Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sacramento junior trains with Federer in Dubai

Collin Altamirano practiced with Roger Federer
for two weeks last month in Dubai, United Arab
Emirates. 2013 photo by Paul Bauman
   Any junior in the world would be thrilled to receive an invitation to train with Roger Federer.
   Collin Altamirano, though, had doubts.
   "My initial reaction was: Yeah, I want to do it, but is it the best thing for me, because it was the offseason and what got me (to become) good wasn't hitting with Roger Federer because I've never done that," Altamirano, who's based at Arden Hills in Sacramento, recalled this week. "It was hitting with my coach (Joseph Gilbert) and being around my coach, so we had to make the decision, is it going to be worthwhile?
   "As soon as we talked about it, it became an easy answer. We were like, 'Yeah, why wouldn't it be?' ... It's not every day that you get to train with the greatest of all time."     
   So Altamirano traveled alone and spent the first two weeks of December in sunny, cosmopolitan Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where Federer, 32, of Switzerland has a residence.
   Joining Altamirano, who turned 18 in Dubai, at various times were fellow U.S. junior Jared Donaldson, professionals Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine and Marco Chiudinelli of Switzerland and other Swiss pros.
   Altamirano beat Donaldson in the final of the USTA Boys 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., last August, becoming the first unseeded player in the tournament's 71-year history to capture the title. Their trip to Dubai was arranged by Jose Higueras, the USTA's director of coaching.  
Roger Federer will meet Rafael Nadal in the Aus-
tralian Open semifinals on Friday at 12:30 a.m.
(California time). 2012 photo by Paul Bauman
   Altamirano said he and Donaldson hit with Federer, two against one, for an average of two hours a day at "a five-star resort, gorgeous place. They had four or five tennis courts. They resurfaced a brand new court for Roger, and the court was perfect. We hit on that court every day."
   Unfortunately for Altamirano, he did not stay at the resort.
   "We stayed at the equivalent of a Holiday Inn," he conceded.
   Was Altamirano initially nervous practicing with Federer, who has won a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles and spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone else in the history of the ATP rankings? Heck, yeah.
   "Jared and I were joking around the first time we hit with him: 'Who's going to miss first? Who's going to shank first? It was pretty funny. In like the second hit, Jared shanked a ball three courts down. About two rallies later, I shanked a ball out of the court. We were just cracking up. We knew it was coming."
   Altamirano was most impressed with Federer's "ability to hit the corners consistently. The guy could place it in the corner dead on the run, no problem. It was tough to play against. It was fun, though, that's for sure."
   Altamirano did not play any practice sets against Federer, who will meet Rafael Nadal on Friday (12:30 a.m. California time, ESPN2) in the Australian Open semifinals. That honor was left to the pros.
   Still, Federer "was unbelievably nice to us," Altamirano said. "He treated us like we were doing him a favor. It was great. I couldn't believe how kind and grateful he was for us to be there.
   "It was probably the most shocking thing to me. I would think a guy like that would -- I don't want to say be a jerk -- but have a big head and not care about us. But he was always making sure, did we eat well? Is the hotel fine?"    
   Altamirano said he did not socialize with Federer, who's married with 4-year-old twin daughters and another child on the way, or see his residence.
   Training with Federer and the other pros "showed what I need to work on," Altamirano said. "It emphasized my weaknesses. Now I can go back to the practice court and work on them and get better. Probably the biggest thing I learned is I'm not that far away.
   "I just need to get physically stronger," added the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Altamirano. "Those guys are incredibly fit. You put talent with that, and you have an amazing tennis player.
   "I feel like I have the game, I have the talent, I even think I've almost got the head. I just lack the physical, and if I can get the physical, I think I can compete with the best in the world."
   Altamirano, a home-schooled senior, remains an amateur. He said he has until September to decide whether to turn pro since he wouldn't start college until next January.
   In the meantime, Altamirano is glad he traveled to Dubai.  
   "It was a great experience and a cool life story," he said.

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