Holton-Arms tennis coach Yann Auzoux has high aspirations for sophomore Lilly Lynham, a player whose national profile is on the rise and a prized prospect who Auzoux believes can play in the U.S. Open in two or three years.
But even Auzoux, who led the team to its fourth consecutive Independent School League championship this past fall, has been floored by Lynham’s rapid improvement over the past six months. The sophomore finished the ISL season with a 13-1 record last fall, winning every match but the league final.
Since, with strong performances at a number of regional tournaments, she’s jumped up into the top-100 players nationally in the Class of 2015, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network, which also lauds Lynham as the third-ranked player in Maryland and the 12th ranked prospect in the Mid-Atlantic region at the moment. She was an honorable mention All-Met selection as a freshman.
“It’s been nice, because I’ve worked so hard for it, but it doesn’t stop me because I have so many more goals I want to achieve,” Lynham said.”I have a lot of work to do.”
Heading into the final two years of high school, Lynham has naturally grown into her game – and she has also benefitted under Auzoux’s tutelage – which includes rigid daily drills, the employment of a personal trainer and the use of Auzoux’s invention, a tool called the Sweet Spotter.
Resembling a whiffle-ball baseball bat with a large stock, the Sweet Spotter is a fiber carbon club designed to help a player hone their swing and develop more power at the point of contact.
Auzoux, who earned a degree in bio-engineering from George Washington and was a Davis Cup player in the 1990s, began developing the device after stumbling upon an aluminum baseball bat that had been left on the Holton-Arms tennis court two years ago. Auzoux began using the bat to hit balls on a daily basis, and discovered the thinner stock forced a player to use nearly flawless technique in order to hit the ball on a straight line.
But baseball bats are heavier than tennis racquets – by 10 ounces in some instances – so Auzoux started developing a blueprint for 11 and 13-ounce devices and had them manufactured through a partner in China, he said.
“If you have any flaw in your chain of delivery, you know, you’re going to lose a lot of power. So the cleanest line you can get is something that you can only achieve with the sweet spotter, if you don’t have it naturally,” Auzoux said. “It’s such a small device, it forces you to literally, hit perfectly every time. Once you hone in on it, it’s such an incredible feeling.”
The Sweet Spotter is in early stages of being commercialized, but it’s already made a huge difference for Lynham, she said. Since starting to practice with the tool in October, the most evident improvement has been in her serve velocity - which has also been aided by strength training. She was serving the ball at 74 miles per hour about six months ago, Auzoux said, and there has been a 20-to-30 mile-per-hour increase in her serve speed since that time.
At a recent workout with Auzoux at Holton-Arms, she practiced with the Sweet Spotter intensively, using it for every conceivable swing she may face on the court. Most of the shots she hit on a line; others wildly flew off the device at all angles.
Soon after, she switched back to her racquet, with Auzoux flicking balls at her. The power was notable; her swing looked like it had just been relieved of considerable weight.
“I feel it’s definitely made a difference. It takes a while to build on it, but in the end, I think it’s worth it,” Lynham said. “This is definitely something new, and a weapon that I have.”