If everything had gone according to plan, Ajay Pant never would’ve become a tennis professional.
But life rarely cares about the plans we make. Pant was preparing for medical school when his life took a detour.
“I was doing some work with Welby Van Horn. I was still in college,” Pant remembers. “I can’t tell you why, I was doing a very good job, I was working hard, but I didn’t have any technical expertise. He pulled me aside and said, ‘I just want to talk to you.’ I’m like, it’s Welby Van Horn. Oh geeze.”
The late Van Horn, an accomplished player who became one of the greatest coaches ever, assured Pant that he’d make a great doctor before asking if he’d ever considered coaching tennis. He hadn’t. Van Horn told him he should.
“He saw something,” Pant said. “He said some pretty neat things. In his opinion, I would be good at this. In fact, he said some nice things about the potential.”
By all accounts, Pant has realized that potential. In 2009, Pant became a USPTA Master Professional. In September 2019, he was named USPTA Alex Gordon Professional of the Year.
“He’s a jack of all trades,” fellow Master Pro Feisal Hassan said. “He’s what I call the complete professional. He’s an expert in the industry.”
For the last three years, Pant has served as national tennis director at Life Time Fitness in Minneapolis, where he oversees all of Life Time’s tennis programs and directors across the country, committed to “student-centered learning.” Pant also supervises the business aspects of Life Time tennis, at the club and national level.
“I spend a lot of my time, besides everything else, tending to the curriculum, modules, progression, certificates, updating learning methodologies for the whole company,” Pant said. “Someone has to get the vision right.”
He’s also very involved with the USPTA Leadership Academy, which trains tennis professionals to move off the court into tennis management. Pant began his career coaching on-court before becoming a tennis director.
“He helps with the Leadership Academy that we host,” Hassan said. “He’s instrumental in several aspects of the Leadership Academy. His strength is obviously budgeting because he deals with so many clubs. He has a strong financial acuity.”
Pant has been recognized several times in his career – he was named Person of the Year in 2018 by the Tennis Industry Magazine – but for Pant, being named Alex Gordon Professional of the Year is an added responsibility.
“When you look at folks who have received this award in the past, I went as far back as I could go, people who got this award are mentors and legends, big-time names,” Pant said. “What you do post award is very important. Quite frankly, there’s a big responsibility after that. You have to step it up.”
For Pant, stepping it up means furthering his efforts to grow the game. He wants to get more beginner-level youth and adults involved, and he develops programming to fit their needs. He also works to ensure his teaching professionals adhere to the highest standards of tennis teaching, because that’s what will keep students coming back.
“If the coaching is not conducted correctly, you can be pretty dysfunctional playing tennis,” he said. “But if the coaching is delivered and the learning is happening, it’s really different than just a forehand or a backhand. You could change someone’s life.”