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What an Agent Does: Interview with Topnotch Management's Sam Duvall
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Tennis has been a part of Sam Duvall's life as far back as he remembers. Growing up outside of Louisville, Kentucky, Duvall played high school tennis for Saint Xavier High School, a nationally prominent team, then continued his competitive endeavors at Division III Bates College in Maine, where he played all four years. A senior year internship at Octagon, with Michael Phelps' agent and Bates tennis alumnus Peter Carlisle, gave him experience in the world of sport management, but when he moved to Washington, DC after his graduation in 2005, a paying job in the field was still a dream.

Sam Duvall of Topnotch Management
© Zoo Tennis
"I interned for free for like seven months, and then someone got fired and I was kind of there," Duvall said of his start at SFX, one of the leading sports management companies. "I was pretty fortunate that the guy that was let go had some clients, so I was immediately thrust into it, which was great for me, because it helped me grow a lot quicker than I think I would have otherwise."

SFX was bought and sold several times in Duvall's years there, with the French company Lagardère the current owner. Last fall, a shakeup resulted in the departure of Lagardère's head of tennis John Tobias and several agents, including Duvall, left shortly thereafter.

Duvall started his own firm, Topnotch Management, and, via a partnership established with Lagardère, continues to represent professional tennis players, many of whom have been his clients for years. Meilen Tu, who also left Lagardère last fall, has recently joined Topnotch Management and will focus on juniors and recruiting, while James Beres is Client Manager for the boutique agency.

I spoke to Duvall at the US Open about his decision to become an agent, what he looks for when assessing the prospects for a player's pro success, what brands want from athletes they sign to endorse their products, what advice he would give top juniors and their families and many other topics.

 

Questions and Answers

Colette Lewis (CL): What appealed to you about being an agent?

Sam Duvall (SD): I taught tennis at country clubs, did that whole thing. I love being on the court, teaching, but I don't think I love it 40 hours a week, 50 hours a week.

I'm an agent yes, but I could have been an administrator, anything. Just keeping me around the game, in any capacity would have been great for me. I'm pretty young, so who knows where I'll be in 10 years, but I'm really excited about now, transitioning from an agent to a small business owner, helping young people who work with me grow. If they want to be agents, helping them learn it, accelerate our growth through those channels.
 

CL: You don't have a law degree?

SD: I do not. I actually studied psychology at Bates and had a minor in economics, but I actually think the psychology was way more valuable than the economics, as it turns out.

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