification as a Professional Tennis Registry professional. He was the Captain and MVP in tennis at a Catholic boys’ school in Buffalo, NY and played two years of college tennis at Wadhams Hall College before playing at Yale during his Junior year.
The tennis fanatic and English teacher has also authored a biographical novel on British tennis player Bunny Austin called “The Rabbit’s Suffering Changes.” His passion for both tennis and writing can consistently be seen in his vivid write-ups of the team’s matches on the Andover website.
Wilkins made the transition to coaching Boys Varsity Tennis after taking a few years off from Andover. He has remained the Coach for the past 25 years.
Under his leadership, the team has won four New England titles: 1989, 1990, 2011 and 2013.
The team has grown in repute and is now invited to tournaments hosted across the country, such as the New England/Mid-Atlantic tournament in Maryland (NEMA) and the National Invitational in California, a far cry from Wilkin’s earlier years of coaching.
“We used to play college Junior Varsity teams, since it wasn’t always easy to arrange good matches for our good players. Now we schedule matches with our traditional rivals, as well as those other prep-school teams that report having strong teams and want to play us,” he said.
A key to the team’s success has been its doubles prowess, setting Wilkin apart from other coaches.
“He encourages us to be aggressive at the net in doubles, which was something I never did before coming to Andover,” said Co-Captain James Heaney ’14, a four-year varsity team member.
During practice, Wilkin emphasizes serves, volleys and overheads, promoting a fast-paced game where players can hit with power and confidence.
Wilkin also provides invaluable knowledge of Andover’s opponents’ strengths and weaknesses thanks to his many years of experience.
When it comes time for competition, Wilkin is a very supportive figure whatever the circumstance.
“[Wilkin] is always very positive, and he rarely gets frustrated with us even when we are off of our games. He always believes we can win, no matter the score,” said Co-Captain Henry Kalb ’14.
Under Wilkin’s leadership, the Andover tennis program has birthed such players as Trey Meyer ’09, Captain of the 2013 DIII NCAA Championship-winning Williams College team, and Moustapha Diop ’89 and Ousmane Diop ’90, Senegalese Davis Cup doubles players and Hall of Fame inductees at Oberlin College.
The team has amassed a strong and loyal alumni network, with players coming in from all over the map for tennis reunions and to support the current team.
“This is one of the keys to continuing the high level of achievement. [Our alumni] help spread the word and get terrific scholar/athletes to come here,” said Wilkin.
To even those who have never picked up a racket, Wilkin has one last piece of advice he instills in his Varsity players:
“My theory… is that it’s never too late to learn something new in the game.”