Before becoming Stephens' coach, Kamau Murray changed Chicago. (Photos Courtesy of XS Tennis)
When I was presented with the opportunity to take over tennis operations at the club I grew up playing in, I had a full-time job and didn’t know if I was ready to give that up to go back and become a coach. But as I looked around, I could see that there was a void, and I felt there was something I could do. In the fall of 2008, I bought out the operator and turned those five courts into what is now XS Tennis.
Like a lot of people who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, I had dreams of becoming a basketball player. Little did I know that tennis would be the sport to change my life. When I was 7, my mom needed to find a way to occupy me during the summer break from school. We were driving by a public park where my godfather used to play tennis and saw some kids hitting balls. She pulled over and asked the man running the program how much it would cost to attend. He told her $12 for the rest of the summer. She looked directly at me and told me, “Get out of the car. Right now.”
My mom dragged me to that camp kicking and screaming. This was in 1987, and I didn’t know much about tennis. I didn’t have a tennis racquet or playing clothes—I had to borrow hand-me-downs from my godfather. I was also worried about what the kids in the neighborhood might think if they saw me coming home with a tennis racquet under my arm.
I was an athlete as a kid, but tennis was difficult to pick up. I wasn’t good, and the equipment was hard to handle—this was before smaller racquets and foam balls. But I made it through the summer and when school started back up that fall, my mom found a free tennis program sponsored by Chicago Public Schools.
Both my parents worked when I was a kid. My father was an attorney and my mom was an assistant high school principal. Their schedules didn’t allow them to pick me up from class, so tennis became a convenient after-school activity. I played throughout high school and competed in USTA tournaments. In my senior year, I was offered a scholarship to Florida A&M University, where I captained the team for two years. I went on to earn my master’s degree while working as a graduate assistant coach. Tennis gave me the opportunity to earn two degrees at no cost.