MIAMI, Fla.—The world’s best tennis players come from all corners of the globe. Their backgrounds vary drastically; their stories are as unique as their groundstrokes. Yet there exists one common thread among them: They uprooted their lives as juniors for better training. And a substantial portion of these juniors ended up in Florida—which is no coincidence.

Plenty of current and former stars have wacked thousands of balls at Nick Bollettieri’s training mecca in Bradenton—the IMG Academy—including Kei Nishikori, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier.

The Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton has served as a de facto USTA base, taking in current young talents Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe, along with more established touring pros such as Christina McHale and Madison Keys. Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova and Alja Tomljanovic have also spent some time working out at Evert’s.


There’s also the International Tennis Academy in Delray Beach, the Rick Macci Academy in Boca Raton and the Nick Saviano Academy in Fort Lauderdale—where Sloane Stephens and Eugenie Bouchard developed their games—plus many others. Plenty of pros call Florida home without hitching themselves to an academy, like the Williams sisters, who reside in Palm Beach Gardens.

The reputation for agreeable tennis training in Florida is so strong that the USTA has built its one-of-a-kind, 100-court tennis campus in the Orlando suburb of Lake Nona. It’s set to open in July.

The state of Florida itself deserves some credit, too, for all that it’s selflessly providing. You can smell the fuzz of tennis balls in its fresh, tropical air; the azure ocean has its own, comforting pull; warm temperatures permit outdoor play all year long. There are so many tennis courts packed into the peninsula you can’t throw an orange without hitting one.

The Sunshine State may be best known for tourism and snowbird communities, but it’s tennis that attracts younger visitors on a more permanent basis. No matter what level of player you are, you’ll find someone to hit with or a coach to help you improve—Florida is littered with both.

With all these factors meshing together, talented players come in droves, and local competitions show off the very best of them. Florida is home to the historic Miami Open as well as the ATP’s Delray Beach Open. There are countless ITF Pro Circuit events scattered from Miami to Pensacola, plus hundreds of junior competitions, most notably the Eddie Herr International and the Orange Bowl.


I was lucky enough to play both of those prestigious events, first as a visitor and then as a local. After leaving Serbia during a time of unrest in the early 1990s, my family first found haven in Victoria, a picturesque city on an island just off the Vancouver coast. But rainy isolation did not make for ideal training grounds for an aspiring 11-year-old tennis player, so we made the move to Boca Raton, just like thousands of families have done for their racquet-wielding children.

Training first at a nearby academy and then with a private coach, I sweated through thousands of hours in cloudless, 80-degree weather. It was easy to get competitive practice matches since my new home was near so many academies, and traveling to tournaments was a breeze. Over the years I met hundreds of players just like me who arrived in Florida from unfriendly conditions to put in uninterrupted hours of work on their forehands and serves. My parents still happily live in south Florida, and I ended up playing tennis for UCLA.

It comes down to common sense: If you want to get better, staying in a cooler climate with limited court time and few training resources is holding you back.

Florida has become the ultimate tennis cliché, but this hotbed for the sport is not one bit exaggerated. No matter what level you are, the odds of improving your tennis game increase tenfold if you spend some time in this state.

Nina Pantic is covering the Miami Open for