All in the family for Dents

NEWPORT BEACH — Fans who follow Taylor Dent on Twitter or "like" him on Facebook lately have been treated to his thoughts on the Australian Open.

They're observations not everyone would have on the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year. Then again, not everyone played professional tennis for over a decade and reached as high as No. 21 in the world.

Dent is back living in the Eastbluff community of Newport Beach now, a stone's throw from where he competed at Corona del Mar High in 1996 and became just the third player ever to win a CIF Individuals title as a freshman.

He retired from the tour last November. On a recent afternoon at The Tennis Club Newport Beach, he reflected on being a family man.

"I have no regrets about the decision that I made," said Dent, 29. "Am I missing it out there? Absolutely I'm missing it. I love to compete, and I love playing the game of tennis at the highest level. But, honestly, I love being a good husband more and I love being a good father more."

His father, Phil Dent, chimed in.

"Did you notice he didn't say he likes being a good son as well?" Phil quipped, which elicited a quick smirk and an equally quick comeback from Taylor.

"That's not super-important to me, honestly," the younger Dent said.

Dent's wife, Jenny, also smiled. These family moments are more common now that the trio of former tennis professionals are all together in Newport Beach.

But local tennis players will want to come to the Dent Tennis Academy, which opens its doors Monday at The Tennis Club, for the instruction provided by the trio of talented coaches.

Taylor Dent, who former longtime CdM Coach Tim Mang called the best player he's ever coached, won four Assn. of Tennis Professionals singles titles in his career.

Phil, who won ATP 25 doubles titles during his own 14-year pro tennis career, formerly taught at Los Caballeros in Fountain Valley. He has long been one of the more respected coaches in Southern California; he's the one the Newport Beach Breakers' Maria Sharapova went to when she needed help with her serve.

Jenny (Hopkins) Dent, who gave birth to the couple's son, Declan, a year ago, won several International Tennis Federation titles in her career and made it to No. 52 in the world in the women's game.

"That's one of our strengths," Taylor Dent said. "You're getting attention from, I would argue, the most knowledgeable family in tennis. It doesn't take us long to diagnose a tennis player. I can see someone hit for five minutes and say, you know, 'I think it would be be beneficial for your game to do X, Y and Z.' Because of that experience, we can get more kids playing more points on courts."

Mang is now an advisor at The Tennis Club. After Dent's retirement, he set up a meeting with The Tennis Club CEO/President Charlie Sharp as well as Paul Ramsey, president of the Ramsey Tennis Group which owns the club.

Taylor Dent said he had already kicked around the idea of starting an academy with his dad years earlier, while Taylor was sidelined on the tour after back problems in 2006. This time, things fell into place.

Dent said he couldn't imagine a better venue than The Tennis Club, with its 24 courts off Pacific Coast Highway. His wife agreed.

"I'm from Kansas City," Jenny Dent said. "Coming out here to Newport Beach, Taylor used to call it 'God's country,' and it really is God's country. Right now, my son wouldn't be able to be outside playing around in the middle of January in Kansas City. The weather here has been unbelievable. I don't think you could find a better place to start an academy … I'm very excited about this opportunity."

Children and adults alike are welcome at the academy, which features six stations: serving, returning, singles points, skill-building drills, doubles/net skills and cross-training.

Taylor Dent said he wants to avoid some of the negatives associated with academies, like having children stuck on a court and not hitting a lot.

Tennis is not a cheap sport to play, yet Dent said his prices are competitive.

A two-and-a-half hour session costs $70, or a five-hour day session costs $120.

Those prices go down if students purchase 10- or 20-session packages, and private lessons are also available.

The Dent Tennis Academy will face competition. Advantage, Woodbridge and the Racquet Club of Irvine all have well-known programs in neighboring Irvine.

"They're pumping out tennis players like crazy," said CdM Coach Brian Ricker, who faces many of those products in the Pacific Coast League when his team plays rival University High. "Our high school kids who want to play at the next level, they all go to Irvine."

Yet, Ricker said he's very excited about the new academy. He said it will be ideal for the local player who wants to train in town and really improve his or her game.

Ricker said in the past several years, he hasn't had a tennis player ranked in the top 100 in the Southern California 14s come into CdM from the three Newport Beach tennis clubs.

The main issue, Ricker said, is that the clubs haven't really pushed local USTA tournaments to the young players. They typically encourage their junior players to play in-house "Penn" Leagues, and match play on the weekends.

"To be a real tennis player, you have to play USTA tournaments and lots of them," Ricker said. "There's no getting around it. That's how it's done. That'd be like a 10-year-old signing up for AYSO soccer and saying, 'All I want to do is practice. I don't want to play on the weekends.'

"Everything that Roger Federer does in tennis is to prepare himself to play tournaments … I think it'd be great for our town if we have a place that really motivates the kids to maximize their potential."

That's what the Dents have in mind.

Naomi Bharath, a Tesoro High sophomore who has been coached by Phil Dent for about 18 months, will be quick to sign up.

"A lot of the people I know who do tournaments are looking forward to it," Bharath said. "I'm definitely excited about it. I've learned more from [Phil] than from any other coach. He's just really good at communicating."

Taylor Dent said he knows that, at least for now, his academy won't have a chaperone service like the famous IMG Bollettieri Academy in Florida, or an on-site school.

Still, he's thinking big.

"We want this to be the tennis player's mecca," he said. "Right now, our goal is to make this the West Coast academy to go to."

For more information, call (949) 721-8819 or visit http://www.denttennisacademy.com.

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