April 14, 2005
by DAN MOONEY
Tommy Hicks learned early about battling for everything you earn in life.
How early? Try the day he was born two months premature as a triplet and weighing 3 pounds, 8 ounces.
Now 18 and a Grant High School senior, Hicks has developed into a Division I college tennis player behind a tireless spirit on and off the court.
"You run across a few kids who love everything about the game," said Aaron Gross, the University of Portland tennis coach who has worked with Hicks since Hicks was 11. "Tommy is one of those kids. He's interested in parts of the game other kids are not."
Gross has seen Hicks blossom into an outstanding talent who will play in college at Santa Clara University in Northern California.
But before that, Hicks will try in May to become a four-time Portland Interscholastic League champion. He also will aim to become a state champion when the OSAA state tournament is played at the Portland Tennis Center and the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center May 19-21.
Hicks is well acquainted with the state tournament. The past two seasons, he reached the final at Tualatin Hills before falling short of a state title.
"A state title isn't my No. 1 goal in life," Hicks said, "but it would be cool."
What truly is cool to Hicks is all things tennis and, more specifically, working hard at the game.
Hicks has grown to 5-foot-10, 145 pounds and has turned himself into a physical specimen with extreme stamina.
"Conditioning is a big deal to me," Hicks said. "It fits me, because I'm a grinder on the court."
In addition to working out alongside Gross at the University of Portland, Hicks trains largely at the Irvington Tennis Club in Northeast Portland, not far from where he lives with his family, including birthday-sharing sisters Madeline and Laura.
He says he plays some there, but it's more "running and weight training." Hicks also trains with weights at Grant, and he incorporates sprint work into his regimen.
All that effort outside the court has helped him win many matches by wearing down opponents.
"I'm at my best in hot conditions," Hicks said.
Hicks often spends much of a match on the baseline, waiting for an opponent to make a mistake.
"Tommy's always had more of a defensive mind-set," Gross said. "Ninety percent of his game is counterpunching."
When asked about the strengths of his game, Hicks mentioned his ground strokes and decision making.
In the same instance, Hicks said he wants to hit the ball with "more pace" and develop a bigger serve.
Hicks follows professional tennis closely and is a huge fan of Australian star Lleyton Hewitt. The 5-10 Hewitt, who resembles Hicks physically, has developed into a standout server.
"He doesn't have a rocket serve like Andy Roddick, but it's very good," Hicks said. "That's something I'd like to have."
Hicks' ability drew the attention of a number of Division I programs. Hicks, who has concentrated solely on tennis since giving up soccer as a youth, narrowed his college choices to Pepperdine, Arizona State, Portland and Santa Clara.
"I really liked Tommy's single-mindedness to tennis," Santa Clara coach George Husack said. "There's no offseason to tennis and Tommy has shown that he's dedicated to the sport year-round. That was very attractive."
Husack said his school gives 41/2 scholarships a year, and "Tommy is definitely one of our four scholarship guys."
Hicks and Gross concede the recruiting process wasn't easy for either.
"It was hard to separate out my personal feelings from what I wanted as a coach and for my team," Gross said. "I'm very happy for Tommy, though. George is a close friend and I really feel Tommy will do big things at Santa Clara."
Hicks said some of the reasons he decided on Santa Clara, which like Portland competes in the West Coast Conference, were a chance to play outdoors year-round and family ties to the Bay Area.
"It was tough, though," Hicks said. "I respect Aaron so much and what he's meant to my game."
Dan Mooney: 503-221-8161; email@example.com