Editor's Note: This article was submitted by Krista Babyak, a Junior majoring in Journalism at the University of Maryland at College Park. Babyak was a former student of Joseph Lizardo's while he was teaching tennis in Baltimore.
You might be surprised to see this muscular, dark man with a Filipino accent move effortlessly around a tennis court if you’ve never trained with Joseph Lizardo.
At 5-feet-9, the 42-year-old current Head Tennis Pro at the Cerritos Tennis Center in California has certainly made an impact on junior athletes and the Cerritos tennis community among making a name for himself in tennis.
After leaving Baltimore in 2009, Lizardo moved with his wife, Belinda Panelo, and son to expand his impact on junior tennis.
“I have established an academy in an area where they have no programs or direction regarding NCAA tennis and the possibility of tennis scholarships,” said Lizardo.
Cerritos Tennis Center Director Bram Sada said, “He has really transformed what tennis means here. We started with only two players before his arrival. With the addition of Joe we’ve increased to over 100 players.”
“He really expects a lot out of every athlete he trains,” said Sada. “He is busy all day every day with the kids. He has transformed the Cerritos sector into a top training facility in the United States in only two years.”
Lizardo has coached in Europe, Asia, and North America.
“He has adjusted very smoothly from Baltimore to Cerritos. We have adopted him into our family. He has worked so hard for us,” said Sada.
Born in Manila, Philippines on Jan. 17, 1969, Lizardo began his tennis career at age 8 watching his older brother, Joselito, play tournaments.
“It also helped that the court was located right in front of our house,” said Lizardo in a previous interview with Stephanie Coyiuto in the Philippines.
He received a full scholarship in tennis and graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia with a double degree in International Business and Marketing.
An international competitor at age 12, he played the Jr. Wimbledon in 1985 along with the Jr. US Open and Jr. Wimbledon in 1986.
“I was qualified to play at the other Grand Slams but school was always the priority,” said Lizardo.
“My parents always provided me with the best coach and best equipment to help me reach my goals,” said Lizardo, remembering his fight to overcome financial troubles. “Both of my parents supported me all the way. They would always watch and guide me as much as possible.”
At Cerritos, he emphasizes the same work ethic he grew up with.
One of his student athletes, Mariel Ante, is receiving a full scholarship to Drake University for tennis. His academy requires that each athlete signs a contract to be dedicated to school and tennis.
What has made Lizardo so successful?
For one, he doesn’t smoke or drink. He carefully plans, sets goals and researches what he has to do in order to achieve those goals.
Then, “I will make an agreement with myself and commit my entire self, no matter how hard and long the road towards the goal is. I consider my training as sacred and set a very high quality on and off the court,” said Lizardo in Coyiuto’s interview.
According to The Cerritos Tennis Center’s website, Lizardo was the no. 1 player in the Philippines from 1993-1999. He was the No. 1 Davis Cup player of the Philippines from 1993-1999 and was the No. 1 singles player at Temple University from 1987-1991. He has achieved the highest world ranking of 740 in the ATP.
Fellow Davis Cupper and tennis champion Felix Barrientos in Coyiuto’s interview said, “[His] discipline and work ethics are one of the best I have ever come across. He is a dependable teammate and can be fully counted on in times of great pressure.”
Assistant to Lizardo during the summer of 2010, Mauricio Alejandro said he was known in the Baltimore area because of the way he taught, motivated and helped his players to improve on and off the court.
“He has a completely different method of teaching tennis,” said Alejandro. “It’s modern and innovative. I think it’s being accepted by the players and I don’t doubt other coaches started using his method in California.”
“I am a big fan of Andre Agassi,” said Lizardo in Coyiuto’s interview. “[He is] one of the fittest and most disciplined tennis players in history.”
At the Merritt at Bare Hills in Baltimore, Lizardo made a name for himself as the tennis director from 2008 to 2009 and as the advanced junior director from 2007-2008.
“He is a great coach,” said Sheldon Chazen, a tennis professional since 1975 at Bare Hills. “But he had to find his own way in California. He was too big for Bare Hills. California is a much better fit for him where he can do more advanced training with more tournament level players.”
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For more information on the Lizardo Tennis Academy or other classes taught at the Cerritos Tennis Center at , click here.