Nice work if you can get it.
Boca Raton teenager joins Roger Federer in Dubai for tennis practice
By Charles Bricker
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
July 28, 2007
This had to be one of Jesse Levine's Boca Raton or Gator buddies, bored with a particularly hot Florida summer, trying to pull a caper no one with any sense would believe.
The phone message: The world's No. 1 tennis player, Roger Federer, wants you to come to Dubai and practice with him for 10 days.
"Yeah, I thought it was a prank at first, but it was for real," said Levine, a college freshman unknown to many tennis fans.
In a half-hour, instant-messaging exchange from Dubai, where he is indeed working with Federer and living the high life in a five-star hotel on the beach, Levine is well over his initial shock. However, he's still star-struck enough to describe the experience as awesome, incredible and, predictably, subject to a little nervousness.
"Right now, I'm just living the dream," said Levine, 19. "When I get back to Gainesville, it's going to feel weird, and then I'll look back on it and probably be like, 'Wow, I just played with the best tennis player in the world for 10 days.' Not too many people can say that."
With the U.S. Open Series under way and ATP players moving from Los Angeles to Indianapolis this week, and then to four other North American cities on the way to the U.S. Open, there aren't many players available for Federer, who enjoys spending time and practicing in Dubai, where the oppressive heat toughens his training regimen.
So he called his management group, IMG, and an agent phoned Levine. Why Levine? He was 21-0 in his freshman season at the University of Florida and known a little to IMG, which owns the Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, where Levine has been training for several years.
And one other thing. He's left-handed, as is Jonathan Eysseric, the French junior with whom Federer worked in the days before the French Open. It wasn't lost on Levine that Federer is trying everything he can to get an edge over his No. 1 nemesis, lefty Rafael Nadal.
He arrived in Dubai late on the evening of July 19 after 14 hours of riding coach from Atlanta to the Middle East.
"He called in the morning while I was having breakfast and left a voicemail. Pretty overwhelming to have Roger Federer leave you a voicemail," Levine said. The first practice would be at 3 p.m. Be in the lobby at 2:30. There was no way Jesse would be even 10 seconds late.
"I've been waking up around 8, going down for the breakfast buffet, then going to practice with him late morning, or working out here at the hotel gym. Then, in the afternoon, practice again, but lately it's been at night because the heat is so unreal during the day it's too much just to stand outside."
On the first day of practice, he admitted to be "pretty nervous hitting the first ball. But we had talked for a little before, messing around about hockey since I love hockey." That helped take the edge off.
Although Federer is getting hard work in under heavy heat conditions, Levine is soaking up the tennis experience as well. They're just training, working on certain court situations, not playing sets yet.
"I'm learning how calm he stays, no matter what the situation. Even if a ball is very difficult for him, he looks so effortless and keeps his composure at all times. He never shows if he gets tired, either, even in 125-degree heat. He's either got a good poker face, or just really isn't feeling it."
Levine, who is Jewish, had questions about flying to an Arab country. "For sure I had it in mind, but I talked about that with my parents and people that had been to Dubai, and it's a very safe country. And I know other Jewish people that have been there."
His hotel? "It's amazing. People treat you here like royalty. I open my window to a deck and walk out to see the ocean. It's unreal. Except yesterday," he added.
"I left my sweaty clothes outside to dry, and when I went to get them this morning there was a little sandstorm. My clothes got a little sand in them."
He brought along all his Gator gear, including a T-shirt that he's gifted to Federer.
"I'm not sure if he'll put it on, but it is Nike [Federer's clothing sponsor], so it's worth a shot," said Levine.
Ranked No. 493, Levine could have gotten into the qualifying tournament at Indianapolis this week. But given the alternative, it wasn't difficult to forgo a trip to Indiana.
After winning all 21 regular-season matches, he lost in the quarters of the NCAA tournament to Alex Slovic of Washington, but was named rookie of the year by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Even before his spectacular how-I-spent-my-summer experience, Levine was contemplating whether to return to Florida this fall or turn pro, and maybe this experience makes him lean a bit more toward leaving school, though he doesn't sound certain.
"I've made some really close friends in the semester I've been there, and it's hard to think it could be over soon," he said.
He could have added that he's made one other friend as well.