NJTL product thrives as Davis Cup ballperson

August 22, 2016 03:12 PM

By Ryan Clarke, special to USTAFoundation.com

Star tennis players from Croatia and the United States faced off in the Davis Cup quarterfinals at Tualatin Hills Tennis Center in Portland, Ore., in July, bringing with them plenty of fanfare.

One young, diehard fan from North Portland got closer to the action than just about anybody.

Miguel Diaz De Leon, 16, was selected to be a ballperson by the United States Tennis Association. Officials liked his quick reactions, speed and on-court awareness. He was one of 22 ballpersons at the event.

“There were 72 kids trying out,” said De Leon. “We did drills where we ran around the court, tossing and catching tennis balls, and we got picked after that.”

De Leon will be a junior next fall at Oregon Connections Academy — a free K-12 online charter school authorized by the Santiam Canyon School District.

While he studies online, he plays tennis for Roosevelt High in Portland, and he earned a $1,000 scholarship from the USTA’s National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) program.

When he was 9, he fell in love with the game of tennis.

“My elementary school had an after-school tennis program,” De Leon said. “I decided to jump in and see if I liked it — and I did.”

Taking classes online through Oregon Connections Academy makes time management easier, he said.

“With me being a student-athlete, it’s great that they’re able to work with my schedule,” he said. “I get more tennis time, and it helps me a lot.”

De Leon plays for Portland Tennis & Education as well as Roosevelt. Both have been major factors in his development, and he said he appreciates how welcoming the Roosevelt team has been of him.

“The kids at Roosevelt are really friendly,” he said. “It’s been awesome hanging out and playing with them the past couple of years.”

While he has learned plenty from playing the game, watching others play at such a high level tournament as the Davis Cup provided an opportunity to see what it takes to succeed as a professional.

With Jack Sock, John Isner and the Bryan twins, Bob and Mike, in town to play for U.S. captain Jim Courier and against Croatia, there was plenty of tennis knowledge.

“Knowing that one day I could be here is crazy,” De leon said with confidence, quickly reverting to his humble demeanor. “I’ve learned from them to just stay focused, be positive and wish for the best. My mental game is something I’m really trying to improve.”

He said watching thrilling matches such as Sock’s upset of 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic inspired him to keep playing and improving and, if all goes well, play tennis in college.

“I’m not sure what college yet,” he said. “I’m going to start thinking about it more often next year and take some college visits. Hopefully one day I’ll have a chance to play at that level.”

To read this story as it originally appeared in the Portland Tribune, click here.



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