By Emmy Powell, Net News Editor
Marietta, Georgia is a far cry from his native Brazil, but Marcelo Ferreira has come a long way to build champions and a winning tennis program for special, young athletes at Windy Hill Athletic Club.
His humble beginnings in Sao Paulo included working 10-hour days as a tennis academy ball boy. “Whenever I had a quick break, I would take my beat-up aluminum racquet and go hit against the wall,” recalls Ferreira. That is how he first learned to play tennis as his family could not afford a coach. Ferreira says he had a great childhood but didn’t get to travel the world, wear brand-name clothing, or go to fancy schools. “When I decided to come to America, my parents had to make some major financial sacrifices in order to pay for my SAT and other tests as I had failed several times, and my English was non-existent,” he said. The cost of the flight alone was so expensive that his parents sold their car to provide extra money for Ferreira to follow his passion for tennis.
These hardships didn’t prevent Ferreira from becoming a great tennis player. He was recruited in 2002 to play at Georgia College in Milledgeville. He graduated in 2006 and stayed on for a few years to help coach the tennis team. “My years at Georgia College made me fall in love with this amazing country, and I decided that I wanted to stay here and become a college coach,” Ferreira said. That passion for tennis helped him become a student of the game as he felt he needed to think like a coach all the time. That way of thinking paid off. He went on to coach at top Division 1 collegiate tennis programs, including Texas Tech and Pepperdine.
After years of coaching college teams, Ferreira says he realized that God was showing him a different path. He and his wife, Jesse, whose family lives in Auburn, Alabama, wanted to be closer to relatives so they moved back to Atlanta. “It is a mecca for tennis in America and in the world,” he said. “And for me, it had a special meaning because coming back to Georgia felt like my life would be going full circle. It’s where this entire adventure started.” He took a job with Universal Tennis Academy and worked out of Bitsy Grant and Chastain Park before he received his true calling.
That true calling was to start molding the game and the minds of young tennis players before they reach college. In March of this year, Ferreira started a College Prep High-Performance program that includes a full fitness component. His partnership with Tiago Kulaif, who has been in the fitness industry for decades, is one to admire. Kulaif is the Windy Hill fitness manager and conducts all of the strength and conditioning programs for the academy. “My approach is very specific to the game of tennis. I’ve become a student of the game to better understand the movement mechanics necessary to play at a high level,” he says.
Kulaif says their focus is on improving these young athletes’ ability to efficiently accelerate and decelerate movements, change directions with body control, and improve tennis-specific endurance, strength, and power. Kulaif also is from Brazil but didn’t meet Ferreira until he joined Windy Hill. “We had so much in common that it felt that we knew each other for 20 years,” Kulaif recalls, adding that Ferreira’s commitment to excellence is contagious. “His high expectations on the court matches my high expectations in the gym. Together, we push these young athletes to deliver their best each and every day.”
That mindset has produced some top junior players in the country. One player who has seen tremendous improvement through the program is Henry Miller, who is in the top 100 in Boys 12’s. Jill Miller, Henry’s mother, says Ferreira has a tireless work ethic. “That creates a positive environment within the junior program that focuses on inspiring excellence in all areas of the player,” she said. Miller says while the growth on the court is impressive, it’s the growth she has seen off the court while Henry has been under Ferreira’s mentorship that has been the most meaningful.
Amy Ayrault would agree. Her daughter, Hannah, who is only 10, is another academy player rising in the ranks at 47 in the country in the Girls 12’s. Ayrault says Hannah is learning to hold herself and others accountable and learning how to work hard and be a leader. “She is learning how to lead by example and also support the other kids as they try to reach their goals,” Ayrault said. While Ferreira is demanding, many parents agree that he cares about the kids improving their tennis, but also cares about the people they become.
There are many great tennis coaches out there, but these families are finding that Ferreira is much more. He is driving excellence on the court while inspiring greatness in the kids as individuals … and they all win together.