Giovanni Plater was 14 and scheduled to try out for his high school track team. Sitting on the bench, watching the others and waiting for his turn, he noticed a man at the nearby tennis court practicing his serve. It caught his attention, and instead of taking his turn in tryouts, he walked over to join the man. It was his first time on a tennis court. He attempted the same hits but, to his chagrin, was unsuccessful. He hit every ball over the tennis court fence and, ironically, onto the track. That was the moment Gio became a tennis player. 

Before his years on the tennis court, he was a pro at a different, more unlikely sport — bowling. Growing up in a family of bowlers, he began chasing strikes when he was four. “Bowling was more than just a social activity for us. Growing up in Ohio, the winters were always very cold, and bowling was something we could do year-round.” By the time he reached college, he had received letters from universities asking him to play on their teams, but Gio had another dream. 

Accustomed to success in his sporting life, he was outside his comfort zone on the tennis court. “I hated the feeling of not being good at something, and I got the bug.” From that day forward, he was determined to be great at tennis. “I was on the court every day that it wasn’t raining. There were days that I played from noon until 7 p.m.” He would ride his bike or walk to the local courts and play for hours daily. His dedication and consistency paid off exponentially, and he was able to play for his college team at Benedict College in South Carolina, where he graduated in 2014. 

“I’ve always been average at everything I’ve done, but I always want to be great. I know all I have to do is push.” This life persuasion has proven to be the driving force behind his tennis success. Following graduation, he moved to Memphis with his college tennis teammates and soon began playing in International Tennis Federation tournaments. He competed in Guadalajara (2014) and Manzanillo (2016), Mexico. And, most recently, with a local team of players from Memphis, Mississippi, and Arkansas, won the United States Tennis Association Men’s 4.5 National Tournament (2023). 

His advice for being great? “Do normal things an abnormal amount of times.” He shares this philosophy with his students as well at Windyke Country Club in Memphis, where he offers lessons and clinics Monday through Saturday. He tells his students, “You don’t have to be extraordinary; just do the ordinary an extra amount of times. Be brilliant with the basics, and from there, you can find greatness.” 

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By Amanda Tompkins

Photo by Tindall Stephens