How many teens are willing to get out of bed at 5:30 every morning and sign off at 9 p.m.? If you want to be a professional tennis player before age 18, you do. “Now it’s easy,” admits 15-year-old Calvin Baierl, about sticking to a rigorous training and tournament schedule five and a half days a week. In the world of junior tennis, the unassuming, slender teen with a shock of wavy red hair is currently the No. 1 tennis recruit in the nation and has maintained that spot four years in a row, according to tennisrecruiting.net.
On the Go, from the Start
Calvin was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Lee and Susan Baierl. An active child, he played hockey and basketball in Pittsburgh. One summer, while the family was spending time at their vacation home in the north Naples golf and tennis community of Mediterra, Susan enrolled Calvin in tennis lessons to occupy his time. Calvin so enjoyed his experience with Mediterra’s tennis pro, Nestor Nuñez, that he did not want to return home to Pittsburgh for the basketball camp he was signed up for.
During those first lessons, Nuñez noticed Calvin’s enthusiasm for the sport: “He was the first kid to bounce back after a break.” And, as Nuñez recalls, Calvin’s efficiency and speed were already obvious. At only 8 years of age, Calvin won his first tennis tournament—in the 10 and under category at Cambier Park.
Back in Pennsylvania, Calvin began training with Krishnan Anandan, former coach of professional American tennis player Danielle Collins. Eventually, Calvin’s interest and passion for tennis necessitated a full-time move to Southwest Florida for the Baierl family. Anandan saw something special in Calvin and persuaded Lee and Susan to enroll their then 11-year-old son to train full time with renowned coach Rene Gomez at the Naples-based Gomez Tennis Academy.
At the academy Calvin learned the proper technique, mechanics, and mindset of a tennis player. During that time, under the United States Tennis Association (USTA) ranking system, Calvin earned the No. 1 position in the nation (in the boys 12-year-old category) and was ranked the No. 1 player in Florida for three years in a row. After three years at the academy, where he also attended school, Calvin decided he wanted a more private, individualized approach to the sport, and he returned to Nestor Nuñez, owner and founder of the Ultra Tennis Academy in Naples, to be his full-time coach.
When asked if she noticed anything particularly significant or remarkable about her son’s athletic ability, Susan remembers that Calvin had amazing dexterity at a very young age. She also says he rolled over at only 3 weeks of age. “He could not sit still and was into anything to do with sports.” Athleticism is prevalent in the family genes. Lee was an all-American football player and played on the University of Pittsburgh football team when they won a national championship; Calvin’s great grandfather was a referee at college bowl games, and one of Calvin’s maternal uncles was a top-drafted major league baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Committed to Winning
Calvin is committed to following a strict schedule in pursuit of his goal. After an early morning breakfast, he heads to a two-hour private lesson on the courts at Naples Grande with Nuñez. An hour-long private fitness class follows. Calvin grabs a quick lunch at home, and then, it’s back to the courts for another couple of hours to practice what he learned in the morning lesson in match play. Some days he plays on the hard courts at the Community School of Naples, others it’s on a private court in Livingston Woods. “The choice is dictated by what type of court the next tournament will be played on,” explains Nuñez.
Calvin heads back home to attend to lessons of the scholastic variety. He is enrolled as a freshman at ICL Academy, an online private school that tailors academics to students’ passions. “He packs his schedule with honors classes and maintains a 3.7 GPA,” says Susan, “and he speaks two languages.”
Once a week Calvin gets a sports massage to help keep his muscles relaxed, and once or twice a week, depending on his health, a physical therapy session helps keep his body in alignment. “He has suffered many injuries,” says Susan, “most of which he’ll deal with for the rest of his life.” Training is intense and takes a toll on young bodies. Calvin is learning to play through the lingering pain of past injuries. Before his 9 p.m. bedtime, Calvin enjoys dinner and some relaxation time.
A typical teen, Calvin’s constant companion is his phone. Most of his friends, whom he met playing tennis when younger, no longer play. He doesn’t play video games. Does he watch tennis on television? “Not really,” he says, “just the grand slams and slow-motions tapes of the major players.” Is there a tennis player he admires? “Novak Djokovic.” Having won sponsorships from every major tennis brand, Calvin chooses to wear Adidas from head to toe; his racket of choice is the Clash by Wilson.
Under Nuñez’s guidance, Calvin has maintained his No. 1 ranking in Florida. Last year, he started traveling outside the United States for tournaments, even though his parents were hesitant given he was only 14. At a tournament in Bogotà, Columbia, he competed against players aged 18 and under from around the world. He won that tournament, training with an oxygen mask before arriving to deal with the high altitude. In the first three weeks of 2022 in South America, Calvin played in three semifinals doubles matches, three finals matches, and secured two
Many more victories followed that year, culminating in a championship final match in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that earned Calvin a wildcard from the USTA into the U.S. Open Junior Grand Slam. An audience member at the U.S. Open in 2019, Calvin thought it was a tournament he might one day get the chance to play but did not think it would happen for him so soon.
“There was never a time that Calvin wasn’t ahead of the competition,” says Susan. Calvin’s most loyal fans are his family. “We call them groupies,” Susan explains. “They are often the largest group of fans at a competition.” His two brothers and two sisters, grandparents, and aunts and uncles rarely miss an opportunity to travel wherever he is playing.
Do his parents watch him play? They do, although they do not typically attend international tournaments. “I burn lots of calories,” says Susan, about watching Calvin play. “My adrenaline goes way up.” Calvin does not like it if his parents clap or make comments. “We are only allowed to be pure spectators.” When asked if she likes tennis, his mom comments: “Calvin is my life. Whatever he does, I do. If he’s in tennis, I’m in tennis.” And although not superfluous with his words, Calvin is obviously grateful for the opportunity he has been given, often thanking God in his social media posts.
Calvin continues to dream big and works hard every day to break through to higher levels. His goal this year is to make the list of the top 100 junior ranked players in the world, allowing him to participate in all four of the junior grand slam events. To get on this elite list, he and his coach will spend approximately 20 weeks on the road, playing tournaments with other world-ranked juniors in Costa Rica, Columbia, Peru, and Brazil. With his discipline and drive and an extremely supportive family, Calvin is set to achieve this goal.
When asked if he loves his life Calvin nods and answers quietly: “I do—a lot.”