Back in 2005 when former Wimbledon singles finalist Chris Lewis made the decision to leave the comforts of his native land of Auckland, New Zealand, and move to the hustle and bustle of Irvine in Southern California, it was surely a case of New Zealand’s loss quickly becoming SoCal’s gain.
Lewis accepted a job to work at the Woodbridge Tennis Club in Irvine with Director of Tennis Chuck Brymer, and although the two had never met, with their prior involvement being limited to two international telephone conversations, they hit it off and now more than 12 years later run one of the most successful high-performance junior tennis academies on the West Coast.
“I always loved Southern California and knew it would be a great place to teach and develop top juniors,” said Lewis, who turned 60 in March. “Chuck and I did hit it off right from the start and it has proved to be a great fit for both of us.”
Lewis and his partner Brymer are poised for bigger and better things in the coming months as the pair’s Brymer Lewis Tennis Academy will see a major expansion. Brymer and Lewis will direct the tennis programming out of a new 25-court facility at Orange County Great Park. Located on a section of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, the new City of Irvine-owned complex will be a sport recreational hub and is currently under development on 688 acres of parkland. Within that acreage is the development of a 194-acre Sports Park.
Since his arrival, Lewis has worked with some of Southern California’s top junior players, including now touring pro, Mayo Hibi, former Australian Junior Open finalist, Sean Berman and former Orange Bowl age group winners, Reo Asami and Joseph DiGiulio.
Lewis also helps train last season’s UCLA’s No.1 player Gage Brymer, Chuck’s son, as well as 15-year-old up-and-coming Stefan Dostanic. Dostanic made the final of the USTA Springs Nationals Boys’ 16s at the Easter Bowl in April, and then fell in the final of the Boys’ Interscholastic CIF Singles at The Ojai playing for Woodbridge High. In early June, Dostanic won the CIF-SS Individuals tennis title over Peninsula’s Connor Hance, becoming the first sophomore since Brymer won the title in 2011. “He’s got an exceptional all-around game, great serve and tremendous athleticism,” Lewis said of Dostanic. “He’s just 15 and has enormous potential.”
Lewis enjoys being on the court each day with some of the best juniors in SoCal. “It’s not only something I enjoy, I’m passionate about it,” he said. “It’s so measurable, to be able to see these kids keep getting better as they maximize their potential.”
Lewis is able to impart to his students some of what he learned from two of the all-time greats in coaching, Harry Hopman and Tony Roche. In 1975, Lewis won Wimbledon’s junior boys singles title, and it was just a pre-cursor to that day he faced McEnroe as an unseeded finalist in 1983.
“I grew up in New Zealand dreaming and imagining what Wimbledon would be like. In fact, I would play imaginary Wimbledon finals against my two brothers in the backyard,” Lewis said. “To get to Wimbledon and make it to the finals was a realization of that dream. It was a long time ago, but it really feels just like yesterday.”
Lewis once told a reporter: “My fascination with the place meant that when I came to England [in 1974], the first thing I did was go straight there from the airport to see what it looked like.”
Lewis hasn’t been back to the All-England Club during The Championships since the mid-1990’s, but will return to Wimbledon this summer in a “Last 8” celebration honoring his finals appearance in 1983.
Lewis won three singles titles and eight in doubles on the pro tour and attained a career-high World No. 19 ranking . He also led New Zealand to the 1982 Davis Cup semifinals.
After 12 years on tour, he retired in 1986. He coached the German pro Carl-Uwe Steeb, whose ranking climbed from 100 to a career high of No. 14 during their time together.From 1991-93, Lewis coached and trained Ivan Lendl, one of the game’s all-time greats.
Check www.brymerlewistennis.com in the coming weeks for all the information on the academy.