\Jorge Capestany is among the best known names in tennis in Michigan.
“Stick around long enough and people notice you,” he said. He’s been noticed rather often over the past 30 years.
In January, Capestany, who is manager of the DeWitt Tennis Center at Hope College, was honored by the United States Professional Tennis Association, which named him among its top teachers, coaches, players and volunteers of the year. He will be inducted into the association’s 2012 Hall of Fame for the Midwest division in Cincinnati in August.
Also in January, Capestany was named Professional Tennis Registry Member of the Year by Racquet Sports Industry Magazine. In 1992, he was the youngest Master Professional in the history of the USPTA. In 2008, he became a Master Professional with the PTR, and today is one of 10 people worldwide who is a master professional in both organizations.
Capestany has been named Michigan Pro of the Year on six occasions by the USPTA Midwest Division and the PTR. He was named Midwest Professional of the Year twice by the USPTA Midwest Division. He has been the Grand Rapids Tennis Patrons’ Man of the Year and the Cap Leighton Award winner from the Midwest section of the USTA.
Since 2004, he has been one of the original members of the CardioTennis speakers’ team organized by the Tennis Industry Association, and he has been a member of the speakers bureau at Wilson Sporting Goods since 2007.
He is author of several works on tennis, including “Strategy — An On-Court Guide to Beating Every Style of Player” and “Mental Toughness — Workbook for Tennis.”
Capestany frequently is invited to speak at national and international tennis conventions, and last October, he was sent to Shanghai, China, by the PTR to train coaches there.
Perhaps most significant: His coaching and instruction have developed more than 180 high school state champions in Michigan, as well as three USTA national champions.
Capestany was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1962, and brought to the U.S. by his mother, Yolanda, a month later. His two older brothers already were staying with relatives in Miami. Eventually his father, Fernando, joined them.
Miami was crowded with Cuban refugees then, and there wasn’t enough work for all of them, so the Capestanys accepted sponsorship by Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville, which helped them settle there.
The first time Capestany played tennis was in eighth grade with his buddy Ron Bentley, whose father, Rahn Bentley, was the tennis coach at Hudsonville High School. Rahn Bentley became a mentor to Capestany, who had athletic ability and made the varsity tennis team as a freshman. But while his tennis game improved quickly, his self-confidence was lacking. “I wasn’t very mentally tough,” said Capestany. “Rahn Bentley was instrumental in helping me turn that around.”
By the time he was on the Grand Valley State team in his freshman year, “I had turned around from being a person who’d always find a way to lose to quite the opposite — just because I was less intimidated.” Unfortunately, GVSU canceled its tennis program, but Capestany kept playing in tournaments and began giving tennis lessons to help pay his way through college.
Not being sure what he wanted to do with his life, he opted for a business degree when told it would be the most flexible. After graduation in 1984, Capestany had no intention of being a tennis instructor, but then a friend and former doubles partner, John Korpi, called. Korpi was the tennis pro at Ramblewood Tennis & Health Club in Grand Rapids until he was promoted to manager. He offered Capestany the pro job.
“Initially, I was a little hesitant because I didn’t want to do tennis as a career,” he said. Actually, he turned the job down, but then changed his mind and called Korpi back. He got the job.
By 1993, he was director of tennis at Ramblewood and had built the club’s lessons program from scratch, doubling the revenues in the tennis department. That year, he left Ramblewood to become tennis manager at three affiliated clubs in Grand Rapids: East Hills Athletic Club, Orchard Hills Swim & Sports Club and Michigan Athletic Club. The clubs’ tennis revenues were $1 million a year. Capestany was responsible for hiring, training and supervising 11 full-time tennis pros. His tennis programs won national recognition from 1993 to 2003.
In 2003, Hope College hired Capestany to manage the DeWitt Tennis Center staff and create and implement a new tennis program for students, faculty and staff, as well as the Holland community. “We now offer year-round lessons for all ages at the club, as well as a very respected summer tennis academy. Tennis center revenues have doubled since my arrival in November 2003,” he said.
Now he is much sought after as a public speaker. “I speak a lot about why tennis is the toughest sport,” he said, “and when I say that, some people start to chuckle.” Then he lists the realities of tennis.
First of all, it’s a lonely sport with no teammates to offer moral support. In a match, there is no time limit and no time outs, no substitute players. There is, typically, no referee or umpire.
“You are your own referee,” he said. “The very person you are playing is calling your shots in or out. No other sport would even think of doing that.” Imagine, he said, if Little Leaguers were responsible for calling their own balls and strikes. “But we give that responsibility to our players in tennis, including little players who might not yet be emotionally or ethically fully developed,” he said.
Capestany’s point is that tennis players must embrace that responsibility and develop the integrity and self-discipline it demands.
Coaching during play also is virtually non-existent. “In USTA tennis, there is no coaching whatsoever, so if you’re struggling, you’ve just got to figure it out.”
In high school tennis, he said, the players only get about 90 seconds of coaching at the end of every other game. A coach has to watch up to eight courts at a time “so he may not even get to you,” said Capestany.
Another quirk of tennis, he said, is that a phenomenal youngster can beat a much older and bigger player. “I’ve had 12-year-olds that could beat 18-year-olds,” he said.
“I think those are all life lessons.”
Tennis pros emphasize control of emotions. “Body posture is really big in our sport,” he said. “The way you carry yourself on the court sends tons of messages to your opponent.”
Players are taught there are two performances in tennis: one is during the play for a point, which may only last five to seven seconds. “But also know that at the end of every point is a 20- to 25-second period before the next point starts. We call that the ‘between-point time,’” he said, and players are trained what to do, and not do, during that time: Be cool; don’t “throw your arms up in frustration and let the whole world know — especially your opponent.”
The Capestanys are a tennis family. In fact, Jorge and his wife, Marti, met on a tennis court. She is a 25-year certified coach and has taught tennis for 30 years. She spent 15 years as director of tennis at Cascade Hills Country Club, and now works part-time at the DeWitt Tennis Center. Their daughter, Carli, is a Hope freshman and on the tennis team.