Tennis

Jones helps send five players to top college tennis programs

Tennessee-bound Ariadna Riley returns a backhand while participating in the Craig Jones Tennis Academy on June 16 at Idle Hour Club.
Tennessee-bound Ariadna Riley returns a backhand while participating in the Craig Jones Tennis Academy on June 16 at Idle Hour Club. jvorhees@macon.com

College isn’t for everybody.

But Miller and Michael Durham and Ariadna Riley have always planned on going to college. And playing tennis while doing so.

These three tennis players are coached by Craig Jones of Idle Hour Club, and their coach has helped push them to the Division I level of college play. Sachin Khurana and Preston Anderson also will be graduating the academy and playing Division I tennis at Mercer and Tennessee, respectively.

Riley’s goal of wanting to play tennis for Tennessee started when she was young. She used to play indoor tournaments there, and she noticed a banner with all of the All-Americans on the team.

“I was like, ‘One day, I want to be up there,’ ” she said.

After getting a call from the tennis coach to visit, she fell in love with the university and was hooked. Jones played a big part in her life in terms of accomplishing her tennis goals.

“Throughout all of my tennis career, it was Craig and me,” Riley said. “And he would always work me hard and wanted me to be the best I could be. He’s a big influence on my life.”

Then there are the Durham twins. They have been working under Jones since they were 11. And their development has been evident while working with him. Michael is more calm, while Miller is more outgoing, but when they are out on the tennis court, their personalities balance well.

“I’ve had a blast watching them grow,” Jones said.

He has seen them shift from Miller being stronger than his brother, to Michael being a little stronger. But both are strong players with Michael going to Auburn and Miller going to Kennesaw State.

Seven years ago, it was their dad, Chris, who set them up with Jones. He knew how good of a coach he was, and Michael said that if he and his brother were serious about tennis, Jones was their man.

And it paid off.

“From the beginning, I knew I wanted to play Division I tennis,” Michael said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Craig.”

Miller said it took him about a year or two to get into the idea of playing tennis in college. He said that he was drawn into the idea after seeing so may people play top-level tennis from Jones’ academy that he wanted to join that elite group, as well.

And now that he has made it to that level, he is excited and anxious to play for a team. He said juniors tennis for him was more individual. It was built more around developing himself as a tennis player. Once you play in college, it shifts to doing well for the team. And since he didn’t get much experience playing well for a team, he is ready for that part of the game now.

The next step for Miller, his brother and the other three players is to perform well. Getting there was the first step. Now it’s staying there and succeeding, and they will use the lessons they have learned from Jones.

“He’s been a huge help to the whole process,” Michael said.

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