When Tony Whitehurst describes the action as the live streaming announcer during the Boys’ 14 USTA National Clay Court Championships at the Westgate Tennis Center this week, he has a real feel for what the players and parents are experiencing.
He’s been there, done that.
“It’s not really a challenge because I know so many facets, because I’ve been a player, I’ve been an official, I’ve coached my kids, I’ve gone to these high level tournaments,” Whitehurst said.
Whitehurst, who lives in Tallahassee and is a graduate from the Florida A&M University school of journalism, has spent 35 years working in the television business.
This week as the tournament is played in Dothan, Whitehurst is perched above the main court at WTC, serving as the play-by-play announcer and color analyst as matches take place below.
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He once played the sport recreationally at a high level, and his identical twin sons, Terrance and Terrell, who are now 26-year-olds, were once top-ranked junior players on a regional, national and even international basis.
“Tennis for us became like a family,” Whitehurst said. “I got to travel with them and when their mom could travel, she would travel. But the goal was to simply use tennis to teach life skills and life lessons, and that’s what we were able to do.
“We went to all the big tournaments. It was one of those things where it was like a huge adventure. I got a chance to teach them morals and values, and my wife did as well. It was great to be able to be on the road with your kids.”
Tennis is a sport Whitehurst came to love early in his life, as did his two sons, who played in Dothan as 12-year-olds.
“My sister, who has passed, is actually who introduced me to tennis,” Whitehurst said. “I was going out with them one day to play and fell in love with it the first day I went out there and I started playing.”
His twins were 5 when they first started playing.
“They played several sports … basketball, soccer and both were first degree black belts in Taekwondo … and then after they became first degree black belts, they wanted to play tennis because I played tennis,” Whitehurst said.
“Once they decided to play tennis, three months later they came to me and said, ‘This is all we want to do.’ Once my boys got to the point to where they really started to get good at the sport, I was working part-time and I wanted to spend time with the boys.
“I was from a single-parent home and my promise to the boys was, ‘I’ll always be there for you; I’m going to raise you like you need to be raised, with your mom.’ I’ve been married for 31 years (to wife Dawn). I wanted to give my boys what I didn’t have, so that’s what I did.”
When Whitehurst got the opportunity to announce tennis on various platforms, it came with ease.
“Sports (broadcasting) just came naturally to me because I played so many sports … it was easy,” Whitehurst said. “My mom always told me I could always talk too much, so I do.
“Tennis was just a natural thing because I knew the game, like I do basketball. I do some ESPN through Florida State, and sometimes basketball and volleyball. I’ve had some projects on the Tennis Channel.”
Whitehurst is also a tennis and basketball official, and since he played the sport for years and even coached his sons, he has developed a knack for spotting things on the court others might overlook.
“I’m able to read what players are thinking out there a lot of the times,” Whitehurst said. “A lot of the times you can tell what they are thinking by a lot of the things they are doing, such as where they are standing, how they are standing.
“Are they standing in on the baseline, inside the baseline? That’s an aggressive nature. If they are three or five feet behind the baseline, they are counter punchers hoping their opponents will miss the ball.
“I’m a why person. I always want to know why stuff happens, not what. If you learn why things happen, then it makes everything much easier.”
While calling the action is fun for Whitehurst, he gets the most pleasure by the talks after the match. He even offers his expertise to parents since he’s been down their path before in the world of junior tennis.
“What I really enjoy when I do this is I get to interview parents, kids and coaches and get to really find out what makes them tick,” Whitehurst said. “And get to find out if they really get what tennis is all about, because it’s not about tennis. Tennis is a game, but life is the bigger game.
“I do it for the fun of it to give back … it’s not something that I do for the money. I do a variety of other things, but this is something I enjoy and it’s a way of giving back and helping parents … because sometimes they don’t quite get it.”