A coach from an opposing team approached Covenant Day boys tennis player Will Roberson before a recent match and half-jokingly encouraged the senior to take it easy on the player he’d be facing that day. Roberson didn’t heed his advice, however, and in dominating fashion cruised to his second singles victory of the year.
During the course of the Lions’ doubles match that same day, Roberson broke one of his opponent’s racquet strings on a serve and, after smashing an untouchable ace on another particularly eye-opening serve, left the other boy miffed.
“Wow,” one of Roberson’s doubles opponents said while shaking his head after the ace sailed past him. “I don’t think that was very average.”
Roberson’s serve – much like his game and his ascent in tennis – is far from average. When he hits the ball, the sound is noticeably different from other players on the court. And while Roberson has been the Lions’ No. 1 player since his sophomore year, he almost never reached his immense potential.
After taking a couple of tennis lessons leading up to his high school years, Roberson was the Lions’ No. 8 player as a freshman. He said he nearly quit the game because he wasn’t playing much and didn’t see himself improving.
But that all began to change when Roberson started taking lessons with John Sadri, a former Myers Park High standout who went on to become a two-time all-American at N.C. State and climbed as high as the 14th-ranked player in the world.
With Sadri’s help this past summer, Roberson’s transformation on the court reached a new height, and he committed to Queens University of Charlotte after also being recruited by Appalachian State and Randolph-Macon College (Va.), among others.
“I started training with John Sadri, and he helped put my game together,” Roberson said. “He pushed me, but in a good way, and all of it started to come together.”
In only his fourth year of playing organized tennis, Roberson has gone from barely making the team as a ninth-grader to a college recruit and the Lions’ No. 1 player, a position he’s maintained since his sophomore season.
“Last year was kind of my breakout year,” said Roberson, who pointed to an early 2012 match against Providence Day as the turning point to his season.
“That match versus Providence Day is when my game kind of came alive. I was playing pretty well up until that point, but I was going against their No. 1 (player) and I just kind of smoked him. I’ve been playing better ever since.”
Last season, Roberson had a 12-3 record in singles play and was a first-team all-state selection by the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association. Tennisrecruiting.net ranks Roberson as the No. 29 player in the state, but Lions coach George Wolbers believes his star player is just scratching the surface of his potential.
“He’s made some real good progress,” Wolbers said. “His work ethic is great, and he’s been a great example of putting in hard work and he’s been an excellent role model for the position of captain. His leadership is so important to us, especially this year, because we’re such a young team.”
Roberson said that despite the Lions’ youth, he believes they’re one of the three best teams in the state and, after making the playoffs last year, ready to challenge for the championship.
“I think once we get the team chemistry together we’ll be really good,” he said. “We have some new guys and have some guys that have been here for a while, but we’re really young. I think we can make it to the finals, and my goal is to get there and win the state championship.
“We’re good enough to do that.”
While Roberson is the headliner, the Lions have talent at every position, according to Wolbers. Will Ockerman has opened the season as the No. 2 player, and Matthew Fisher, Jacob Wall, Davis Riggins and Caleb Keaton have also been strong in singles play.
But Roberson’s play and leadership skills will be an integral part of how good the Lions will be.
“His leadership is great for us,” Wolbers said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the best player or not, he treats everyone the same all the time. He’s a great kid and a great leader for us.
“Sometimes you can define a player as a frontrunner, a come-from-behind player or a nip-and-tuck specialist,” the second-year coach added. “He’s good at all of them. He’s been phenomenal in some really tight moments, and he’s come out with some tremendous shots and moments when other people would fold, so he can do it all.”
Roberson said his summer training regimen motivated him to become an even better player. He competed in the U.S. Tennis Association’s Southern tournament in Mobile, Ala., and also played in a string of competitions that pitted him against players already in college.
“That was tough,” Roberson said of facing the college players. “I played some really good players, like the No. 1 from (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and players from some other schools.
“I had some wins and had some losses, but it got me ready for the year and showed me what I’ll see in college, so that was really helpful.”
Roberson said he plans on playing the college tour again, but first he has some goals to accomplish as he tries to lead the Lions deep into the playoffs.
“I want to go undefeated as a singles player,” Roberson said. “Right now I’m 2-0, so I’m off to a pretty good start with that. And I want to continue to do all that I can to help us get where we need to be.”
Roberson said his best attributes on the court are his serve and his forehand that he uses to set up the rest of his game.
“I have an aggressive game,” Roberson said. “I don’t really like to stay back and grind and wait for my opponent to miss. I like to set the point up my own way and with my own strengths.”
With their ace having a strong senior season, Wolbers believes the Lions are a bona fide state championship contender.
“Will’s setting the groundwork for what we’re doing here,” Wolbers said. “When he graduates, I don’t want our guys to have to talk about all that he did here as a captain; I want them to experience it and see it for themselves.
“He’s a great kid. I’ve been fortunate to be connected with him and this group.”