Sophomore Tommy Hicks keeps his cool about possible pro career
Tommy Hicks might be like a thousand other 16-year-olds across America, boys who play tennis well and envision themselves in the U.S. Open.
But he isn't sweating the details of having to beat those other players on the way to fame and fortune. He isn't even sweating the details of defending the Portland Interscholastic League singles title he won last year as a freshman for Grant High.
For Hicks, tennis is still just a bundle of fun.
'I would love to play in college and try to win a national championship and then play professionally,' he says. 'But that's in the future. Right now, I'm playing well and I'm enjoying being a young guy and playing without pressure.
'If I can win state as a sophomore, that would be cool. But I'm not worried about it. I'm just going to play as hard as I can and let the chips fall where they may.'
Hicks is undefeated in high school tennis this spring and is the No. 1 seed entering the PIL tournament, which begins Tuesday at Portland Tennis Center.
He'll have plenty of competition for the league title from Joel Kincaid and Charlie Cutler of Lincoln High and Eric Pickard of Wilson, all of whom reached the state tournament last year.
Hicks, who lost in the second round at state, has beaten Kincaid and Pickard this year. But both matches went three sets.
'Those guys are great tennis players,' Hicks says. 'I'm definitely not looking past them.'
Learning the business
Hicks has been playing tennis for 10 years. He learned the game by watching his parents, Anne and Dave, play at the Irvington Tennis Club. At 11, he got serious while attending the Academy, a junior tennis program run by University of Portland men's tennis coach Aaron Gross.
Gross says Hicks impressed him with his tenacity and spirit.
'I loved him right away because he was so feisty and into tennis,' Gross says. 'That's not something you see in all the players that age. A lot of kids are playing because their parents play and they're seeking attention. His parents have to hold him back.'
Hicks plays virtually every day, usually for several hours, and works on his physical fitness the rest of the time. He attends the Academy, at UP, four or five days per week.
'I'm constantly doing something that relates to tennis, whether it's hitting balls or jumping rope,' he says.
His mother says Tommy's practice schedule isn't out of line in their household, which includes three other siblings. Tommy is a triplet, along with sisters Madeline and Laura, who are varsity soccer players.
'Tommy takes challenging classes and gets good grades,' Anne Hicks says. 'He just manages his time incredibly well.'
The biggest knock on Hicks reaching the pro tour is his height, 5-9. Many of the best players in the world are several inches taller. That helps them generate power on their serve and ground strokes.
Hicks hopes he'll add at least a couple of inches before he leaves Grant, but for inspiration he looks to Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi, both 5-11.
The play of Agassi, in particular, inspires Hicks. Agassi just returned to the world's top ranking at age 33.
'I love the way he conducts himself on the court and the way he plays,' Hicks says. 'He leaves everything out on the court. I try to play that way.'
Grant coach Chuck Martell speaks highly of Hicks, partly because he's biased in favor of the east side of Portland, the side that doesn't include traditional tennis strongholds Lincoln and Wilson.
'We play tennis over here, too,' says Martell, who has been Grant's boys coach for 12 years.
Hicks ended the calendar year ranked 56th in the nation in 16-and-under play. He will play in that age group this summer, too. His big tournament will be the national championships, Aug. 1-10 in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Hicks mostly hits two-handed from the baseline, producing winners from well behind the net while wearing opponents down. Gross is working on making him more aggressive at the net.
'It's tough to break younger players out of what works for them because that's what they're comfortable with,' Gross says. 'But you've got to think down the road if you want to be successful at the next stage and develop a game that's more versatile.'
Gross, who won two state titles at Lincoln, compares Hicks' ability as a sophomore to Michael Calkins, who won three state titles while at Jesuit High and plays for the NCAA's top-rated school, Illinois.
'He has a ton of potential because he works so hard,' Gross says. 'I don't look at him and say that's Pete Sampras talent there, but he has a Michael Chang work ethic and that's the thing that will carry him through to a pro career if he makes it.'