Greg Hirshman was unlike most any tennis player on the highly competitive juniors circuit, and it didn’t take long to see it. The 2007 La Jolla Country Day graduate was animated on the court to the point of being comical, contorting his body in all manner of ways in reaction to good shots and bad. Between matches, he figured math problems on the sidelines, and outside of his time playing tennis, he played the violin, took an active interest in politics and was a top student - a rare combination of interests in a world where a focus on tennis is the norm.
Thus, Hirshman was labeled as “The Eccentric” and turned out to be a perfect fit for a movie documenting the lives of junior tennis players.
The documentary film “Unstrung,” produced by tennis legend Jim Courier, debuted last year at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and has played on ESPN and ESPN2.
“I thought (my portrayal) was accurate,” said Hirshman, who just completed his freshman year at Stanford. “I’m certainly different than most people. The film was very honest. Some people might be embarrassed about being called ‘The Eccentric,’ but the film was very honest, and I’m OK with that.”
The film documents the lives of seven players trying to make their way through the often vicious world of junior tennis.
Tim Neilly and his mother barely make ends meet living in a one-bedroom apartment, but he keeps at it because his dream is to go pro.
Marcus Fugate has moved from his home in Rochester, N.Y. to the elite Bolletieri tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Holden Seguso is the son of two former professional tennis players and has played the game since he could walk.
Clancy Shields is a native Midwesterner without the budget of some families; he travels to tournaments in an RV driven by his father.
Donald Young is touted as the next great American tennis player and often fools his opponents because he doesn’t look the part.
Sam Querrey is considered the new kid on the junior tennis circuit.
And then there’s Hirshman, who is followed by the cameras as he sorts out complicated math problems and practices his violin. The cameras also focus heavily on his antics on the court during matches.
Hirshman said the movie’s producers first noticed him at a junior event and approached him for a casual conversation between matches. They followed his matches during that event and eventually came to his home to film footage.
He said they had followed a number of players and that he wasn’t told until late in the process that he would be included in the film. At Tribeca the film proved so popular that organizers slated it for more showings. The film’s success led to it being picked up by ESPN, and it originally aired on the network in early May. It was played again following the opening rounds of the French Open on May 25.
Hirshman said it was amazing to see himself in the film, particularly on the big screen at Tribeca.
“That was an experience I’ll never forget,” Hirshman said. “It’s great to see on ESPN, but when you see yourself 30 feet tall or something, it’s really, really cool.”
Hirshman recognizes that his inclusion in the film came largely by chance, but he was thrilled to have the opportunity to be involved.
“Each of these people invested so much time into playing tennis, and the movie kind of captures the end result – what do these people actually get out of playing tennis?” Hirshman said.