When Greg Durham was the youngest player in the professional men’s tennis tournament at Kiwi Tennis Club in 2012, he was 14 years old and 5-foot-6. He was interesting to watch because of his talent but not a threat to win the tournament title.
Over the next two years, Durham grew nine inches taller and became a different player with increased potential.
Now the No. 1 singles player at Melbourne High, the senior will challenge for the District 10-4A title next week with hopes of advancing to the FHSAA state tournament.
What happened after Durham grew to 6-3 by the age of 16 required a difficult transition. The growth spurt that made him more of a threat for greater tennis success also forced him to change his game as he struggled to learn to play in a bigger body.
“Most of these guys, 5-8 to 5-10, rely on their baseline strokes,” Bulldogs coach Dave Kendall said.
As Durham’s body continued to grow, he adjusted to the increased stamina needed to move with more mass.
Durham went three years without reaching a final in USTA play until the Level 4 sectional in Delray Beach in September. He was unseeded yet won four matches.
“It does take a lot more work on my part,” Durham said. “I have to do a lot more footwork. There is an adjustment to timing. That can be thrown off a lot.”
With a greater energy expenditure, Durham couldn’t continue to sit back on the baseline, chasing down shots and waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.
“My forehand and my serve are my strengths,” he said. “I will look to come in to the net, and I will hit winners off the baseline.”
Basically, to win matches he had to make them shorter.
“He had to change his game style. I saw the transition, and I thought he did very well with that,” said Albert Go of Merritt Island, who is Durham’s doubles partner in USTA competition. “He had to develop that big serve and forehand. He’s not totally different, but before, his backhand was his favorite shot.”
Now 17, Durham has received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and will play on the tennis team there.
“They had a good recruiting class, so it’s going to be tough to make that lineup,” Durham said, but he’s working. “I’m on the court every day.”
And he has new weapons that he will apply toward the goal of making the state high school tournament before turning his attention to Annapolis, Md.
“He’s not a baseliner any more,” Kendall said. “He’s got such a wingspan. It really helps his game with his court coverage and power.”
His only loss this season so far was to Kaden Funk of Olympia, who won the Class 4A state title as a 10th-grader in 2014 and was a semifinalist last year.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Durham and the rest of the Melbourne team will compete in Fort Pierce for the District 10-4A title. He will compete at No. 1 singles, where the winner will advance to the state tournament.
Durham is a candidate to be one of the district’s top seeds. Among the favorites will be Vero Beach’s Erik Olliges, a 4A state quarterfinalist last spring. Kendall believes Durham’s year has prepared him to challenge for the title.
“Last year, he sort went through the season a little more easily,” Kendall said. “He’s playing a little better competition this year, so, going into the postseason, he’ll be better prepared,” Kendall said. “He’s really peaking right now. He’s playing as well as I’ve seen him.”
Contact McCallum at 321-242-3698 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Brian_McCallum and facebook.com/FLtoday.brianmccallum.