Father’s Day is always a special day for us as it is for many. Along with many of you, I learned how to play from my father growing up. As we celebrate Father’s Day, we sat down with Nate Lammons, a 28-year-old ATP doubles player that joined the tour in 2016 after playing in college at SMU, to talk about his motivating story on his upbringing, how he made the move to the pro tour and how his own dad has been impactful in his development and still today. Watch some short excerpts below or read on for the full interview.
Just to start off you, give us a little background on how you got started.
I got started in tennis when we moved from the Dallas area to Houston. In Arlington, which is where we lived near Dallas, my dad played racquetball and when he would go play after work, I would go as well and just play on the court next to him. I really was not playing in an organized way at the time. Then, when we moved to North Houston, there wasn’t a racquetball club anywhere nearby, so my dad had the idea to give me a crack at tennis lessons. I was young, I would say 8 or 9, and was also playing other sports - baseball, soccer, basketball - pretty standard probably for young American kids. I think how I progressed in tennis was quicker than the others. I enjoyed the other ones but took to tennis faster, and as I grew up, I think around the age of 13 or 14, abandoned the other ones to focus on tennis.
The whole way through juniors and into college as well, my dad went to all the tournaments – all the matches my senior year of college, went to every match, home and away. I think it’s been tough for him [with me] playing professionally. The [matches or tournaments] are not all close by, so he hasn't been able to attend in person, but he still follows all the matches. He texts me before and after every match still, which at times is annoying admittedly, but you know when I really take a step back and think about it, it’s awesome that he cares so much and keeps up with it. It’s always super encouraging – he’s never punitive or harsh on me in any way – it’s always super positive, win or lose. I think that’s sort of a great energy to have in your corner regardless. I think he really savers the moments now that he’s able to come watch me play. Since school, he’s probably been able to come to only maybe a handful of tournaments – Houston this year, Dallas as well, Houston a few years back and I think the U.S. Open twice. So he's been able to make it out at times.
"He texts me before and after every match still, which at times is annoying admittedly, but you know when I really take a step back and think about it, it’s awesome that he cares so much and keeps up with it. It’s always super encouraging"
He's always been close with my tennis all the way through. Stuck with me when I when I had my ups and downs in juniors. [I was a] hot head to say the least. Looking back, it’s a little embarrassing on my end how I acted. It was so bad that my mom would refuse to go to tournaments and matches because she thought I really was not enjoying myself, which, understandably so.
A little bit of growing up there.
Exactly, maybe I needed a little more time than others, but I like to think I got there and am doing well now. Grateful for my dad for taking me to all the tournaments as a kid and still keeping up with it even today.
How did you think about when you’re younger and playing a lot of different sports, ultimately deciding on tennis?
I think, really with all of my life decisions up to this point, there probably hadn’t been too many crucial ones I guess, but you know the idea to stick with one sport there, with tennis, the same with when I chose a university, and actually as well to play after school, he [my dad] has always been super supportive. I think when I was younger, when it came to the sport, he saw that it made sense honestly. When I was 12 or 13, I was pretty undersized. Baseball, basketball really started to go out the door because I couldn’t really compete with the kids my age. Definitely enjoyed soccer, so those were the ultimate ones at the end, but I was also just better at tennis, so I think it was kind of a no brainer for everyone. Tennis was a year-round thing and I think my dad liked the consistency of that.
"seeing your kids compete with some of the top kids in the nation or the state and if they get wins, it’s incredible and I think he loved to see that. I think for him, going two weekends a month to do that with me was rewarding as well."
I don’t know – I guess I would need to ask him – I don’t really know what his thought process was, where or how far he saw me going with it, anything like that. I think he liked seeing how happy I was when I would do well – what parent wouldn’t obviously, seeing their kid do well at something. In juniors, I didn’t play a lot of bigger nationals until the tail end of juniors, but seeing your kids compete with some of the top kids in the nation or the state and if they get wins, it’s incredible and I think he loved to see that. I think for him, going two weekends a month to do that with me was rewarding as well.
I guess growing up in Texas, the travel is a long way for most of the tournaments you probably played in right?
Yeah, Texas is an interesting state as far as the juniors go. It might have changed since then, but at the time, Texas was, actually, not all of it was in one section. The far west, El Paso and then I think a little bit east of there as well, was actually in a different section. Part of it was even with New Mexico. I think what they did was take a dot and put it on either Austin or San Antonio and made a circle and said all these cities in this area can host a tournament, but we drove to every single one, close or far. I think the furthest is probably Lubbock or Amarillo. That’s pretty far from where we were. We actually did drive to El Paso for a national once, we drove to Louisiana. We never really traveled much outside of Texas (except the occasional Louisiana). The means of the family at that time prevented a lot of air travel, so even more credit to my parents for personally making that sacrifice with time and money to allow me to play as much as I did.
Going forward to college, did you always want to be playing tennis or were you thinking about different things when you went into college?
