California Dreamin': Stith Chasing Dream Of Hollywood Career
July 27, 2011
By Mollie Hanke
Matt Stith has lived his dream on the tennis court the past three years playing for UW, a top tier Pac-10 school. "I grew up in Santa Barbara and the Pac-10 [tennis] tournament every year is in [nearby] Ojai, Calif. I went to that as a little kid so it was always my dream to go to a Pac-10 school."
He looked at several California schools like UC Davis, UCLA, and UC Irvine, but after meeting the UW coaches, he knew his Pac-10 dreams would be realized. The Washington tennis coaches "were unbelievable. They really care on and off the court and I could see that on my recruiting trip and when I met them. So, ultimately, that's why I came to UW. Plus, the team is great and UW has a great business school. And to fulfill my dream of playing Pac-10 tennis."
Stith was born in Singapore, where he lived until he was five years old, around the same age when he started playing tennis.
"My parents did play and they got me into lessons, but I didn't start playing competitively until I was about 12. My parents just played for fun. They'd have a game every Saturday with some people around Singapore. So I just kind of got into it [...] but then I decided that tennis was kind of fun and I was kind of good at it so I stuck with it."
Little did he know that many years later and through a summer internship in Hollywood with NBC Universal, an even greater dream would be realized, a dream of all athletes at any level. He recently had the opportunity to practice with Venus Williams at her personal tennis court at her house. Yes, that Venus Williams - seven-time Grand Slam singles winner, three-time Olympic gold medalist and the first African-American woman to be ranked No. 1 in the world in the open era.
How does a student-athlete from the University of Washington get the chance to play the sport he loves with one of the best in the world? He coolly told the story that "a very good friend of mine, the UCLA tennis manager, knows the whole professional tennis community. Venus just needed to hit one day and he called and asked me."
His signature humor shone through when asked how he responded to this call. "I said, `Yeah, why not, I've got to pencil you in between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. I think it'll work out," he joked. "I was just like `Wow, that's awesome.' I've never really played with a person who makes millions of dollars playing tennis, so it was really cool. I was surprised."
The surreal story became even more so because "we played at her house. She [had] just happened to buy a brand new house in LA and she invited me up there and we hit. We didn't play a match, we just kind of hit; I served to her and I was returning [her serves]. It was so fun playing with her. She was very, very, very nice. Her assistant was there and I brought a buddy of mine and they were very kind. There wasn't really a match going on, they were just looking for practice."
He admittedly didn't have any expectations going into the practice with one of the world's best. "If she wanted to play, I was going to take it to her and, if she didn't, I was going to give her the best practice she could have. It was kind of cool because I could hang with her and she's considered one of the best players in women's tennis."
Stith praised the encouraging spirit of his friends and teammates at UW, saying that when his team found out about the experience, "they were excited. Chris Russell [UW Associate Head Coach] sent me a text saying `Did you take it to her?' and I said `Heck yeah'. Everyone was just excited for me and that's what's good about UW is there's just so much support. My friends were all [saying] `What?! You played with Venus Williams? No way!'"
The best advice that he says the Williams' sisters gave him, which he will apply to his tennis game and his life is "to work as hard as you can and go at it everyday."
Upon graduating after this coming school year, he wants to work in the entertainment industry and his internship in LA this summer is giving him the opportunity and connections to do so. Through a family friend, he was able to land an internship with NBC Universal in "a division working with Universal Pictures in the Production Finance department. Basically, they look over every penny that goes in and out of major motion pictures and plays, such as Wicked."
He says that the best part of the internship is getting "to network with so many people. NBC Universal treats their interns so well."
He recently had the opportunity to attend a luncheon with the president and COO of Universal Studios. "He looks over the movie part and the theme park. We got to ask him questions. He's actually like a godfather of the entertainment industry. He's the longest standing studio head in the history of major studios, so it was pretty cool," said Stith.
Though a future in the entertainment industry is the dream he's working towards achieving, he says of tennis "it'll definitely be in my life forever."