Tennis was Right Decision for Caldwell

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Tennis was Right Decision for Caldwell

One in a series about 2015 Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame inductees:

When he was 14 years old, David Caldwell had a decision to make. A HUGE decision.

The multi-talented teenager had to determine whether he wanted to concentrate all his energy on either soccer or tennis. In order to become really proficient at one of them, Caldwell would have to give up the other.

Caldwell was an excellent soccer player, in fact making the U.S. National Junior team when he was playing for the Richmond Strikers. He was also an outstanding junior tennis player, and was Collegiate’s No. 1 singles player as an eighth-grader and later for St Christopher’s.

So what would it be David? Tennis or soccer?

“It was certainly kind of a big decision,” said Caldwell. “And I know, looking back, probably being able to spend more time on the tennis court, I think, on the national level, really helped my ranking jump up fairly significantly.

“It shows you’ve got to put the time on the court or the field to try to compete with everybody else.”

Once he made the choice, Caldwell rapidly improved his tennis game and by the time he was 17, the hard-hitting Richmonder was ranked as the No. 1 junior nationally in the 18-and-under age group by the U.S. Tennis Association.

“A big step for David [picking tennis] but I think he made the right choice,” said Paul Caldwell Jr., his older brother.

CaldwellIn addition, Caldwell won the city men’s singles title when he was 18 and went on to play No. 1 singles and doubles for the University of North Carolina, where he was named Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year three times.

Following a professional career – during which his singles ranking reached as high as No. 170  in the world — Caldwell, 41, has settled into a work career in real-estate development and private equity in New York City.

Because of what he achieved on the court, Caldwell will be honored along with four others – two of whom are deceased – during induction ceremonies into the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame during a banquet at the Westwood Club on Oct. 24.

“He was a little small but he was extremely fast,” said former city and state champion Mark Vines, who worked with Caldwell for about three years. “David lacked a [big] serve but he made up for it with his speed and aggressive play.

“His dad really pushed him. Paul was relentless. Tom Volenizek started helping him out quite a bit and David started playing better. I had gotten him to that point, and he kept working with Tom, who was a great pro.

“He got better on a national basis. He did a little bit like I did, no matter what year he was in, whether it was the first year of an age group or the second year of an age group, he got better and better with his results.

“When David was focused, he could beat anybody. He was so competitive in everything he did.”

Caldwell also got plenty of guidance from his father, Paul, and Paul Jr., who went on to play at Wake Forest.

“With any gifted athlete who succeeds, you’ve got to have some natural talent, and you’ve got to have some people in your life to influence you and guide you,” said his brother Paul, “and I think he had a little bit of both.

“I think if you’ve got to compete with your older brother growing up, I think it definitely pushes you a little bit.”

Caldwell dominated the local and area junior scene and made a big splash on the national level when he achieved the No. 1 singles ranking in the boys’ 18-and-under division in 1992.

“Truth be told, there were two players [in that age group], Brian Dunn and Vince Spadea, who were out playing professionally at that point,” said Caldwell. “So they only played Kalamazoo, which didn’t qualify them for a ranking.

“There were certainly some good names [in the age group], and I’m proud of that accomplishment. But had [Dunn and Spadea] played the entire year, I would certainly guess they would have been ranked ahead of me.

“Looking back, though, that was certainly one of the highlights for me.”

Another highlight came when Caldwell captured the city men’s singles championship with a victory over Ed Butterworth in 1993 at Byrd Park. He was only 18 at the time and ranks as one of the youngest winners of the title.

The only other time Caldwell played in the city tournament, he lost in the semifinals when he was 15.

Once he went off to school at UNC, Caldwell didn’t play in the city tournament again. That was also due in part to his parents moving to Florida, where he was based out of Orlando for the duration of his college career.

Caldwell only played in the state tournament at Raintree Swim and Racquet Club once because he was usually involved in junior tournaments that were necessary to help his regional and national rankings.

“At that stage, my mindset was to see where I could take myself professionally,” Caldwell said. “The focus was on the building blocks and working my way up through the [junior] tournaments. That was critical. That was the only way to make Kalamazoo [for nationals].”

Caldwell was able to play on the pro tour during his career at UNC, where he ruled the ACC at No. 1 singles and doubles. He was named an All-American in singles following his sophomore and junior seasons and achieved All-American status in doubles as a junior.

Caldwell, who now makes his home in New York City, spent about four years on the pro circuit, working his way up the ladder and qualifying for two of the four Grand Slam tournaments (U.S. and Australian opens).

“I qualified for the U.S Open once and the Australian Open twice,” he said. “I was never able to get through the qualies at the French Open. I remember playing Spaniards the two times I played the French, so [the draw] wasn’t kind to me.”

Eventually, the grind of the tour got to him, and he decided it was time to enter the work force.

“I just didn’t think it was going to become a consistent career and, at that point, I felt like I had played enough years and had some great experiences,” said Caldwell. “Traveled all over the world. I felt like if I wasn’t going to be in the top 100, making money and turning it into a real career … at that point, you realize it’s a long life and it was time to get on with it.”

Caldwell is enjoying that life now in New York, living in Manhattan with his wife, Liz, and two children, Ella, 7, and Grayson, 3.

He and Richmonder Charles Valentine started a solar development and finance company in 2009 that he is selling now. Once he completes that deal, Caldwell plans to get back into real estate development next year.

While he doesn’t play as much tennis these days, Caldwell can still more than hold his own on the court. He demonstrated that by teaming with Paul to win the open division of the Keith Mumford Memorial doubles tournament in June at the Country Club of Virginia.

2013 APTA Mixed Nationals Champion David Caldwell and Aila Main

2013 APTA Mixed Nationals Champion David Caldwell and Aila Main

Caldwell is also an accomplished platform tennis player, getting credit for revolutionizing the game with his aggressive approach. He and Blake Cordish were ranked No. 1 in doubles in the country for a few years, Caldwell said.

“When I look back on it, the amount of time and effort and help that so many people gave me,” said Caldwell. “It’s not something you can do by yourself for sure. The RTA had a huge impact on us. Giving us a platform where we could show up three, four times a week.

“Every good junior and every good pro in Richmond came together. I do know, looking back, that you don’t see that in other cities. It was kind of a unique situation. Usually people don’t come together like that. I’m very grateful for that.”

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