A day after Spencer Talmadge became the first tennis player in Serra High history to win the Central Coast Section singles championship, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior couldn't walk the hallways of school without someone giving him a high-five.
Daily Journal Sports File
Serra's Spencer Talmadge has been one of the best players in CCS since his freshman season. This year as a junior, he captured the WCAL and CCS championships.
Then he received a standing ovation from his classmates in one of his early classes. It was well-deserved. Talmadge's three-set win over Sacred Heart Prep's Erik Blumenkranz in the championship match capped a spectacular season, one that included a West Catholic Athletic League singles title. Talmadge, the Daily Journal Boys' Tennis Player of the Year, finished 29-1, with his lone loss coming to Bellarmine's Eric Johnson, a defeat he avenged in the WCAL tournament.
"It was special to win CCS because Serra has never been known for tennis," Talmadge said. "The win was really good for our school and team. It was nice getting applause and it makes you feel great. It was disappointing to end up with one loss, but I felt real good about my record and accomplishments."
Talmadge's game is coming together at the perfect time. He's receiving interest from a number of prominent Division I schools, and his confidence continues to sky rocket. His efforts in the WCAL and CCS tournaments were nothing short of extraordinary. Time and again he engaged in long and fierce three-set battles, testing his will and his fitness, which has never been his strong suit.
However, Talmadge passed those tests with flying colors, producing some magnificent tennis in the process. Talmadge entered the season with goals of winning the WCAL and CCS championships, something he came up short in last year. But he wasn't going to be denied this season, despite facing some big-time competition. Talmadge counts his 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) win over Jordan Kepler of Aptos in the quarterfinals as one of his defining matches.
The two players are mirror images, as both resemble football players more than tennis ones. They pound the ball off both sides, hit rocket serves and can win points at the net, too. It was a battle of attrition, and Talmadge prevailed through sheer willpower and determination. It wasn't easy. In the first set Talmadge uncharacteristically showed some emotion, frustrated with his inability to establish any semblance of a rhythm.
"I was getting pissed off in the first set because I couldn't figure out how to beat him," he said. "As the match wore on I tried to stay intense and find ways to get the ball past him. The match came down to who could get the ball past each other and force the other guy to be on the defensive."
A year ago, Talmadge wouldn't have won this match. But he's improved in every phase of the game -- both mentally and physically -- allowing him to come out on top. Talmadge's biggest weakness growing up was his fitness. There aren't many high-level tennis players who weigh over 200 pounds; Talmadge has always been bigger than his tennis peers. He admits he views running drills as a necessary evil to improve his game. But there's no doubt he's as fit as he's ever been, and he knows he has to continue to improve his fitness level to maximize his enormous potential.
His strokes are already there. Talmadge is able to control points from the baseline by hitting with heavy topspin off both wings. His ball bounces off the court with tremendous spin, making it tough for his opponents to handle. When Talmadge is on his game, his shots are like guided missiles that go for winners. But Talmadge also hurts the opposition with finesse. He occasionally uses a backhand slice, complementing his power game and allowing him to get into great position when he approaches the net.
A solid doubles player -- Talmadge and Menlo School's Daniel Hoffman teamed up to win a U.S.T.A. national level tier-III tournament in Fresno last month -- Talmadge wins a number of points with his sharp volleys. Talmadge will never be one to toot his own horn. He lets his racket do all the talking, rarely showing emotion, positive or negative. But make no mistake: Beyond Talmadge's poker face lies an unbelievable competitor who lives to play tennis.
"When I have good wins against good players it always boosts my confidence," he said. "Losing always helps me to realize my weaknesses and make me work on certain things to get better."
Talmadge first started playing tennis at 5 but didn't take the sports seriously until he was 9. At the start of his career he had difficulties putting together and finishing off points. Today he's become adept at punishing foes, constructing points and delivering winners from just about anywhere on the court.
When Talmadge, a Hillsborough resident, decided to come to Serra, Padres coach Tom Stone was elated.
"He's the type of player that can change a program around," Stone told the Daily Journal during Talmadge's freshman year. "He's that good. The sky is the limit for him."
Stone has proved to be prophetic. It doesn't hurt that Talmadge has some serious athletic bloodlines in his family. Talmadge said he has two uncles in Serra's athletic Hall of Fame as swimmers, and he received his size from his dad Mark, who also stands 6-2. Talmadge is the rare high-level junior tennis player who balances U.S.T.A. play with high school. Stone has always been able to count on Talmadge to be there for the team.
Unlike a number of today's junior players, Talmadge rarely misses out on an important high school event because of tournament conflicts. Because of his dedication to both avenues, Talmadge has enjoyed a breakthrough year. In addition to his exploits on the prep scene, Talmadge has flourished in junior tournament action, garnering a top-five ranking in the Northern California 18-and-under list.
So where does he go from here? Talmadge is intent on taking his game as far as he can. Whenever Talmadge feels his game is stagnating, he looks for ways to improve.
"I realized I had to get fit to play at a higher level for long matches," Talmadge said. "I had to develop my game and find a new level."
And once Talmadge did that, he produced one of the greatest seasons in section history.