THEY say you have to work hard and take your lumps in just about anything before succeeding. Winnipeg's Sean Bailey spent his freshman year of university doing just that.
Now, he hopes to start seeing the payoff.
The 19-year-old Miles Macdonell Collegiate graduate recently completed his first season on the men's tennis team at Austin Peay State University (APSU), an NCAA Division-I school in Clarksville, Tenn. Despite being a freshman, he was the lead player on the Governors' singles team, taking on the top players from opposing schools, who would typically be in their third or fourth years.
"I got spanked a couple times," he admitted by phone from Clarksville. "It was tough... but at the same time I was able to just hang in, fight through and grind (the tough matches) out, so I think I learned a lot from that."
Bailey entered his college career already bearing impressive credentials on the court. Along with doubles partner Chad Lacap, he captured a bronze medal at the Canada Games last summer and is currently ranked as the No. 2 men's player in the province by Tennis Manitoba, behind only local great Doug DeVriendt.
Despite the aforementioned "spankings," Bailey added to his athletic accolades at APSU by being named second-team All-Conference as a freshman. Along with partner Henrique Norbiato, he finished with a 9-3 record in doubles, and earned a solid 8-8 record in singles, despite the tough competition. His efforts were rewarded when he received the team's Most Improved Player award -- a title richly deserved by a player who works as hard off the court as he does on it.
"He's one of those rare kids," said his long-time coach Peter Otto, currently the head pro at the Winnipeg Winter Club and Kildonan Tennis Club. "He's driven and focussed." He added that Bailey was one of his first students to take notes on the game and would frequently go out on the court on his own to practice footwork drills.
Otto has worked with Bailey since he started lessons at age 11 -- "a bit of a late starter," said the coach -- and he initially focussed on developing his new student into a grinder, the type of player who just keeps the ball in play and waits for his opponent to make a mistake. But as he developed physically through his teens, he was able to develop a more attacking game.
Now standing 6-foot-2, his long reach has enabled him to become a strong baseline player, and he's adding more and more power to his repertoire.
"Hitting more accurate shots at a better pace is definitely a goal," said Bailey. "Getting my serve speed up to a consistent 120 m.p.h., things like that."
With his seemingly boundless desire to improve -- he also works with a sports psychologist and keeps fit with boxing classes -- and three remaining years of eligibility, Bailey has an opportunity to succeed at a level few local players have. DeVriendt was the last Manitoban to excel at the Division-I level, and that was over a decade ago.
Bailey will spend the off-season testing his still-developing game against top competition. He recently flew to France to take on some of Europe's best amateur players.