As a kid, Jack Hamburg used hit to tennis balls back and forth with his mother at the local tennis club in Rapid City, S.D.
Even though he played often, he wasn’t completely sold on being a tennis player.
“I actually thought that tennis was a girl’s sport because my mom played it,” Hamburg said. “And I was pretty bad at it at first. It’s never fun to do something that you’re bad at.”
That’s no longer the case. The senior is the Gophers No. 5 singles player, occupies a spot on the team’s top doubles pairing and is set to wrap up a collegiate tennis career that didn’t initially seem likely.
Hamburg’s mother, Liz, introduced him to the sport and said she doesn’t think he necessarily disliked it in the beginning.
“He didn’t have any friends doing it, and that was the problem,” Liz Hamburg said. “In Rapid City, there aren’t a whole lot of tennis players around here, so I think he actually did enjoy it, but when he was on the court, the majority of the guys were a lot older than he was.”
At the time, most of Hamburg’s friends were playing other sports, and he preferred baseball.
He could have easily given up tennis then and focused on baseball — or even the sports his parents competed in.
His mother was a sprinter for the University of South Dakota’s track and field team, while his father, Randy Hamburg, was a basketball player at the same school.
However, Hamburg never decided to quit tennis and chose to focus on the sport when he was 11.
“The more I played, the better that I got,” Hamburg said. “I began to appreciate the game a little bit more.”
Despite many of his friends focusing on the “traditional” sports, Randy Hamburg said his son was more of an individualist.
“Jack has always been very comfortable in his own skin,” Randy said. “He wasn’t afraid to go maybe a different direction from rest of the crowd or all of his buddies. I think that’s one of the reasons why he stuck with tennis.”
Beginning and end to a chapter
Hamburg played high school tennis from seventh grade through his junior year.
In that span, he culminated a 111-1 record and 10 state championship titles — five in singles and five in doubles.
However, he said his primary focus was the United States Tennis Association junior tournaments.
“The national junior’s circuit is where you get recognized,” Hamburg said.
To improve his tennis skills, Hamburg said he turned to his mentor and long-time friend, Bryce Barnard.
Barnard started coaching Hamburg when he was 11 or 12 years old, and he said he spotted his pupil’s potential right away.
“He had a sense of the ball, and what I call soft hands,” Barnard said. “He had great touch, good feel for lobs and drop shots.”
Hamburg’s training with Barnard ended up paying off. As a senior, Hamburg was ranked 20th in the nation, and more than 40 colleges contacted him,
“I remember seeing him play in some tournaments in the Twin Cities and thinking he had a really good game,” head coach Geoff Young said.
Hamburg later boiled down his decision to two schools: San Diego and Minnesota, and he said he ultimately chose the latter for many reasons.
“I thought the coaches were very welcoming,” Hamburg said. “I also knew the area very well from growing up and playing many tournaments here.”
Randy Hamburg remembers his son visiting him at work one day telling him he’d made a decision.
“I asked him what it’s going to be, and he goes, ‘I’m a Gopher,’” Randy said. “And I said ‘Alright, let’s go.’”
Since that decision, Hamburg has competed well as a Minnesota student-athlete.
He has a combined 105-84 record for singles and doubles competition, along with being named Academic All-Big Ten his junior season.
After being a part of the Minnesota program, Hamburg said he has matured a lot.
He has a marketing internship with Polaris lined up for the summer and is set to graduate in fall.
“I’ve really tried to develop long-term relationships with the people here,” Hamburg said. “Tennis is going to end in two weeks, but relationships can last forever.”