Pictures | Michael Shartava
Have you heard the story of a family with two children who excel at tennis? They take them to tournaments across the country. When they’re not on the road, they help their offspring hone their skills through hours of practice with trainers.
Your first guess of this family might be Venus and Serena Williams, whose careers were recently chronicled in a movie called “King Richard.” Will Smith played the lead role, for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
Well, there is a similar story with much closer ties to our region. So, without further introduction, may I introduce you to the Brutkiewicz family from Mobile?
From the beginning
Dr. Carl Brutkiewicz, the father of this story, had his own success on the tennis court. After picking up a racquet for the first time at age 11, he won a state championship at age 14 as a member of the St. Paul’s Episcopal School team. He would go on to play at Southern University in Sewanee, Tennessee.
“Since the kids started playing tennis, I was hitting them and doing drills with them,” said Brutkiewicz, a family physician at West Mobile. “I have held back competitive tennis since I spend my time watching them or taking their lessons.”
Barbara Brutkiewicz plays the role of the mother. She is also in the medical field, working as a nurse practitioner at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital.
Philip is their oldest son. They said he played a bit recreationally until a few years ago.
“He got the tennis bug when he was 9 years old,” his father said. “He really decided that he wanted to go as far as possible with tennis.”
The final cast member is Thomas. He started playing when he was only 6 years old.
“From the start, he was completely dedicated to doing his best,” his father said.
Open the way
Philip Brutkiewicz is now 16 years old. Like his father, he also plays at St. Paul’s. A member of the Class of 2023, he has played No. 1 singles for the Saints for the past two seasons.
Prior to his tennis career, he spent his time playing many other sports. The list included basketball, soccer and taekwondo.
He credits his brother for helping him focus on tennis.
“Playing with Thomas is great,” said Philip. “We really push each other.”
A little fraternal competition helped the two players to surpass themselves.
“When Thomas nearly beat him, Philip gave in,” their father said. “Philip saw what Thomas needed to do to get better. He took that information to improve his own game.”
The brothers participate in many local and regional tournaments. However, due to their age difference, they only had to face each other twice.
“We try to avoid that,” their mother said. “We try to choose tournaments that will benefit both of them.”
Philip said he normally competes in the 16 and under division. But he will occasionally participate in 18-and-under events.
“We play two to three hours a day, six days a week,” Philip said of his and his brother’s routine. “We always do some kind of tennis.”
Even with the busy sports schedule, Philip did not forget about his other class work. He is taking advanced placement courses at St. Paul’s and currently holds a 4.2 GPA.
“His early goal was to play tennis in high school,” Philip’s mother said. “But he’s competitive enough to play in college.”
St. Paul’s season has recently started. The state tournament is in April.
“I did well in games last year and made it to the semifinals of our sections,” said Philip, who is ranked among Alabama’s top 10 players for his age category. . “We did some good things. I think we can do well this year.
Sky is the limit
Thomas Brutkiewicz is 11 years old. He recently had a lot to say to his sixth-grade classmates at St. Paul’s.
He was among the best junior tennis players in the world who were invited to play at the 60th annual Orange Bowl International Junior Tennis Championship in December. Famous journalist Bud Collins once said, “The road to professional tennis is through the Orange Bowl.
Thomas won the invitation by being ranked among the top 100 players in the country by the United States Tennis Association (USTA). It is also in the Top 20 in the southern region and is No. 2 in Alabama.
“It was my biggest event yet,” said Thomas, who often competes in 14s and 16s at other events to find better competition. “You sign up and wait to see if they select you. And in the main draw, I was selected.
After losing in the first round, he dropped out of his consolation match in a tiebreaker against Thailand’s highest rated player. He was only two points away from victory.
Although he didn’t win his matches, the experience was worth the trip to Miami.
“It was a good tournament for me,” said Thomas, who also hopes to play Division I tennis and eventually pursue a professional career. “I got to see people who are better than me and see how I can improve my game.”
One of the lessons learned, he said, was to be more aggressive by taking control of the point earlier.
“I have to hit a good ball and put them on defense,” he said.
Dr. Brutkiewicz said the Orange Bowl event was comparable to a Grand Slam tournament in the professional ranks.
“There were players from all over the world,” he said. “It was the junior equivalent of Wimbledon. The field was 70 percent from outside the United States. All the greatest players played in the Orange Bowl.
“Winning a match would have been great, but to be able to say you played in the best junior tournament in the world is really something.”
The Brutkiewicz brothers followed a different path than many of those who participated in the Orange Bowl.
“Most of the players there go to a tennis academy,” Ms Brutkiewicz said. “Our boys go to a regular school.”
Dr Brutkiewicz added: “With these 12-year-olds in Miami, all they do is play tennis. We are a traditional family that combines coaching and hitting partners.
Among the local tennis professionals who have played a key role is David Pantovic of Daphne’s Lott Park, who has worked with Thomas since he was 8 years old. Other coaches are Raul Malaver of Mobile Tennis Center and Brooks Green of Mobile Country Club.
“I try to coordinate their schedules,” the boys’ mother said. “In addition to classes, they see a fitness trainer at the Country Club twice a week to work on foot movement and running for tennis.
“Fortunately, they are looking for their own tournaments. They know what they are classified and they are very autonomous with their objectives.
Next big event
While Philip focuses on his St. Paul team, Thomas plans to travel to Indian Wells, Calif., in March for the prestigious Easter Bowl tournament. This is the official USTA national championship.
“It’s right after the Orange Bowl,” her dad said. “It’s the week after the men’s pro tournament there. [the BNP Paribas Open].”
It’s just part of a busy schedule for the brothers.
“It seems like every weekend we go to a tournament,” their mother said. “Some can be taken home, but others have to fly.
“I know that on Thanksgiving, Philip played in Louisville [Kentucky] while Thomas was at Montgomery. We could go back to 2022. There’s a fine line to playing in tournaments and staying in Mobile for practice.
Until then, Philip and Thomas will continue to help each other reach their full potential.
“Thomas wouldn’t have been to the Orange Bowl without Philip,” their mother said. “There is no rivalry between them. They are four and a half years apart, but they have a very rewarding relationship.
“After each game, they will discuss what went wrong. It’s really nice to see. They have developed their brotherly relationship.
Sounds like a good plot for another movie, don’t you think?
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