SKYLAND – Coleman Baker was introduced to tennis by a former Roberson state champion and now hopes to follow in those footsteps.
Baker, now a junior, was in elementary school when former Rams standout Jacob Wright babysat him. Baker’s mom is the chorus teacher at the school and needed someone to watch Baker one evening.
Instead of taking Baker to a playground, Wright, who won the 3-A state championship in 2008 before playing at UNC Greensboro, took him to the back tennis courts on the campus and hit balls with him.
“I went home and told my parents that I wanted to take a lesson,” said Baker, who added that he still has a photo of himself from that night sitting in running shoes and khaki pants holding a tennis racket.
He began lessons the next day and, after having tried basketball, football and golf, found his sport. Several months later, he competed in his first tournament and played well.
“At my first lesson I was able to rally 15 or 20 balls and had never picked up a racket before, and I knew that something was up,” he said. “So I kept playing.”
Now Baker plays in tournaments almost every weekend and travels to summer camps to improve his game.
“He’s a dream to coach. Everything he does is to improve his game,” Roberson coach Buzz Cook said. “He works night and day to get better.”
Baker went to a college recruitment tennis camp in Florida in December to meet a variety of college coaches. His hope is to play Division I tennis.
That’s in the future, though. Right now he is focused on helping the Rams win another conference title and getting back to the state tournament in Raleigh.
The past two years he’s advanced to the quarterfinals — last year in singles and as a freshman in doubles.
“I want to do better in state championships this year,” he said. “I lost in the quarterfinals last year, and I really want to get the win this year or make it to the finals.”
Tennis isn’t his only activity, as he sings in the school’s choir and plays French horn. He likes to mountain bike and ride ATVs with his dad, he said.
Baker’s game has improved over the as he’s gotten bigger and stronger, Cook said, and it helps that he has three types of serves to confuse opponents.
“He can do everything on the court, but mostly he’s on the baseline,” Cook said. “He can serve and volley if he needs to. He tries to keep his opponent guessing.”
“I’m hitting the ball harder,” Baker said. “I’m more prepared mentally now. I used to not be in the mental side of tennis, but now I’m really into the mental side.”
Baker and the Rams improved to 4-0 with Thursday’s 6-3 win at North Buncombe. Baker beat the Black Hawks’ Holden Ballard in No. 1 singles, 6-3, 6-4. Noah Dohle (No. 2), Ian Cowan (No. 3), Abhishek Das (No. 5) and Ian McAdoo (No. 6) also won their singles matches.