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Building an American Nadal

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“The drill sergeant would come in screaming and wake us up in the middle of the night,” Jenkins says.

They stormed the beachhead. They stormed the mountaintop. Machine-gun fire blazed on in the background.

After camp, Chase was voted by the Marines “most inspirational warrior.” He wasn’t timid. “From the very first minute he totally submitted himself,” Williams says. “He was like, Carve me, make me, I’m in it, whatever it takes.”

But on the court, Chase still lost. He’d blow a point, get emotional about it, crack his racquet, and spiral downward. It almost felt like he wanted to lose.

“He was tanking matches,” says Jenkins. “His greatest weakness is himself.” Chase’s attitude on the court was so poor that DiLucia wrote him a letter this spring. The coach won’t disclose what was said, but it’s fair to suspect that DiLucia doubted Chase’s commitment to being a pro and wondered if he deserved his place in the academy dorms when so many other kids around the country wanted it more.

It’s hard to say if DiLucia’s heart-to-heart is what motivated Chase to win his matches, but he began to dominate. In April, he won the Easter Bowl, a prestigious tournament in California, losing only two sets along the way. In May, he won the Grand Harbor Classic, his first pro tournament victory, in Vero Beach. It was the first time a 16-year-old had competed in the tournament’s fourteen-year history, and it was an impressive win. Chase dropped the first set, rallied back in the second, won the third in a tiebreaker, and committed only one double fault all match. Then he went to Europe—and lost early in three of four tournaments, twice in the first round, once in the second. “I was projecting,” he says.

This year’s junior Open tournament begins September 2. Chase is a top seed but hardly the favorite. Under 18, he is ranked seventh in the country, and 21st in the world. He’s behind fellow American Ryan Harrison, 16, of Texas, who is his doubles partner. This month, they won the national tournament in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and earned a wild-card berth to play with the pros. Chase also won a chance to qualify to compete in the men’s singles bracket the weekend of August 19. His challenge is mental. “If I can stay in the moment, I like my chances,” he says.

He won’t be returning to the academy in the fall. McEnroe believes the academy needs younger players, and Chase is on the verge of beginning his pro career. “We know, through research, that kids pick their favorite sport prior to 12 years old, and we want to get great athletes into tennis,” he says. “We’re in this for the long haul, and it’s gonna be a long haul.”


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