Beka Sikharulidze had already criss-crossed the United States—and much of the world—before settling in New Canaan this summer with his wife and their two sons.
A singles and doubles tennis champion in his native Georgia in eastern Europe, Sikharulidze had moved to Los Angeles and founded Beka Tennis Academy in 2001. An actor as well as a tennis professional, he returned to Europe before the COVID-19 pandemic to direct and star in his own movie, “From Life To Life,” and then came back in 2021 to operate his academy in Florida for one year before moving up to New Canaan.
“We checked a couple places like Darien and also Greenwich, but we like New Canaan more because of the community,” Sikharulidze said. “The people are much warmer. We love all the woods, and we’re still very close to the city.”
After enrolling their sons at South School, where the boys will start in kindergarten and the first grade this fall, Sikharulidze set up his academy at Vista Indoor Tennis in South Salem, N.Y., minutes over the line up Route 123. There, Sikharulidze said, he is launching an individualized instructional program that serves tennis players at all levels and ages.
‘I Don’t Teach Just Tennis’
Though Sikharulidze has coached tennis players in the highest level of the sport—one of his students, fellow Georgian Irakli Labadze, once was ranked No. 42 in the world—his response when asked for his highest accomplishments in tennis was that his students reach “the maximum of their potential.”
“You can be a beginner, you can be an older person, younger—it’s their potential,” he said. “I don’t only teach just tennis and technical and mental and all that stuff—I teach the etiquette. Tennis etiquette is very, very important. Sportsmanship. Be polite, say hi, say bye, everything. It’s very, very important. Because I’ve met some people in my life who graduated from the best universities in the world, and some of them don’t know how to say hi, bye or thank you. And that’s very important to me, that the kids who practice in Beka Tennis Academy or leave Beka Tennis Academy because they’re moving to college or whatever, that they live with that knowledge and it’s important that they’re polite and understand good sportsmanship.”
Former student David Schneiderman, 70, Valley Village, Calif., attested to Sikharulidze’s ability not only to teach him the technical side of tennis as a beginner, but also to foster a “community” of tennis players at his academy.
“Personally and professionally, he’s a complete package,” Schneiderman told NewCanaanite.com when asked about his instructor of 12 years.
Schneiderman said he’d developed knee problems that prevented him from backpacking, a favorite way to stay active, and that he came upon Sikharulidze and Beka Tennis Academy by chance after stopping by tennis courts in Studio City, Calif. that he’d been driving past on a regular basis.
“He took me from not being not an athlete, taught me the fundamentals and took me out of my need to hit the ball hard and be aggressive,” Schneiderman said. “He taught me technique and strategy, and had me playing with groups of people, which I usually abhor. He can manage disparate personalities and put them together. He teaches not just how to hit a tennis ball, but teaches you how to play the game and appreciate the game.”
Soon, Schneiderman said, he had his own son and later, a grandson, playing at Beka Tennis Academy.
“He created a real community of people to play tennis,” he said. “I used to show up early to my lessons so I could watch the girl who was playing in the lesson before me, and I would talk to her father, then I ended up playing with her father, and guy in the lesson after mine, he would come early and chat. He creates a whole sense of community with his academy. It’s not like you show up and get the thing done and get out of dodge.”
Schneiderman described Sikharulidze as “very smart, very intuitive, as well as being an expert in technique and how to convey that message to the students.”
“I went from never having played tennis at all to being able to keep my own, certainly with people my age, and that’s not easy when you start at 55,” he said.
“Racket sports are booming”
Sikharulidze’s arrival in New Canaan and the launch of Beka Tennis Academy are timely.
Town residents have purchased tennis permits, signed up for clinics and used the paddle courts at Waveny and new pickleball courts at Mead Park in record numbers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parks & Recreation Director John Howe said when asked about use the facilities. “Racket sports are booming,” Howe said. “The pandemic brought tennis to the forefront because it was an outside activity and its rules were not affected by the CDC rulings. This produced a 150% increase in programming for adult and youth tennis instruction for the New Canaan Recreation Department. Today the programs maintain the same robust numbers and continue their growth. Pickleball is nationally the fastest-growing sport. New Canaan has shown a great interest and with the construction and opening of the Town Mead Courts, we are meeting—so far—the demands of the residents in town.”
Beka Tennis Academy offers not only private and semi-private tennis lessons, groups and camps, but also pickleball instruction.
The core of approach to teaching is assessing each student’s skills areas for improvement, he said.
“I don’t teach the same thing to everyone,” Sikharulidze said. “I see what they need—that’s what I teach. I’m not some coach who teaches the same thing. I check them, I find out what their problems are and I teach them what they need, how to improve them.”
‘It’s like a big family’
The son of a well-known Georgian actor, Sikharulidze is running Beka Tennis Academy while also pursuing his passion in film. He started taking acting lessons 12 years ago and recently landed two movies—a small part in a film with Emily Ratajkowski, and the role of Yuri in “Kimi,” Steven Soderbergh’s 2022 film starring Zoe Kravitz and available on HBO Max.
His own movie, “From Life To Life,” directed just prior to the pandemic, is set in the early 1990s at the time that Georgia broke away from the Soviet Union. Submitted to film festivals for next year, it’s about a doctor—“an honest man, a good man,” Sikharulidze said—who performs surgeries for free in order to save lives during that tumultuous and difficult time.
“People have to show their kids this and say, hey this is what I want to have in my life—nice, professional people,” he said.
They’re qualities that Sikharulidze says he saw immediately in New Canaanites.
“We came here twice before we moved,” he said. “We wanted to move closer to New York—that was one of the reasons—and another one was we like the seasons, we like the winter. I have a condo at a ski resort in Europe and we stayed there for a year-and-a-half so we love winter. And also, we like the people—the people are very nice, educated. It’s very important to raise the kids in this environment.”
Sikharulidze said he also saw that New Canaan was “very sports-oriented” and “it’s a community.”
“That’s very important for the kids, everybody watching each other. It’s like a big family. That’s what we felt, me and my wife. That’s very important and the kids, the new generation we saw on the street, they were very polite, nice kids. Respectful. We want to raise the kids with this community.”