Tommy Cardinal, USPTA Communications

When he started teaching tennis, it was just for community service hours during summer vacation. He loved the sport, but teaching wasn’t something that came easily for him in the beginning.

“To be honest, my first summer doing this was pretty rough when I was 15,” Julian Danko said. “My boss was always on me about talking more and being more communicative with kids. I honestly didn’t step out of my shell until I realized that I was still a kid and interacting with those kids was just being myself.”

Julian Danko started teaching group lessons at the age of 15 at Mendon Racquet and Pool Club. He fell in love with tennis the same way many others were attracted to the game: Agassi.

“It must have been one of the US Open series tournaments on TV, and I remember seeing Agassi just ripping a few groundstrokes, and I said, ‘that looks pretty cool’,” Danko said.

After that, seven-year-old Danko found a “Kapow” racquet and an old tennis ball and started hitting against the garage. His neighbor across the street saw Danko and introduced him to her son who would become Danko’s first tennis teacher, Tennyson Saucedo. 15-year-old Saucedo and Danko would walk to the public tennis courts down the street for lessons.

Danko is now Head Pro and Junior Program Director at Empire Tennis Academy in Rochester, NY. 

“I have a finger on the pulse of all of our younger players at any given moment,” Danko said. “I’m on court for pretty much all of our junior lessons so I can really see the progress that our kids are making and I kind of ensure that they’re going down the right pathway.”

Danko is pretty young himself, 25 years old, but he’s been teaching for a decade. He’s a part of the USPTA Under 30 Initiative and said he wants to be more involved in the coming years.

“Right now with our program we’re halfway into our third year, so we’re still kind of in the building phases and still polishing our structure,” Danko said. “But it is absolutely something I want to get more involved with.”

After graduating from the University of Rochester with a bachelor’s degree in Health, Behavior and Society, Danko decided to teach tennis until he figured out what he wanted to do for a career. He’s been teaching since.

“I did know that after college, I did want to take some time and teach and do something that really interests me on a more personal level,” Danko said. “I didn’t realize it could be a career path, but just something I wanted to do.”

Danko said that when he started teaching during high school, his father would dog him to get certified, but he put it off for a while until he came to Empire. Jason Speirs is the Tennis Director at Empire and is highly involved with the USPTA as first vice president of the USPTA Eastern Division. Speirs explained the advantages of a USPTA certification to Danko when he was hired at Empire.

“Just like we ask our kids to get better, I ask my staff to get better,” Speirs said. “It’s not quite as easy as we always think it is for professional development, but I push my staff to get certified and understand that education is what keeps us current and separates us from a lot of our competition. At the end of the day, our customers are the ones who are gonna benefit the most.”

One student who sticks out in Danko’s mind is Raissa Lou, who now plays for Yale University. Lou was a five-star recruit on and helped Danko realize that he was a strong teacher when he was just 19.

“She kind of picked me up as one of her hitting partners out of nowhere just because I was available at the time. And then after doing a couple sessions with me, they realized the value and the input I could provide her even when she was playing at such a high caliber,” Danko said. “They kind of kept me on her team of coaches. That was really big for me, a real affirmation. Although I never considered myself a strong player, I always thought I had an eye for making other people better players.”
About Tommy Cardinal
Tommy Cardinal is a journalist in Orlando currently attending the University of Central Florida pursuing a journalism degree and is slated for a fall 2019 graduation. He has covered Orlando City Soccer Club and UCF sports for New Day Review and is currently an assistant editor of the Downtown Community Paper in Orlando. Tommy grew up in Sarasota, Fla., and spent a few years in Tallahassee after graduating from Sarasota High School. You could say he was born into tennis – his mother and father met on the courts in Sarasota.