Lendl's tennis academy sends first to college with Wilson

mmccombs@islandpacket.comOctober 23, 2012 

Nic Wilson said having Ivan Lendl watch you play for the first time can be a little intimidating.

"Having him on the court when you're playing is just weird," Wilson said. "You can't even feel the racket for the first few minutes."

Wilson should know. As a student at Hilton Head Island's Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy, Wilson has had the opportunity to meet the tennis legend.

And now Wilson will have the opportunity to be the first former student to represent the one-year-old academy in college after committing to Virginia Tech last week.

"Being the first, that's just something you can't take away," the Bristol, Tenn., native said.

Wilson led the Tennessee High School Vikings to the 2011 Tennessee AAA state championship before enrolling in Lendl's academy in January 2012.

"I saw him play at Kiawah in October of last year," said David Lewis, the director of instruction for the Ivan Lendl IJTA. "I thought, 'he hits a very good ball,' and one thing led to another and he ended up at the academy. He's made very good progress since he's been here."

Even with that progress, Wilson considered returning to Tennessee but decided to stay. Lewis said Wilson came back this fall and picked up where he left off.

According to Lewis, the mental aspect of the game is where Wilson has improved the most.

"He's just maturing mentally," Lewis said. "He learned to accept that you're going to lose matches, and knowing how to deal with it and how to handle it on the court. The mental side is important in any sport, especially in tennis as an individual sport. It's a big area Nic has made strides in.

"His game has matured," Lewis said. "Physically, mentally, in every area, he's stepped up. He's a great kid, very coachable."

Wilson found the biggest difference between home and the academy, aside from the time spent on tennis, was the emphasis on constant improvement.

"It's on a daily basis, the push to improve," Wilson said. "The coaches, especially David (Lewis), put it in your head constantly to improve instead of the same old routine of rallying every day, just hitting balls."

When Wilson was deciding on colleges, the coaches -- head coach Jim Thompson and assistant Stephen Huss -- were a big reason Wilson chose Virginia Tech. He also liked the Blacksburg, Va., campus and the fact it was just a two-hour drive from Bristol.

Wilson, who completed high school online, is enrolling in January after graduation next month. He isn't sure if he'll play right away. If he's not clearly better than the competition at No. 5 singles, he says he'll be redshirted.

Back on the topic of Lendl, Wilson said he's different from the stoic competitor fans saw on the court. Wilson said he laughes and jokes around and has played a practical joke or two.

As for his time at the academy, Wilson said it actually worked out better than he expected.

"If you're considering coming here," Wilson said, "I would definitely advise it."

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