It’s been a long time coming, but well worth the wait for former Owensboro Catholic High School tennis star Vimal Patel.
Patel will be inducted into the Kentucky Tennis Hall of Fame on Jan. 30, 2021 in Louisville, along with the late John Karl “Doc” Hosbach, a renowned tennis instructor from Henderson, and Louisville’s Paul Varga, a star player at the University of Kentucky.
“I’m so excited for my family,” said Patel, a former Owensboro Catholic High School star and also a three-time All-American at Stanford University. “We put a lot of miles, a lot of hard work, a lot of years into tennis.
“It’s great to be recognized by Kentucky. I represented the state throughout the nation and around the world during my career, and I always took a lot of pride in seeing ‘Kentucky’ next to my name on the draw sheets of all those tournaments.
“This is a tremendous honor, and I’m very appreciative of it.”
Now 48, Patel burst onto the scene as a nationally-ranked pre-teen and later became a KHSAA individual state champion during his sophomore season at Catholic — going undefeated.
“I was really fortunate growing up in Owensboro,” Patel said. “A lot of credit goes to my father, as well as Joan Ramey of Our Tennis House. They taught me the fundamentals that became the foundation for the success I was able to have on the court.
“I was also really fortunate to grow up in early ‘80s, at the height of the rise of tennis in America and throughout the world — the timing of that was great for my development and for my passion as a competitive player.”
At Stanford, Patel was a member of NCAA outdoor and indoor championship teams in 1992, as well as the NCAA runner-up outdoor team of 1994.
He subsequently competed professionally around the world in 20 countries and received an ATP ranking in both singles and doubles.
For the past 23 years, Patel has been director of Tough Tennis Academy in Naples, Fla.
“I love to pass on everything I learned about the game as a youth and throughout my playing career,” Patel said. “I put a heavy emphasis on the basic fundamentals, because if you don’t have those you’re not going to be able to reach your potential as a player.
“Youngsters today have a lot of distractions that weren’t around when I was growing up, so it’s a challenge to keep players focused and dedicated to what it is they are wanting to achieve in the sport — there are no shortcuts to success at the highest levels.”
Vimal is the oldest of a trio of Patel siblings who made significant marks in tennis.
His younger brother, Nirav, was a star player at Catholic High and the University of Georgia, and his youngster sister, Manisha, was a star player at Apollo High School and the University of Louisville.
Their parents, A.C., a highly regarded tennis instructor for decades, and Urmila, have been the bedrock foundation of it all.
“Both of our parents were immigrants from India,” Patel said, “and they were strong proponents of achieving the American Dream.
“They viewed America as a land of opportunity, where anything is possible, where you should strive to be the best you could be — and that’s what I believe all of us have done through the years.
“They always realized how fortunate they were to be in this country, and they wanted to make sure we understood this and that we felt the same way.”