I think for me at the tail end of juniors in high school I wanted to play D1 and given where I was ranked recruiting wise [4-star], there weren’t really a lot of programs that were options for me. Texas Tech and SMU were the main two. There was also a friend of an old coach who worked closely with Tulane so that became an option as kind of a favor to a friend, but ultimately, I was deciding between Tech and SMU. I went with SMU because I just liked the Dallas energy a little bit better. As anyone who’s been to Lubbock and Dallas can understand, they’re very different places. I just felt Dallas was more home.
Once I got to college, I always imagined myself as a student more than an athlete. I think part of that is tennis. As far as the tiers of sports go, marquee or importance-wise in the university, [tennis] is fairly low. It's not bringing in much money, there’s not really all that many fans compared to the bigger sports. I think my focus was always really on school. While I gave 100% at tennis as well, my plan was to go to SMU for five years, redshirt my freshman year and get a masters. After school [looking back], I didn’t really have fixed plans going in at least. It was ‘OK, I know I’m not strong enough to play freshman year, so redshirting and having four years after that while I’m completing school is perfect’.
"I didn’t even decide to play after school until probably fall of my last year. I had a couple good results and the coaches said ‘hey, give it a shot’."
I didn’t even decide to play after school until probably fall of my last year. I had a couple good results and the coaches said ‘hey, give it a shot’. Really up until that point, I hadn’t really entertained it honestly. Didn’t know how it worked, hadn’t played any professional tournaments in juniors or even in college. Sort of uncharted territory. I just happened to give it a shot and keep surprising myself still today that I can have some good results.
I think a lot of that comes from work ethic in some ways. I’d love to hear you elaborate on how you think about that.
Definitely. I think for me, the motivation or what drives my work ethic is…there’s definitely personal pride involved, there’s a little bit of faith as well. For me, in my mind, I’ve been given different opportunities and gifts. Through my parents, through my upbringing, the confluence of all the factors that have led me to where I am, it would be almost wasteful not to try to use them the most I can. There’s a phrase that I really want to get a tattoo of one day and I’ve never pulled the trigger. It's a Saint Augustine quote and I think it summarizes a lot of how I operate. The phrase or the excerpt is “praise as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you” and personally, I think I own the second part of it especially. Admittedly, I wish I probably owned the first part about praying more too, but I think with anyone who’s had any sort of religious background, there’s some ebbs and flows with their practice. But, as far as this or the tennis work ethic goes, even really life and everything, I think at some point you have to shoulder your own life, your own process, that your circumstances aren’t going to get better if you don’t work – if you don’t try to be the best you can be.
"There’s a phrase that I really want to get a tattoo of one day and I’ve never pulled the trigger. It's a Saint Augustine quote and I think it summarizes a lot of how I operate. The phrase or the excerpt is “praise as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you” and personally, I think I own the second part of it especially."
You should do a fake tattoo and try it out for a little bit.
I know, I should honestly. I’ve basically been convinced that I want to get that tattoo for at least five years and I don’t have a tattoo yet and I think that’s what it is. That first one is probably always the toughest, but you’re right, I should. The other thing too is I don’t know where to put it. I don’t know where to put it or what form to put it. There are areas where I think it would look cool, but is it going to drift and look kind of weird when I get older? But you’re right, I should try it out just to see.
What would your dad think about getting a tattoo?
I don’t think my parents would be too pleased. It's funny because I have two siblings and both of them have several tattoos. They’re quite a bit older and they grew up with a different dad and the circumstances of the family were different, financially, so they had more of a struggle growing up. I was lucky that my parents did better later in life. They were able to accommodate me, my interests and everything easier. I think, for my siblings and parents, there’s a little bit of the youngest golden child idea because everything was easy with me. With my siblings, everything was harder, there was definitely more attitude. Actually, it’s funny – I remember on my 21st birthday my mom found out that I had a beer or two before my birthday and she was definitely a little heartbroken. I think it would go kind of hand in hand with the tattoos. I would definitely need to put it in a discreet place.
Do you feel like as the youngest you have something to prove sometimes?
Not really. It’s tough because my siblings are so much older. My brother is 13 years older and my sister is 10. I don’t know if I really had a brother/sister relationship with either one I guess until I was older, probably, mid to late 20s. Before that, I was almost like a second, like another child to them. They babysat me all the time and they were out of the house in college before I got old enough to do anything with them. So I don’t really feel like I have to prove much to them.
All of us have taken very different pathways in life as well. My brother is in the military, has been for 15 or 20 years now. He studied something a little more niche in school, animation. He’s always been super artistic. I tended straight towards the sciences. I studied engineering in school. My sister was sort of the social butterfly we’ll call it. Popular and taught yoga for a bit. She worked in PR and now she’s just raising kids, but I think she’s planning to get back to both of them at some point. I think maybe had any of us gone into either the same field of study or the same sport even, maybe there would have been a little bit of that you know, hey, I want to prove that I’m better than my brother at this. My brother played rugby, sister played soccer, so there wasn’t a lot of overlap. Maybe that’s abnormal. It probably is abnormal for a family, and neither of my parents played tennis.
