Getting an Edge

NEWPORT BEACH — The shot-making will come.

On Friday afternoon at The Tennis Club Newport Beach, Iain Russell was more concerned with the footwork.

"It's like ballet," Russell told kids at a free junior tennis clinic regarding springing your legs to go for a shot. "You just float."

Russell and Tennis Club pro John Craig put on the clinic, which ran all afternoon for about 25 young players seperated into groups. There was a smattering of local high school players participating, like Newport Harbor incoming junior Ryan Burns and a Sage Hill contingent featuring graduate Dominique Moore, incoming senior Olivia Simon and incoming junior Cali Goldberg.

More interesting, though, may be what Russell and Craig are planning for down the road.

Craig plans to open the new Edge Tennis Academy at The Tennis Club next month. The academy will feature year-round programs for juniors ages 8-18 and feature instruction from Russell, a former ATP World Tour competitior who was the original teacher and coach of French Open champion Michael Chang.

Craig, 50, was the director of tennis at the John Wayne Tennis Club (now Palisades) in the late 1980s. He came to The Tennis Club about eight months ago.

"There was another advanced academy here that, I guess, didn't work out," Craig said. "I thought there was an opportunity to do something special here. I thought with the quality of tennis in this area, and the quality of kids, that we needed to develop a program to appeal to more serious tennis players."

Craig first met Russell in San Diego about 30 years ago when Craig was a teenager and Chang was a top junior.

"One day, [Russell] came up to me and he said, 'John, I'd like you to meet Michael.' " Craig said. "So I'm going to hit some balls with Michael, and Michael trots off to the other side of the court. [Russell] puts his hand on my shoulder and says, 'He's going to be a champion,' and walks away. Ten years later, Michael Chang wins the French Open."

Now, Craig and Russell hope to bring a top-level junior academy to Newport Beach. Russell, 59 and originally from South Africa, has been living in Las Vegas but is planning to move to Lake Forest.

"I've never seen anybody more effective at developing juniors than him," Craig said. "He's a brilliant, brilliant coach, and I think he's going to be a real asset to the community."

Burns, who has been coached by Craig, said he would welcome such an academy. He played junior varsity for Newport Harbor last year but wants to make the varsity in the spring. He played his first tournament last month at the Costa Mesa Summer Classic, advancing to the second round.

"That'd be really cool," Burns said of playing for the academy.

There are definitely a lot of top tennis players in Orange County. One of the biggest programs around is the Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine, which has featured several top juniors, including locals like Cierra Gaytan-Leach and Joseph Di Giulio.

Craig said he doesn't necessarily feel like his Edge academy will have to compete with Advantage, though.

"I don't know if that's the right word," Craig said. "I think that in a few years, we're going to be recognized as one of the top-quality academies in the county. Not in size, but in quality. We're not worried about becoming big, we're worried about turning out good kids and good players."

Craig will also be holding a camp next week, beginning Monday. For more information about the Edge Tennis Academy, contact him at (714) 648-0983 or

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