Meet Your Neighbor: Tommy Paul

12390423093?profile=RESIZE_710xTommy Paul of Boca Raton competes last month at the Delray Beach Open, where he lost to No. 1 seed Taylor Fritz in the final in a matchup of the top-ranked American players. Paul won a tournament the previous week. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

With the likes of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras ranking among the greatest tennis players of all time, it’s hard to believe no American male has won a Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick captured the U.S. Open in 2003.

But with four Americans among the top 20 in the ATP world rankings in late February, Boca Raton resident Tommy Paul senses the end to that drought is near. The four are Taylor Fritz (No. 10), Paul (No. 14), Frances Tiafoe (No. 16) and Ben Shelton (No. 17).

“They’ve been talking about that forever,” said Paul, 26. “That’s a goal for all of us.”

Paul’s talents were on display last month, when he followed his Dallas Open championship with another appearance in a final, at the Delray Beach Open. He lost to Fritz, 6-2, 6-3, after beating Tiafoe in the semifinals. Shelton did not play, but Paul beat him in the semifinals the previous week in Dallas en route to his second ATP title.

Born in New Jersey and raised in North Carolina, Paul moved to the tennis hotbed of Boca/Delray at age 14 in 2011 to join the likes of Tiafoe and Reilly Opelka on the local junior scene. He won the French Open boys title and reached a No. 3 junior ranking in 2015 before turning pro the same year.

He moved steadily up the ranks in the ensuing years, reaching the top 100 in 2019, then finishing at No. 43 in 2021 and No. 32 in 2022. He began 2023 by reaching his first semifinal in a Grand Slam at the Australian Open before losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.

His highest ATP ranking, No. 12, came last October.

“Every year I’ve made small steps in the right direction,” he said. “I got pretty close to top 10 last year, so that’s my goal this year. I said last year I want to win titles, so that’s my goal this year. If you win enough titles you get to top 10. That’s the goal every week I play, to end the week with a win.”

Last month marked Paul’s fifth entry into the Delray Open, and his result was an improvement over 2023, when he lost in the quarterfinals to Radu Albot, the 2019 champion.

While Paul didn’t use it as an excuse, he had just returned from representing the U.S. in a Davis Cup match in Uzbekistan, where he had fallen ill.
He knows the Delray Tennis Center courts well.

“I’m able to train here a lot,” he said two days before his first match in mid-February. “It’s not my normal training spot, but me and J.J. Wolf practiced a ton here in December and I’ve spent a lot of time on this court.

“There’s an amazing group of players in South Florida. Whether it’s here, FAU, wherever, we all practice together and have a great relationship.”

Paul, who won his first ATP title at the 2021 Stockholm Open and holds three wins over top-five players including No. 2 Carlos Alvarez, got animated when he was asked about playing the best in the game.

“I get excited for those matches,” he said. “I know we’re going to have awesome points, and that’s what tennis is about. That’s why we play, to play the best players on the biggest stages.

“It’s hard not to be excited for those.”

When Paul has some time off, he said, his favorite pursuit is fishing, though that’s mostly in freshwater as he has yet to purchase a boat.

“I absolutely love South Florida,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever leave.”

— Brian Biggane

Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A: I grew up in North Carolina until I was 14 and then I moved down here. I did high school online because I was in an academy and we were practicing while the other kids were in school. Most home-schooled people get the rap of being socially awkward, and there’s some of that. But we had a great group of guys. Most of them either went to college or went pro, and I’m still playing with some of them, like Frances Tiafoe and Reilly Opelka, and Fritz. That influenced us big-time — we are who we are because of that. And it showed us what it took to be a professional tennis player.

Q: What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: I turned pro in 2015 (at age 18). Reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open last year was probably my biggest result. Winning Dallas just before Delray was big because any title is really important, and something I’m proud of. But my career path is what I’m most proud of, because I didn’t jump to the top right away, it was a slow grind. To finally get to a place where I feel — you don’t want to say comfortable because you never want to get comfortable — but I feel I know what I need to do to get where I need to be.

Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career today?
A: I don’t think every person’s career path should look the same. Some people stay in high school, go to college, then turn pro. If I were to do it again that’s what I would have done. I committed to Georgia and then turned pro right before I was supposed to go. If I were to do it again, I’d go to college for a year or two. The level in college tennis is so good now there’s no reason not to go that way.

Q: How did you choose to make your home in east Boca Raton?
A: I lived in west Boca since I was 14. My parents lived here for two years, but we have such a good group of people to train with, that’s what got me down here, and then I just started loving the area. I was staying at Reilly Opelka’s house for about four years, through COVID, and last year I finally decided to get my own place and I was looking nonstop for about a year, and I found a place. It’s worked out perfectly since.

Q: What is your favorite part about living in Boca Raton?
A: My trainer Franco (Herrero) lives in east Boca; he trains me out of Evert Tennis Academy. Everything is super convenient; there’s quite a few airports that we can fly in and out of, and that’s very important. And I couldn’t live somewhere that didn’t have the ocean. I love the ocean.

Q: What book are you reading now?
A: Born to Run. Franco actually gave it to me. It’s pretty cool. It’s about these tribal people in Mexico who have become great runners and it even gets into the history of why people run. Phenomenal book.

Q: What music do you listen to when you want to relax? When you want to be inspired?
A: Country music. I listen to a lot of Luke Combs and a lot of old rock. I’ll do some rap music sometimes if I’m like, you know really feeling it. Or reggae if I’m having a bunch of people over having a party or something. But mostly old rock and country.

Q: Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A: My mom is a big one, and I’ve had so many great coaches. The guy who works with Frances now, Diego Moyano, coached me at an important time, from like 14 or 15 up to 19, and those are massive years when you’re trying to create a professional athlete. Also T.J. Pura, who got me after him. Coaching for me is also mentoring. I’ve been very lucky to have great people around me.

Q: If your life story were to be made into a movie, who would play you?
A: Matthew McConaughey. I love watching all his movies. He’s my favorite actor.

Q: Who/what makes you laugh?
A: Reilly Opelka and Frances Tiafoe, both make me laugh. Because they’re clowns; both of them are clowns. Frances is just a clown and Reilly says the most outrageous stuff.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of The Coastal Star to add comments!

Join The Coastal Star

Activity Feed

The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Apr 9
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Apr 6
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in DELRAY BEACH
Apr 3
The Coastal Star posted a photo
Apr 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in LANTANA
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in DELRAY BEACH
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in HIGHLAND BEACH
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted photos
Apr 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in ACROSS THE BRIDGE
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in GULF STREAM
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in SOUTH PALM BEACH
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in GULF STREAM
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in OCEAN RIDGE
Apr 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a blog post
Apr 3
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion
Apr 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Apr 3
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Apr 3
More…