Cerretani ’04, Shamasdin ’05 rally on pro tennis tour

News Editor
Thursday, September 1, 2011

Playing on the Pizzitola Tennis Courts years ago, Jamie Cerretani ’04 and Adil Shamasdin ’05 could only dream of some day competing on the show courts of Grand Slam majors. But during the next fortnight at the U.S. Open, these two alums will have the chance to step onto the most famous courts in America and build on their Wimbledon breakthroughs. 

Cerretani and Shamasdin, ranked 57th and 62nd worldwide in doubles, respectively, have both had breakout seasons. They started the year off on a high note, teaming up to win the South African Tennis Open in Johannesburg.

“I ended up winning my first [Association of Tennis Professionals] tour title,” Shamasdin said. “Not only to win, but to play with a Brown alumni and a really good friend of mine, was really memorable.”

Shamasdin reached another milestone on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon in June, winning his first-ever match at the event with partner Chris Guccione of Australia.

In London, Cerretani fared even better than his former teammate, reaching the quarterfinals of the Grand Slam with Philipp Marx of Germany. Cerretani and Marx won the first set of their quarterfinal match against Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic, then ranked 12th and sixth, respectively, but ultimately fell in a close four sets, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5), 7-5.

“It was a very special run and a very special two weeks,” Cerretani said. “We had a good draw first round, played real tough in the second and again in the third. We ran into a beast of a team in the quarters — I think we played our best match in the quarters, even though we lost.”

Path to the ATP

Though both Shamasdin and Cerretani had standout tennis careers at Brown, the path from the Pizzitola Sports Center to the U.S. Open was not a direct one. In 2002, Shamasdin and Cerretani were both part of Brown’s first-ever Ivy championship team. But according to former Head Coach, Jay Harris, the two were questioning whether to continue their professional careers as recently as last summer.

“They went to Newport and lost in the first round — kind of a bad loss,” Harris said. “We all sat down, and they were just trying to figure out if they were going to play together and what they were going to do. Jamie was kind of wavering. He said, ‘Let’s give it another year. If we turn it around, that’s great. If not, let’s use our Brown degrees and do something different.’ And it’s just been an amazing year.”

Though both received accolade upon accolade in college — Cerretani earned first-team All-Ivy honors twice, while Shamasdin was an All-American and set the Brown record for career victories with 216 — neither player was certain he would pursue tennis after graduation. But as their Brown careers wore down, both realized they were not yet ready to give up the sport.

“After I finished school, I wasn’t quite satisfied,” Cerretani said. “Something said, ‘It’s not time yet.’ So I said, ‘I’m going to grind it out, give it a shot and see if I can make it.'”

Shamasdin said he was initially “more focused on academics” in his senior year. But in the end, the psychology concentrator also chose to give a professional tennis career a try. “I felt like it was my only chance to go prove it — to travel the world and play tennis,” he said.  

Harris said he was confident the pair could succeed on the ATP tour based on their college performances.

“These guys were just extremely talented,” he said. “They were playing at such a high level in college.”

The former coach also noted Cerretani’s work ethic. “Jamie’s got this intense drive,” he said. “At Brown, he’d be walking back from the bars on the weekend and he’d see another guy on the team and be like, ‘Hey, let’s go hit some tennis balls.’ And a lot of the time, that was Adil going and hitting with him.

In his first years on tour, Harris said Cerretani continued to push himself on the court. “Jamie was playing 46, 47 tournaments a year, which is unbelievable,” Harris said. “No one on the tour, singles or doubles, was playing anywhere close to that. … That was kind of how he got his breakthrough — playing as much as he could to get as many points as possible.”  

Meanwhile, injuries nearly derailed Shamasdin’s professional career before it even began. “I tore the ligament in my shoulder in 2006,” Shamasdin said. “I got surgery and had to find a job.”

“During that year and half, it was tough,” he continued. “I was teaching tennis on the side. I got a lot of motivation from Brown players on tour, like Dartmouth Head Coach Chris Drake ’03 and Jamie, too. They told me to believe in myself, and having these guys as role models helped me believe in what I could do.”

Shamasdin’s surgery and subsequent recovery were a success, according to Harris. 

“Adil recovered, and he was a lot stronger than before the rehab,” he said
. “His body has really handled the grind on the pro tour.”

A Formidable Duo

Once Shamasdin had recovered, he and Cerretani played 35 professional events together as doubles partners. But the last time they played was at the Czech Open in May, and now the pair seems to have split. Though Brown fans may be disappointed to see the alums playing with other partners, Cerretani said the separation might not be permanent. “I’m committed to playing with Marx through the U.S. Open, but there’s a chance (Shamasdin and I will) play together right after that,” he said.

The pair “split for professional reasons,” but remain close, Cerretani said.

“We stay in touch even if we’re not playing together actively,” he said. “We’ve got an incredible relationship as friends and as partners. When we do reunite as a team, we (will) come back better.”

Shamasdin does not currently have a regular playing partner. He said he and Cerretani discussed playing together at the U.S. Open, but since “Cerretani and Marx did so well together at Wimbledon,” Cerretani decided to stick with Marx.

Future on Tour

Both Cerretani and Shamasdin have now experienced considerable success on tour, and their former coach predicts their achievements will only grow in upcoming years.

“I think Adil is one of the most talented doubles players in the world,” Harris said. “If Adil found the right partner, he could win a Grand Slam.”

“And Jamie is so talented and so athletic that it’s almost unfair,” Harris continued. “He’s not the greatest tennis player out on the tour, but he may be the best athlete. And when his tennis game is on, he can playwithanyone.” As an example, Harris cited Cerretani’s 2009 victory over a doubles team led by Roger Federer in the Swiss Indoors Basel tournament.

“These are guys … (who) a lot of people wouldn’t think could be the best in the world, coming from an Ivy League school,” Harris said. “That’s not what’s expected of you, so those guys didn’t necessarily expect that from themselves. But every time they get another notch on their belt … it just feeds into their beliefs that they belong out there.”

While his college coach speaks of a bright future ahead, Cerretani said he is focused on his immediate goals now.

“(Wimbledon) was a great result, but you really can’t rest on your laurels,” he said. “You have to keep working — there’s always someone working harder than you. I hope to build on this.”

At the final Grand Slam of the year, both Cerretani and Shamasdin will have the chance to take their careers to new heights. Though they will be playing with different partners, Harris said they will still be representing a Brown tennis tradition they helped begin almost a decade ago.

“These two guys are such great representatives of Brown,” he said. “It’s basically Adil, Jamie and (Harvard alum) James Blake from the Ivy. And right now, Adil and Jamie are probably more successful than James Blake.”

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