Climbing the Ladder
May 7, 2014
This article appeared in the most recent copy of the Gold Rush
By Sam Walker, Gold Rush
Stamina can be intimidating. In college tennis, it can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Certainly, physical stamina is a must when the body might endure long points, long games, long sets and marathon matches. But mental stamina -- that raw grit, fortitude and resilience that a player like Wake Forest senior Adam Lee possesses -- can weigh heavily on his opponent even before the first toss of the ball.
Lee was born in Sheffield, United Kingdom, but grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, and from the age of 12 he gave soccer as much attention as tennis. But at the age of 15 he knew he had to make a choice, and tennis won his focus.
He achieved a junior ranking of 91st in the world and won two ITF Junior singles titles along with one doubles title. He won the 2009 New Zealand 18 and under singles title. Many a U.S. university came calling, but then Wake Forest assistant coach Brett Ross conveyed the value of Wake Forest to Lee, and one visit to Winston-Salem was all it took for Lee to cancel all his other scheduled official visits that included as many as seven other major programs.
Now Lee is the lone senior on a young Wake Forest men's tennis team that has just two juniors, seven sophomores, one redshirt freshman and five true freshmen. He is coming off a junior season where he etched his name atop the record book for most single-season singles victories in school history and was leading the youthful Deacons to a winning season at 14-8 overall after back to back team wins over Boston College and George Washington in early April.
"Right now mentally one of his greatest strengths is that he is just a great athlete, is tough, just never gives in, and overall he has a world-class backhand," said second-year head coach Tony Bresky. "There isn't a part of his game where there's a weakness. He serves well, he can come forward, he keeps balls in play, he can attack, he can defend, and he can adapt to his opponent and figure out what they don't like, and he can do that. He can do a bit of everything."
This season Lee is playing mostly No. 2 singles, up from No. 4 and No. 5 from a season ago, and through April 6 was 17-11 overall in singles and ranked 45th by the ITA. He was 12-9 in doubles playing with three different partners. The numbers aren't the 38 singles wins of a year ago, but the season isn't over, he's playing a higher-seeded position, and the schedule has been stacked with tough competition.
"I started off the year pretty well, then I got hurt and had to have cortisone shot, and now I'm back on winning terms," Lee said. "Being the lone senior and captain is definitely an honor. It's definitely tough leading a young team, but I was one of those guys before, and you learn as you get older. Last year it was just a matter of working hard, and I believed in myself a lot. Getting wins every week just builds your confidence, and I just got to a spot where I felt like I could never lose. The credit goes to the coaching staff because I couldn't have done it without those guys. It was an incredible year and achievements I'll always have. When people have a lot of confidence in you it always helps."
As a junior, Lee earned All-ACC honors and went 38-9 in singles, including a 24-2 mark in dual matches. He won his last 12 matches of the season and went 25-11 in doubles, playing mostly with Danny Kreyman.
"He started out the year at No. 5 and finished out at number 4 and he got on a great roll there," Bresky said. "The thing about him was when your opponent stepped on the court with him, they realized it was going to be long and painful, and that he was never going to quit. They were going to have to work for everything. That goes a long ways in college tennis. And arguably he was the best player on our team at that time. Unfortunately, because of the way the ITA rules work, it would have been tough to move him up any further, but it would have been interesting to see what kind of success he could have at the top of our lineup because he did have an outstanding year."
According to Bresky, Lee's ability to mold his game to the situation makes him an ideal doubles partner for any teammate, and it also makes him incredibly difficult to play in singles because he can adjust his style of play to any opponent.
"I'm playing a few spots up in the lineup, but I gained confidence from the summer and my season before (junior season), and then you start to develop as you play better players up in the lineup," Lee said.
Things are going well for Lee, but that wasn't always the case. When he came to Wake Forest Jeff Zinn was the head coach. Bresky took over in 2012.
Change is certain in life but not usually easy. Admittedly, there were moments of frustration. Lee was a talent, adjusting to collegiate tennis after enrolling at Wake Forest in January of 2011, and some of the adjustments that Bresky saw he needed to make were mental ones. Sometimes Lee's emotions got in the way of his talent, which stood in the way of victories.
"When I first arrived you could obviously see right away he is a great athlete, very quick, very strong and having said that, he had a bit of a temper and maybe had some issues on the court of not always being mentally ready to compete and fight his hardest," Bresky said. "He has matured so much from a mental standpoint ,and of course he's gotten stronger and better from a physical standpoint. That (his mental game) was the biggest thing we had to work on with him. But now you know every time he steps on the court he's going to fight his hardest and leave everything on the court do what he can do come out on top in the end."
The result is Lee has become one of the finest players in the ACC and is a consummate team player that puts the success of team above personal success.
"There was a bit of a transition, and there were a lot of changes from the last coach that was here, different coaching styles or philosophies or whatever, and that was something Adam had to get used to," Bresky said. "But now I think he's made as much or more improvement in the past two years as anybody I've coached in my 13 years of coaching."
Lee gives Bresky a great deal of credit for helping him make the successful transition from a top junior player to collegiate standout.
"Coach Bresky has definitely been a big part of my life and changed a lot of things about my game," Lee said. "He was strict on me. He told me I had to do this and that to get better, and it completely changed my perspective. Now I've had him for three years now and he completely changed me as a player."
Bresky said that he has enjoyed Lee grow as a player and a leader in his time as a Deacon.
"I did inherit him, but he has improved a ton since he came here," Bresky said. "He played a little No. 6 and was in an out of the lineup as a freshman, and now he has worked all the way up to No. 2 singles, he's nationally ranked, and hopefully will finish out the regular season playing strong and play in the NCAA Tournament which would be great for him. He's team captain and a great leader for the younger guys. Overall he's responsible, well-liked by his teammates and obviously we're going to miss him when he graduates."