The Hong Kong Tennis Association and the local tennis community are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Mr. John Holsinger, at age 70, following a motorcycle accident near Adelaide, Australia, earlier last month. He oversaw much of the National Junior Squad training from 1977-1980, at a time when some of Hong Kong’s top fledgling ballers were just beginning to take flight to the next phase of their games, eventually spreading their talents to the Junior Grand Slams and beyond.
Mr. Holsinger first got involved with the HKTA in 1976 as one of the two coaches sent by Peter Burwash International to conduct the Development Committee’s first coaching clinic for local coaches after he had attended Manchester University, Indiana, from 1969-1973. He then shared coaching duties of the National Junior Squad with Tau Luu in 1977 and Hy Ny in 1978 before taking sole charge from 1979 up until June 1980, when the newly-hired tennis coach arrived to begin his tenure overseeing the various training programmes for the Jubilee Sports Centre (now Hong Kong Sports Institute). In those days, the lack of training facilities available on weekends meant the squad had to assemble for practice every Sunday for three hours at the Causeway Bay Sports Ground tennis courts.
Notable members of the National Junior Squad that trained, at one time or another, under Mr. Holsinger between 1976-1980 included Kelvin Inge, Patricia Hy, Mark Bailey, Colin Grant, Jimmy Chang, Derek Ling, Clement Lee, and Paulette Moreno, to name a few.
In terms of local majors, Mr. Holsinger won three men’s doubles and six mixed doubles titles in all. He teamed up with Randall King to capture back-to-back Hong Kong National Tennis Championships in 1980 and 1981, and also partnered Hy Ny to win the CRC Open in 1978. He paired up with Paulette Moreno to win the Hong Kong National Tennis Championships in 1983 and 1984, the SCAA Open in 1984, and the CRC Open in 1984 and 1985. His first mixed title came about as a result of a collaboration with the then 13-year-old prodigy, Patricia Hy, at the 1978 CRC Open.
Serving in an officiating capacity under the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Hong Kong, Mr. Holsinger was charged with the calling of several high profile matches at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, where tennis returned as a medal sport for the first time in sixty-four years. In particular, he was chair umpire for the men’s final between Miloslav Mecir and Tim Mayotte, and the women’s semifinal between Gabriela Sabatini and Manuela Maleeva-Fragnière.
At the time of the accident, he had been the Asia-Pacific director of The Global Health and Fitness Association (IHRSA) since 2005.
Dr. Derek Ling, Chairman of HKTA’s Player Development Committee and a former age group champion of Hong Kong, who trained with the Junior Squad under Mr. Holsinger from 1977-1980, reflects:
“Not only did he instill in us a lot of the principles on how to become a successful tennis player, but he also made clear the virtues of punctuality, hard work, and dedication. He was the first to introduce high-intensity training to local juniors, including the non-technical aspects, such as strength and conditioning, agility, and reflex, among other things. Being tardy also meant you had to run a lap round the track for every minute you were late for training! Looking back now, I couldn’t help but treasure and appreciate even more the times we’ve shared together. He will be missed.”
Patricia Hy, who was with the Junior Squad from 1977-79 under Mr. Holsinger before she went on to become the No. 7 junior in the world and reaching WTA No. 28, recollects:
“My favourite memory of John was when he wanted to teach us the value of time. John didn’t have many rules, but the few that he had, if we broke them, we paid the consequences. One time, he was quite annoyed with some players showing up late for a clinic. So, he made a time rule. For every minute late, the player had to do a 10-ball shuttle run. What’s a shuttle run? You place 10 balls at the net and a racquet behind the baseline, then sprint to the net starting from the baseline to pick up 1 ball at a time and place it on the racquet ten times. Trust me, your lungs will be on fire. There’s this player who was 30 minutes late and 300 balls this player had to do. It took the whole practice. Even when John was annoyed, he always reprimanded us from a place of empathy and kindness. He didn’t yell, but he was firm. The world is a sadder place without John in our lives. I am touched by his teachings and will cherish his memories forever.”
Chairman of the HKTA Foundation, Dr. Kelvin Inge, who was awarded the Sir Ivo Rigby Trophy as the best all round junior player in 1976, and again in 1977, while he trained with the Junior Squad under Mr. Holsinger, recalls:
“I was in the Junior Squad together with Mark[Bailey], Jimmy[Chang], and Patricia[Hy] when John took over the helm. He was far more into our physical conditioning and introduced many off court training drills designed for tennis. He pushed us hard and I recalled how unfit we all were at first, but he made training fun and competitive, and we often spent the first hour without our racquets! Over time, I got to know him and his wife, Val, very well. We would practice together at times, play in local tournaments against and with each other. When Hong Kong returned to the fold for the first time in 8 years, he was part of the Davis Cup team pitted against the Philippines in 1982 that I was privileged enough to be a part of. John was going to be my partner in the doubles but a last minute injury took him out of the line-up. He was involved in a big part of my tennis upbringing and fond memories they were. He shall be sorely missed.”
Paulette Moreno, a member the Junior Squad from 1978-1980, who captured her first local major by lifting the CRC Open ladies’ singles title at age 12, reminisces:
“Mr. Holsinger was the first National Coach I had. When I joined the squad, I was the youngest. I remembered very clearly from day one of training. He was tough, but fair. And one thing stuck in my head, never be late for practice! You’ll be doing a hell of a lot of shuttle runs. Training was tough, but he made it fun and very early on, he has already instilled a lot of life lessons in us. Discipline, punctuality, respect for each other, respect for the sport, focus. I will be forever grateful to him. He was also a mentor and a friend. I had the privilege to play mixed doubles with him and we won 5 titles. Those were fond memories. Thank you Coach Holsinger. You will be missed.”
Colin Grant, a member of the Junior Squad under Mr. Holsinger from 1977-1980, who ruled Hong Kong tennis by age 18 in 1984 when he captured the men’s singles title at all three local majors that year, reflects: “John was my first coach when I arrived in Hong Kong in 1977. A lot of things come to mind, but a 10-ball shuttle run for every minute late was definitely one of them. That’s punctuality. He was firm, but always fair. What he was doing was building character and a strong work ethic, which benefited us a whole lot both on and off the court. For that, I’m eternally grateful. John really helped a bunch of us young kids develop not only our tennis game, but also the physical side as well, which is very important. John worked with IHRSA and he was highly regarded and respected in the fitness community across Asia, and through my work at Pure, I was in regular contact with him right up until the incident. He will be sorely missed by many, many people and I, most certainly, will miss him.”
The HKTA is indebted to Mr. Holsinger for his contribution to Hong Kong tennis, especially with the time he spent with the National Junior Squad, where he lent his caring spirit and generous heart. He is gone, but he will not be forgotten.