By Zack Goldman
Flushing Meadows, New York is the American mecca of tennis, a location where the names Connors, McEnroe, Sampras and Federer require neither foreword nor elucidation.Â Â
For two weeks in late August and early September, all eyes in the sporting world lock firmly on the United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the site of the annual U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam tennis tournament of the calendar year.Â And players like Ryan Thacher â08 venture from all corners of the globe to battle it out against the best tennis has to offer.
Only Thacher is a high school senior, and he participated in the Junior Boysâ Singles draw of the Open instead of slugging it out with high-profile pros like Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick. For him, that did not make the competition any less intriguing, as he was one of the final sixteen competitors left in his first attempt at a Juniors grand slam.
âIt was certainly a new experience,â Thacher said.Â âThereâs a different feel and environment with professionals competing [at the same location]. I didnât know what to expect, so I went in without expectations and just tried to enjoy myself.â
Heâs been touted as the USTAâs number one Juniors prospect and one of the next great hopes for American tennis by many, but unlike other tennis wunderkinds his age, Thacher is bent on getting a college degree before heading into the professional ranks of tennis. He is taking the road less traveled for tennis youths by sticking with a mantra that is unusual in todayâs sports world: education before athletics.
As a result of his runner-up performance at this yearâs 2007 Boysâ Under-18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Thacher could have tried to qualify for the Menâs Singles competiton at this yearâs U.S. Open, but opted to be inserted in the Juniors draw instead.
After making quick work of Australiaâs Jared Easton, 6-2, 6-1, Thacher met Stephane Piro of France, the tournamentâs seventh seed.Â Despite Piroâs high ranking, Thacher yet again won without dropping a set, defeating Piro 6-4, 6-3.Â
He fell in his next test, though, to Great Britainâs Daniel Evans, who ground out a 6-4, 7-6 (3) third round victory, which ended Thacherâs run.
Thacher is renowned throughout the Juniors circuit for his outstanding power and positioning, and has been gushed over by Sports Illustrated and cheered by the Los Angeles Times.
However, he has also drawn praise for his character, maturity, and intelligence off the court.
âHe carries himself as a member of our student body,â Athletic Director Audrius Barzdukas said. âHe could walk around like the big man on campus, but he doesnât.â