He is an eight-time South Dakota State Tennis Champion – 4 titles in singles and 4 in doubles, including the past three years in Flight 1 with partner Billy Paluch. He’s a four-star college tennis recruit according to TennisRecruiting.net. He is the top-ranked player in Boys 16s for USTA Northern after winning his second consecutive Section singles and doubles championships back in June at the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis. And he is ranked 95th in the country in Boys 16s.
All these accomplishments create a pretty impressive resume for someone who just finished his sophomore year at Rapid City Stevens High School.
Yes, the future is bright for Jack Hamburg….
Hamburg started playing tennis when he was about 8 years old, although he did not immediately fall in love with the sport. His mom, Liz, who currently serves on the USTA Northern Board of Directors and is the Chair of the Junior Tennis Council, played tennis at the local club, sometimes bringing Jack along for the ride.
"I didn’t like tennis right away. I actually thought it was a girls sport …only because my mom played it," the right-hander, who is always the jokester, says with a grin on his face. "But serously ... once I started getting better, I liked it a lot more."
What was it about tennis that ultimately changed his young and impressionable mind, making him realize the tennis wasn’t just a "girls sport?"
"I figured out I could hit the ball hard. And now that I have grown over 4 inches in the past year, I can finally hit the bigger ball and control where it is going."
His sudden growth spurt has also helped his serve, which he feels has become the best part of his ever-growing body and game.
"I have been working for over a year on improving my serve and that is really starting to pay off," Hamburg said. "It also helps that I am getting taller as I can hit down on the ball more. I finally can hit it hard and it goes where I want it to go."
His coach, Bryce Barnard, who he has been working with the past 6 years, has also seen dramatic improvements in his game recently, due in part to those additional inches.
"Jack has tremendous God-given skills including great hands which help him play an all-court game. He is able to use his all-court game to control points and pressure his opponent. He is also able to find a way against better players of getting to the net and using his hands. In addition to his new-found height, he has been lifting and getting stronger. His serve is getting huge and that is a real bonus to his game."
But Hamburg knows even with all the success he has experienced, there is still room for improvement in "every aspect of my game – both physically and mentally."
"Mentally, Jack needs to not let a couple mistakes change his game plan to a more conservative style," Barnard says. "He needs to keep stalking his opponent and go for the kill. He also needs to learn to control his new-found power and realize he doesn’t have to swing 100 percent on every ball like he used to."
Hamburg also recognizes the challenges of developing his game while living in Rapid City. Many of the best players, and his top challengers in the Section, live over 600 miles away. He also has to travel more than many of the other players in the Section to play against top-flight competition, often times missing multiple days of school to play in tournaments, although he maintains a 4.0 grade-point average.
"It is tough sometimes being out here (in Rapid City)," Hamburg admits. "There are not as many people to hit with on a consistent basis. I hit with Bryce the majority of the time. Even though the travel can be tough, it is great when I do play tournaments around the Section because I have opportunities to play against good players my age, which only helps in developing my game."
"I think for Jack to compete at the level he does is truly amazing. He only has me to hit with, but instead of complaining about it, we deal with it in a proactive way by beating on each other pretty often. A positive for him is that the other kids in the Section don’t get to see his game other than in tournaments, but I am sure he would give that up to be able to play with 2 or 3 other Jacks during the week."
Although it might be difficult to find multiple hitting partners, Hamburg admits that living in Rapid City does have its advantages, especially when it comes to creating a balance between his tennis and non-tennis life.
"There is so much to do here outdoors," Hamburg says. "I like to rock climb, cliff jump and mountain bike. It provides a good balance to my tennis and makes me a better player."
"Jack is funny if he has to play more than 5 days a week. He gets pretty cranky," Barnard said. "He likes his free time and that really helps keep his mind in a good mental tennis state when he is on court. Not many tennis players at his level could get away with playing such a limited amount of time and still perform like he does. But don’t let that fool you. When he is on court, his type-A personality kicks in and his serious nature is on full display. "
Although he still has two years of high school left, Hamburg is at least thinking about the future. He will move up to the #1 singles position at Stevens after the graduation of Paluch last spring. Hamburg also hopes to bring back the state team title Stevens lost in 2009 after winning the previous two years. There are also college plans for the future, although he is not sure where exactly that will take him.
"It is still a ways off, but I would really like to play Division I tennis somewhere. Wake Forest is my first choice, but we will see what happens. There is a lot of time before I need to worry about that."
"Jack is truly a great kid, not only a nationally-ranked player, but a 4.0 student as well with a very mature head on his shoulder," Barnard says. "He relates with people of all ages, is confident and makes good decisions outside the tennis court. Sometimes it’s the decisions outside the tennis courts that are some of the most important ones!"
Those decisions and his already impressive resume are setting him up for some very special things in the future. Here’s hoping the Deacon Demons’ head coach is reading this article somewhere!