28 September, 2014

Tennis Over All

Jason Pinsky, Brendan Evans, Ludovic Walter, Alex Bogomolov, Amer Delic, Brett Joelsen and Jeffrey Appel at STK in Las Vegas (Appel's firm effectuated STK's public listing (symbol: STKS))
I spoke with Jeffrey Appel via phone on the eve the USTA National Open Level Championships. Appel, an executive at Broadband Capital, captains the team sponsored by the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) which is representing the USTA’s Eastern Section.  The tournament was set for the Darling Tennis Center in Las Vegas this weekend.

When a group of Wall Street hedge fund/private equity types and their buddies plan a long weekend trip to Las Vegas, it’s not usually a newsworthy endeavor.  At least, that’s what the participants (and their employers) usually hope. Thus, the reminder that books can’t always be judged by their covers. When Appel and his friends descended upon Vegas this weekend, it wasn’t debauchery on their minds, but dominance. The team arrived on Thursday seeking a positively Federer-esque fifth consecutive championship.

While events like the National Open Level Championship may not be on the average tennis fan’s radar, it should be noted that the draw isn’t just overloaded with over-achieving weekend warriors or stalwart club pros. Instead the rosters are littered with current and former professionals playing alongside Division I college players. A glance at the NYAC roster alone reveals former ATP Top 100 players Alex Bogomolov, Jr., and Amer Delic, alongside familiar names such as Brendan Evans, Scott Oudsema, Kaes Van’t Hof and Stephen Bass.

Building relationships and the concept of “teaching a man to fish” are surely key tenets of the NYAC team. “Not everybody is a Rafael Nadal or a Roger Federer,” Appel pointed out, “I like to say there’s 2,000 guys ranked between 300 and 500 in the world.  People don’t realize how many guys there are that are that good.”  Ultimately, a combination of that reality, the daunting economics of a pro tennis career and the realities of aging mean that the vast majority of “rank-and-file” professional tennis players eventually move on to second careers far beyond the baseline.  Appel, a master networker, is one such conduit to tennis afterlife.

Appel, a longtime denizen of the New York tennis scene (was recently ranked No. 12 nationally and No. 1 in the East in his age group (in singles). Appel and his close friends, Steve Graham and Bill Ackman, whom he refers to as his “Triangle of Tennis,” pride themselves on giving back, especially by way the sport they love.  In addition to helming and participating in a number of charity events rooted in tennis, Appel has helped many players transition into life after tennis.

“Most players on the team currently work in finance and a few more are looking in the field,” said Appel, “Two of his team’s core players, Kaes Van’t Hof and Stephen Bass were unable to make the trip this year, due to work obligations at their firms.
The tennis community in New York is very ingrained in the finance community.”

“Brendan Evans and Scott Oudsema, two of the team members are great examples. They won three junior grand slams in doubles together,” Appel continues. “They are very smart and sophisticated guys.  After playing pro they went back to school.  Oudsema went back the University of Michigan...and is now working in investment banking at Guggenheim Partners. Evans spent the summer at Goldman Sachs...he got a full-time offer and will be joining them in June in investment banking, following his graduation from the University of Virginia.”

While Appel has helped many move beyond a life in tennis, he couldn’t help but take a moment to reminisce himself when discussing his history in the game. “I’ve been around New York tennis probably longer than anyone I know, I played Jimmy Arias about 40-years ago in the Eastern 12-and-under clay court championships,” he recalls.  As he does, I couldn’t resist asking him if he remembers how he fared against the one-time World No. 5. “I do, but I don’t want to be quoted, it was not in my favor,” he laughed.  “Jimmy was great, even at 11, dramatically better than I was.”  Arias, thankfully, is out of the way in Vegas and thus far, in Appel’s captaincy, no team has been better than his.  Even if there is a better team this weekend, the NYAC team has got a pretty strong plan B.


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