Odesnik's enjoying deserved success at Roland Garros
PARIS -- Occasionally I get to write a story on someone I not only respect, but also someone I consider a friend. This is one of those times. I have tremendous admiration for Wayne Odesnik, the 22-year-old native of South Florida, for his dedication and willingness to do whatever it takes to reach his potential.
Through the past few years, Wayne and I developed a friendship that took on a similar mentor role that I benefited from with players of generations that preceded me, like Todd Martin and Jim Courier. Wayne sought me out for advice on everything from peripheral topics pertaining to his schedule, equipment and even his social life (which is probably a bad idea considering my track record!). We have also spent time on the court working on certain aspects of his game and a considerable more amount on ways to improve, ranging from off-court training in order to become a better athlete and ways of improving the mental aspects of his game.
I by no means want any credit for Wayne's success. I know that what happens between the lines belongs solely to the athlete doing the heavy lifting, but I have watched on with pride as Wayne has toppled two excellent players and was the first American through to the third round of the 2008 French Open with Wednesday's win over Lee Hyung-Taik. By virtue of Wayne's success here, his ranking will eclipse the top 100 for the first time, meaning direct entry into many more ATP events.
It has been a long and arduous climb up the rankings for Wayne, who has racked up the frequent flyer miles. The satellite and challenger tours are devoid of glamour but are the true testing grounds for players emotionally as much as physically. Some players flounder, while others like Wayne embrace the grind and develop an ability to thrive under adversity. Those skills come in handy once a player's game matures, and he's faced with the increased pressure and challenges on professional tennis at the highest level.
Odesnik had his breakthrough event at the U.S. Clay Courts in Houston six weeks ago, reaching the semifinals for the first time at the ATP level. The performance gave him confidence in his ability to compete at the highest levels.
"Houston helped me find belief that I was good enough to not only compete but beat some of the best players in the world," he says. "I came into this French Open knowing I was well prepared, physically fit, and looking forward to playing in my favorite tournament. I have tried to model my game after Rafael Nadal. I'm a lefty, I like to use my forehand to dictate play, and I enjoy the physical and mental challenge that playing on clay presents.
"The good news is I know I have a lot I can still improve. I need to use my serve as a weapon and get more comfortable finishing points at the net. Those will be big factors in me being able to put more pressure on my opponents. That being said, the biggest factor in me improving my ranking is believing in myself. My play here will go a long way toward that.
"Right now, I'm living my dream. I used to wake up and watch the French Open on TV and now I am right in the middle of it. I realize my next match with Djokovic is going to be tough, but I am going to go out there and hit my shots and enjoy every moment of it. I love playing tennis, and I am going to work as hard as I can because I want as many of these amazing experiences as possible."
I hope everyone else can now see why I think so highly of this young man. You will be hearing a lot more from him in the coming years.
Former ATP pro Justin Gimelstob will write periodically for SI.com from Roland Garros during the French Open.