Tennis POY: Aten lives for game
CHAMPAIGN — Step inside the Aten household in south Champaign and you'll find the television tuned to The Tennis Channel.
Which is where it stays. All the time.
Why? Because this is where Champaign Central tennis standout Austin Aten lives. And The News-Gazette's Area Tennis Player of the Year loves the sport.
How much? Just ask.
What are your hobbies, Austin?
"Tennis. Just tennis, pretty much," he said.
What's a typical day like for you outside of the spring season?
"In the summer, it's tennis a lot. Like, every day. Five or six hours a day of tennis," said Aten, 15. "In the fall, it's usually lessons at Atkins (Tennis Center), usually three hours at Atkins, and then I'll find somebody to hit with."
And what's the TV tuned to?
"Tennis Channel is on most of the time, especially during Grand Slams," he said. "It's on 24/7. During the French Open, I was studying and watching tennis most of the time. And then when I wasn't watching tennis, I was outside playing tennis."
Get the picture?
Tennis is on his brain just about every waking hour. Because he doesn't yet have a driver's license, distractions in that area are limited. And he's not interested in video games, except for one game on the Sony Wii. Can you guess which game?
Tennis. Of course.
"He's committed himself to tennis," Central coach Scott Davis said. "He wants to be the best. He works at it."
For Aten, it isn't drudgery. Far from it. When Aten plays in various USTA tournaments with other high-level players during the summer and fall, he encounters kids who are on the court physically but perhaps not so much mentally. It's easy to notice the difference.
Aten won a tournament last weekend, during which one parent remarked to Aten's parents, Bill and Judy, "The difference between Austin and all these other kids is his passion and his love for tennis."
The roots of his passion emanate from a lazy summer day. Then 10, he had finished his baseball season and was watching Wimbledon on television.
"I thought it looked like it would be really fun," Aten said. "I earned some money, we went out and bought rackets and balls, and I started hitting against our garage. All the time. In 100-degree heat. I really liked it.
"My parents decided they could put me into lessons, and Atkins just happened to be the first thing in the phone book. I still play there all the time. It's my second home."
The rest is history ... or developing history.
Bill, who played baseball in college, and Judy aren't tennis players, but they sought out instruction for their son from then-Atkins pro Mark Vos and, now, Alex Vos. And then they steered clear.
"That probably has a lot to do with his success," Judy said. "We are not tennis players, so we did not interfere with the coaching. We trusted the people who had the experience and the knowledge."
Aten has been a quick study. In five years, he's become one of the best high school players in central Illinois — he won the sectional crown — and established himself on the USTA circuit.
He also has made his school, his teammates and his parents proud of how he plays the game.
"One thing I like about Austin is he really gives credit to his opponents," Davis said. "Austin gives the other guy credit. He has a great attitude."
If Aten — a straight-A student in the classroom — has taken a crash course in tennis since that day he watched Wimbledon, the student shows no sign of slowing down. Aten's passion for the game fuels his desire.
"I just wanted to be good so bad," he said. "I don't really have much else (going on). I just keep working 24/7 on tennis. That's pretty much my life."
Quipped Judy, who doubles as his tennis chauffeur: "And until he gets his license, it's pretty much mine, too."
Boys’ Tennis Players of the Year
2011 — Austin Aten, Champaign Central
2010 — Mauricio Gonzalez, Centennial
2009 — David Ruedi, Centennial
2008 — David Ruedi, Quinn Miller, Centennial
2007 — Rodrigo Miller, Champaign Central
2006 — Chad Simpson, Danville
2005 — Chad Simpson, Danville