Local phenoms accepted at tennis academy

Published on Wed, Jun 11, 2014
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A Semiahmoo family is moving to warmer climes to give their two tennis-loving children the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Petra and Liam Miszczak have been accepted by the Bollettieri Tennis Program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida – arguably the most prestigious tennis academy in the world. Petra, 12, will start in the fall as a seventh-grader, and Liam, 16, will enter as a high school junior. They will be enrolled in a curriculum that combines academics with tennis training from instructors who have coached tennis greats such as Andre Agassi, Venus and Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Incidentally, Sharapova won her fifth Grand Slam singles title at the French Open on June 7.

Parents Tom and Leslie Miszczak decided to relocate the family to Brandenton to avoid having the kids board at the 
academy. For Leslie Miszczak, the cultural diversity at the academy is as much a draw as the top-notch training.

“They’ll be going to school with kids from over 60 different countries, so it will be an amazing cultural experience for them,” she said.

The curriculum at IMG Academy is rigorous. Students attend class from 7 a.m. to noon and train from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week. The payoff for some graduates is a career as a tennis professional; the school was a key step in the path to stardom for many famous athletes.

Liam and Petra’s tennis journey began three years ago. They had excelled in Tae-Kwon-Do classes in Bellingham, both earning their black belts, but the drive to Bellingham was wearing thin for their parents. Leslie and Tom Miszczak began looking for activities closer to home for their children to participate in.

“At Semiahmoo, the options were pretty much tennis and golf, and they both chose tennis,” Leslie Miszczak said.

Petra and Liam began training with Semiahmoo tennis professional Eric Cramer. Cramer has been their coach ever since.

“We totally lucked out to find Eric,” Miszczak said. “He is a gem of a tennis coach, and they’re both going to miss him terribly. He’s been so supportive and just an excellent coach for the kids.”

The Miszczaks visited IMG Academy during spring break, and both Petra and Liam earned an audience with academy founder Nick Bollettieri, who is famous for his tennis instruction. After hitting some balls for Bollettieri, they both got the thumbs up and decided to apply. Cramer wrote a letter of recommendation, and both Petra and Liam were accepted.

Cramer said Liam and Petra have different goals for their tennis careers. Petra has unequivocally stated her goal is to be a professional tennis player on the world stage, while Liam hopes to earn an athletic scholarship to the college of his choice.

“They’re both great kids,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for everyone.”

For Petra, the path to becoming a professional won’t be easy, Cramer said.

“Attending a tennis academy is the best way to become a professional, but many students will not go on to that level. There are a lot of potential stumbling blocks in her way,” Cramer said.

However, Cramer said Petra has demonstrated the drive and talent necessary to make it.

“She’s been an exceptional student, and she has decided that she wants to become a world-touring tennis professional. You don’t see that level of motivation very often in a girl her age,” he said.

Both Petra and Liam fell in love with the sport as soon as they began playing, but surprisingly, tennis didn’t run in the family.

“Tom and I just started taking lessons so we can play as a family, but the kids are way better than us,” Miszczak said.

Having moved to Birch Bay in 1997 and then Semiahmoo in 2008, Miszczak said she and the whole family will miss Whatcom County.

“It will be sad to leave. We love it here, but we feel the opportunity for the kids is too good to pass up,” she said.