"I think at some point he saw that I was going to beat him when I was pretty young and maybe just took a step back."
Did you guys (your dad) ever play tennis together or was it more separate when you were younger?
There were definitely times. I remember us hitting a little bit, I think, because he didn’t really play a lot of tennis growing up, but I know that he was familiar enough with racquet sports to beat me up when I was younger, I’m sure. Probably by the time I got to high school, by that time, I don’t remember ever playing against him. I think at some point he saw that I was going to beat him when I was pretty young and maybe just took a step back, I’m not really sure. I do remember getting out there at different points.
Anything else on your dad or growing up that you want to mention?
I think it’s interesting to me going through this exercise of looking back on the tennis journey even from the beginning. I definitely looked at it from the college time on where ‘OK I was a four-star recruit and I ended up here’ – you know, it’s probably abnormal. But looking back now, I’m seeing how my dad was always there. I think for a lot of players the dad has almost become somewhat of a coach, if the parents are involved, they become something of a coach, and in my case that was never, at least that I can remember, a component of my dad’s presence. It was always quite a bit of encouragement, and I guess discipline when I was acting up in juniors, but for as long as I can remember really, it’s always been super encouraging. It’s made me realize that I’ve taken that for granted a little bit. Maybe I have to send him an extra couple of thank you’s before Father’s Day.
"But looking back now, I’m seeing how my dad was always there. I think for a lot of players the dad has almost become somewhat of a coach, [...] and in my case that was never, at least that I can remember, a component of my dad’s presence. It was always quite a bit of encouragement, and I guess discipline when I was acting up in juniors, but for as long as I can remember really, it’s always been super encouraging."
I feel like sometimes when their parents try and coach them, it doesn’t always go so well so.
No and it's funny because I think a lot of the best juniors in the country, that’s how they are. Their parents coach them and a lot of times they do a great job. I think a lot of times the kids get really burnt out even if they’re good. They go to a college or they do really well in juniors, but they haven’t driven themselves and maybe they don’t actually want to be doing it, sort of thing, but they’re good at it and the parents are on them. That was never the case with my dad and me, even though he was there all the time. He was probably surrounded by a lot of those kinds of parents.
I’m very grateful for him coming out and driving me all the way. I remember pretty much every weekend we would leave after he finished work and I would sleep in the car. I was always a great car sleeper, and I would wake up and we’d be at the hotel and that was the way we did it for two weekends every month.
If he wasn’t your coach growing up did you have your own coach?
I bounced around between really two main academies in the Houston area. The first one I probably picked up there when I was 11, really once I started playing tournaments. When I started out around 8 or 9, I wasn’t really playing tournaments, just a couple lessons a week or every week kind of thing. A lot of that [moving clubs] was following the higher-level players from the area. We wanted to make sure I was continuing to be challenged and working with the same people they were working with essentially. I don’t know if I even remember having one consistent coach for more than six months or so. It was usually in the context of group training and maybe a single private a week with the, not a different coach each time, but it did change up. Owe my development to a lot of people, just to say that.
When did you decide to focus more on doubles?
That came well after school actually. I would say even in school I only ever played line 2 doubles, line 3 or line 2. There was always a stronger team that played higher than me. In singles, I guess towards the end of college, I ended up playing line one and two. I was probably competing more at a higher level in singles coming out of school. So the plan was give it a shot in both.
I don’t remember the exact timing, but there were a couple system changes pointwise on tour since I started playing. At first when I first started playing challengers, I could play main draw doubles and qualifying singles because at the time, I was ranked around 900 in singles, which was good enough to get me into most qualifiers. The thought process was, ‘hey if I have a good run in singles, play good on the week, I’d much rather do it at a bigger tournament, get more points, more money and then also give me a chance to continue rising in doubles’. I think that was kind of the case for a few months. I was able to play qualifiers here and there, and then they changed the qualifying draw size and made it much smaller, so I wasn’t able to get into qualifiers anymore. At that point I had to decide, ‘OK do I go back down to the lowest level, keep playing singles, or do I stay at the challenger level and do my best to kind of see if I can get to the highest level in those?’ And yeah, so now I’m here.
Any other special or funny memories?
I guess if I were to poll the people who knew my dad growing up, I think that the memorable things for him was his mustache for sure. In my mind he was probably more famous in the tennis community than I was because he has a very distinguishable thick mustache – very long, drapes over both of his lips – and he had these old school glasses where he had his sunglasses that clipped on top of his normal bifocals. It is a very unique look and so he’s kind of famous for that. He always had this fold out chair he would bring to matches and because I was such a hot head, he had a signature warning that he would tell me when I was starting to act up. He would just yell out a system of warning numbers, pretty much. I think it’s funny because guys still give me a hard time about it now, even though that’s been, I don’t know, 15 years.
"In my mind he was probably more famous in the tennis community than I was because he has a very distinguishable thick mustache – very long, drapes over both of his lips – and he had these old school glasses where he had his sunglasses that clipped on top of his normal bifocals."