David Nguyen remembers being 7 and watching Pete Sampras on television, as the tennis great dominated opponents in far-flung places.
It was not long afterward that Nguyen lobbied his parents for his own racket and the chance to take his game far from their Columbia home.
Ten years later, Nguyen is starting his third season at Wilde Lake with big expectations. The junior is coming off a year in which he finished 21-0 and won Howard County, regional and state titles.
"Pete Sampras inspired me, but I always just had a natural tendency toward tennis," Nguyen said. "Of course, I have worked hard at it and my parents have been supportive."
Last season, Nguyen was ranked fourth in the state, but he upset Jared Pinsky of Churchill in the state semifinals and then Chris Godwin of Rockville in the final.
Pinsky is a two-time Washington Post Player of the Year, a two-time state champion and one of the top-ranked players by the U.S. Tennis Association. Prior to that semifinal match, Nguyen had been 0-10 against Pinsky.
Nguyen, who is Wilde Lake's only individual state champion, was named a 2006 All-American by the National High School Tennis All-American Foundation.
"It was pretty intimidating because I was representing my school and wanted to do my best," Nguyen said of the state championship. "Still, I tried to focus on my game plan instead of just winning. It will be really tough to repeat. Jared Pinsky [now a senior] has gotten even better."
Nguyen keeps getting better, too, said Wilde Lake coach Ron Shelton, who said that one of Nguyen's strengths is his ability to develop a strategy that takes advantage of his opponent's weaknesses.
"David is pretty solid all around from ground strokes to his all-around game," Shelton said. "He is also pretty consistent. Instead of going for big, fancy shots, the kid knows how to play high-percentage tennis. I think he improved a lot last year. He added some things to his game that he didn't have before, one of which was more variety."
Nguyen said he is more concerned about refining his serve and working on volleys than dominating an opponent. This season, he said he is trying to develop better strategies for each match.
"I need to develop a bigger serve," Nguyen said. "I also need to plan out what I am going to do. That means not just going for winners. I need to control the points."
The poise that Nguyen has shown on the high school courts can be attributed to the competition he faces in tournaments outside of school. He already has realized his childhood dream of playing all over the world, as he has competed in tournaments in Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Bolivia and Malaysia.
The tournaments are generally set up with the age groups two years apart, so it is not uncommon for Nguyen to find himself playing an older opponent.
"Those tournaments are really tough because the players come from all over the world," said Nguyen, whose father, Tri Nguyen, is his coach at international tournaments. "They are quicker and their intensity is higher. Most of the kids are home-schooled or don't go to school at all."
Shelton said Nguyen is a quiet leader who has earned the respect of his teammates and helped to elevate their games.
"The kids really enjoy having him on the team," Shelton said. "They marvel at his skills and love to see him play. They have so much support for him and he really enjoys that. Even though no one on my team is close to beating him, they support him a lot when he is on the court and playing."
Nguyen has visions of following in the footsteps of Sampras.
"My goal is to play pro," Nguyen said. "I do want to go to college for at least one year, and if I feel I am good enough, I'll take leave. A lot of the good players do that."
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
Burgin, who is the nephew of former tennis pro Elise Burgin, is the returning regional and Baltimore County champion at No. 2 singles.
Kelly is coming off an undefeated season and is the defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association champion at No. 1 singles.
Kachay won the Baltimore County title last season and also won a regional crown.
Quintero finished last season 19-1, winning the Howard County and regional championships.