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January 13, 2017 11:04 AM

Bobby Bull talks to Toby Smith about the Coleman Vision Tennis Championships


BobbyBullThere have been two tournament directors during the run of the Coleman Vision. Molly McGrath guided the event for 10 years. She was followed by Sue Jollensten, who held the position for nine years. This year the tournament will have its third director, Robert Stirling Bull, or Bobby to all. In order to learn the ropes, Bull, 43, co-directed with Jollensten in 2016.  A native of Albuquerque, he comes from a storied tennis family.
You were introduced on the last day of the 2016 tournament.  What did you say?
I was brought out on the court where I told fans that it was an honor to be the next tournament director and how grateful I was to have this opportunity.  
How familiar were you with the tournament?
I had been to the Coleman in previous years.  In 2011, I was practice partner for Camila Giorgi of Italy. I think she got to 30 in the world, and is still out there. (Currently she is ranked 80). 
Did you know the Coleman family?
I knew Malachi Coleman (pictured below with Bobby), Stephen and Erica’s son, from playing tennis at TCA and at the Lobo Club.  I first met Stephen when one day he came out to watch me play with Malachi.  
From your time at the tournament, last year and before, what were your thoughts about it?
I recognized that the community embraces the Coleman. The Coleman involves so many people and has so many parts. Rally for the Alley, the wheelchair exhibition, live-streaming and the pros who come out and help work clinics for kids.  The exposure is the main thing for youngsters. Many kids who are bused there have never been to a professional tournament or seen professional players up close.  The New Mexico Youth Tennis Foundation, which Sue started,  is really an important piece of the tournament. It’s basically to educate kids that tennis is a lifelong sport and to learn life skills and discipline. The foundation provides so many things. 
BobbyMalWhat are your specific duties as tournament director?
My main role will be to keep things running smoothly. I’ll have a lot of help from the many volunteers who work the championships. Sponsorship is extremely important and I expect to be involved in that too. The USTA this year is upping the prize money for $75,000 Pro Circuit events, the Coleman of which is one, to $80,000. The additional prize money will raise the level of the Coleman and will attract more players and, I would think, some very good ones. 
What did you learn last year?
I learned so much from Sue. She has the playbook and she really guided me. Sue showed me how to juggle the many different activities going on at the tournament.  If I have questions this year, I’ll go to Sue, who will likely be around. The USTA’s Bunny Williams and Missy Malool have been handling Pro Circuit tournaments for years. They’ll be available for me as well.  So will Becky Lee and Jud Lee. In 2016, I basically watched and observed and helped when needed. Sue gave me advice on protocol and operations. And I listened to Bunny and Missy a lot. Maybe the best thing I learned from Sue was being detail-oriented and professional.  
Tell me about your tennis heritage?
My father is Tony Bull.  He was inducted to the Southwest Section Hall of Fame last year. He played for the Lobos in 1968, when they won the WAC championship, which was a big deal.  My dad is the one of six kids. I am the oldest of five children.  Just about everybody plays or played tennis.
Where is your father now?  
He has relocated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he works for a contracting company.  He had been involved with car dealerships here in New Mexico for a long while.
Your father’s mother, Vivien Bull, also holds a special place in New Mexico tennis. 
Yes, she does. Like my dad, she too was inducted into the Southwest Section Hall of Fame.  I grew up being very close to my grandmother.  She died in 2001 and I really miss her. She was a professor of romance languages at Cal State San Bernardino. Just as significant, she helped junior players.  She drove them across the Southwest to tournaments all the time.  My grandmother was English, and she helped me to travel to England to play tournaments. Her sister Pam was head of the Lawn Tennis Association, which puts on a lot of tournaments.  I played in many of those during summers.
I remember when you played high school tennis in New Mexico.
I started out at Albuquerque High School. When my dad bought a Santa Fe dealership I transferred to Santa Fe High School, where I graduated in 1991. I finished third in the state singles in my sophomore year, second my junior year and finally won as a senior. 
I used to hear stories about your fiery temper on the court. True?
(Laughs.)  I used to have a temper. I wanted to win; I was competitive. I was known for blowing up.  I received penalty points, but I was never DQ’d. I tried to keep my language clean, but, well, in the heat of battle it sometimes got difficult. My dad didn’t like it when I did that, even though as a young player he had outbursts of his own now and then on the court. 
You went on to play college tennis, didn’t you? 
Yes, I verbally committed to the University of Arkansas.  I visited Middle Tennessee and the University of Tennessee at Martin, where I ultimately ended up.  I played one year there.  It was good, but I was homesick. I transferred to New Mexico State, where I played 1 through 4 singles. Don Ball was my coach there. He had played with my Dad for the Lobos on that great 1968 team. I finished at NMSU in 1996. 
What came after college? 
I moved to Phoenix after graduation.  I wanted to go to a larger city and I had friends there from my growing-up years. I had taken a lot of business courses in college and my dad was an entrepreneur and businessman and I learned a lot from him. I worked for national full-service real estate firm in Phoenix. I lived there for 18 years. I lived for one year in Atlanta and worked for a a real estate services company. I played tennis in that city, with the ALTA League. ALTA is not a USTA organization. It happens to be the largest tennis league in the country.   
You returned to New Mexico eventually.  Why?
I missed New Mexico.  I have a young son, RJ, who lives in Albuquerque with his mom. He will be 6 in February. To see him, I commuted back to Albuquerque from Phoenix and I grew tired of that. So I relocated here.  In Albuquerque in 2011 I started the Bull Company, a commercial real estate firm that focuses on the sales of apartment complexes and on property management. I am a licensed qualifying broker in New Mexico and I am a licensed sales person in Arizona.  
So you have a couple jobs now. How will you handle that?
I‘ll be using my skills and talent I gained in business to help the tournament grow.  
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