Young Man on the Move
By Sally Milano, USTA.com
It’s not often that someone is featured in Sports Illustrated,
receives a special proclamation from the mayor of his hometown and is given a major award by local media. But these are just a few of the honors that 15-year-old tennis phenom Marcus Fugate has picked up after coming off one of the finest years of any player competing on the junior tennis circuit.
Fugate, who hails from Fairport, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester, began 2002 by capturing the singles title and reaching the doubles final at Teen Tennis in Telford, England, one of the most prominent 14-and-under events in the world. He then followed up that performance with an appearance in the singles and doubles semifinals at Les Petits As, the most prestigious 14-and-under tournament in the world, held in Tarbes, France.
In April, he won his first national title at the USTA Super National Spring Championships, The Easter Bowl. And in August, he represented the United States at World Junior Tennis, a 21-nation competition for players aged 14-and-under held in the Czech Republic, and led the U.S. team to its first championship in the history of the event.
“Those have pretty much been the highlights of my career so far,” says Fugate, who appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” last September, was recently named “Amateur Athlete of the Year” by the Rochester Press-Radio Club and was honored by Rochester Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. with the proclamation of “Marcus Fugate Day” on Feb. 22, 2002.
The 6’ 1”, 180-pound young man seems to have a promising career ahead of him, as well. Said former USTA National Coach Greg Patton after his performances in England and France, "He is one of the best athletes that we have in the juniors playing tennis. If he continues to maintain his commitment and love for the game, he could possibly develop into the Michael Jordan of tennis.”
Those are big expectations for someone who has yet to receive his driver’s license. But Fugate first picked up a racquet at the age of four and has been going strong ever since.
“My parents started taking me out with them to local parks because they played also, and I just watched. And then my dad put a racquet in my hands. He fed me balls, and I would just practice hitting. At around age eight, I started playing a tournament in Indianapolis when we would go up to see my grandmother, and when I started doing well in that tournament, my dad thought I had potential, so he started me with my current coach, and I’ve been with him three years and showing improvement.”
His coach is Billy Nealon, and the two have developed a strong relationship.
“We work on a lot of different things, like my technique, my mental, my physical. We sit down, and we have plans about what we’re going to do for the next year. [We] plan out what’s happening and then work on what I need to work on for my next tournament coming up, and we learn and sit down and talk about it. He’s a really nice guy.”
|(l. to r.) Dylan Arnould, Jonathan Boym, Marcus Fugate and team captain Greg Patton pose with their trophies after capturing the first World Junior Tennis championship for the United States (photo: Stephen Wake/ITF)|
One of the things that Fugate is contemplating is a move to Florida with his family to attend a tennis academy there. If the move were to happen, it would be after he completes ninth grade at Minerva Deland School in Fairport. Although his coach would not go with him, Fugate says Nealon does support the move.
“He played, also, when he was a junior, so he knows about this,” says Fugate, who is also a talented soccer player. “He knows that in order for me to get better, I have to get out of Rochester because there’s not too much competition. He thinks I need to train more and get more competitive play in, and in order for me to do that, I can’t stay in Rochester. So he thinks it’s a good idea for me to leave.”
In the meantime, Fugate continues to focus on school and tennis. His goals for the year include earning ITF points, qualifying for the US Open Junior Tennis Championships and moving his national ranking up in the boys’ 16s. Long-term, he would like to turn pro and follow in the footsteps of his idols, Andre Agassi and James Blake.
“Andre Agassi has been my favorite tennis player for as long as I can remember,” says Fugate, who has modeled his game after the eight-time Grand Slam champion. “I love his backhand, his return, his composure. Oh, he’s such a good player. He’s amazing.
“And James Blake. He’s another role model that I have because I’ve heard all about his academics and how he’s done there and just a lot of people like him. I’d really like to be like him as I progress in my tennis future. He went to Harvard for two years, and he stayed in school, and then he went on the pro tour. I really want to do what he did and go [to college] for two years and then however I’m doing after that, I can decide if I want to go pro or stay in college. I’d really like to do what he did.”
And maybe even do battle with him on the court one day.
“I’d like to definitely go pro at one time or another and compete against the top players, like [Lleyton] Hewitt and Blake. I think it’d be a lot of fun to play your idol. I look forward to hopefully doing that one day.”