Roll With It Monthly A Junior Comes of Age

Jason Allen | June 01, 2017

Although all articles in the Roll With It monthly newsletter are written in third person, I have chosen to write this one in first person. I was able to witness the amazing transformation of a remarkable young man during the recent World Team Cup event in Sardinia, Italy. I first met Nathan Melnyk this past February in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the All Comers Camp, a national camp to promote awareness of wheelchair tennis. My first impression was great. He was extremely polite and well-behaved. He also seemed to be a good player but, like most juniors, lacked experience.

When it was announced that Nathan would join Conner Stroud and Joanna Nieh as members of the junior squad for the 2017 World Team Cup – the wheelchair equivalent of Davis Cup and Fed Cup – I was excited to know we would be traveling together so I could get to know him better. I knew the competition would be fierce and, although he has good technique, a lack of experience is usually a large inhibitor in competitions of this level.

Click here for the U.S. recap and results from the 2017 World Team Cup

When play began in Sardinia, Nathan did not fare extremely well. He looked uncomfortable, was unsure of himself, and it showed in his tennis. However, over the course of a few days, I witnessed something magical. Nathan started to gain some confidence in his game and he ended up being a key contributor to the junior team winning the world championship.

Looking back, there were a few factors that led to his improved performance. First, the chance to play doubles with one of the most dominant juniors in the world, Conner Stroud, certainly helped. It is a great feeling to get a ball back in play, and then when your opponent returns it, have a partner like Conner to blast it away into oblivion. Second, having a teacher with as much experience as USTA national wheelchair coach Jason Harnett ended up being monumental, as he catapulted Nathan into believing he could be a world champion.

Related Story: Juniors three-peat at World Team Cup

For me, it was a very special thing to experience. I saw a teenager instantly become a man and a world champion in the blink of an eye. For most coaches, it is rare to see a player rise to the occasion as Nathan did and far exceed expectations.

I had a chance to tour the city of Alghero in Sardinia with Nathan after the tournament and we spoke about his experience at length. He told me, “Before the tournament I never thought we had a chance. Although I am amazed that we won the tournament, throughout the course of the week I felt that I was getting better and better, and by the end, I knew we had it.”

Jason Allen is the manager for Wheelchair Tennis for the USTA. He works out of the USTA National Campus at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla.



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