Gunn senior Conrad Russell brought home a U18 Nor Cal Section championship in boy's tennis last weekend at the Broadstone Racquet Club in El Dorado Hills. He bested Wilhelm Saiga, a senior at Tamiscal High School, in a three-hour match, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6.
As a result, Russell flew to New York to play in the U18 National Selection tournament.
"Winning sectionals was a massive confidence booster," Russell said. "I've had a rough couple of months, so winning a sectional title was big for me."
This is just one of the many accolades Russell has achieved throughout his young, fruitful tennis career. The path to success, however, was a long time coming.
Russell dove into the sport of tennis at age four, going with his parents to the local club for casual lessons. As he played more and more, he began to quickly surpass his peers. At age 7, he began to take tennis seriously and started training five days a week.
At the age of 9, Russell participated in his first professional tournament.
"I won sectionals, regionals and got fourth at nationals," Russell said. "It was my first breakthrough."
From there, Russell was hooked. He ate, slept and breathed tennis, sacrificing free time on weekends to grind on the courts. Aside from hard work, his competitive nature is what pushed him to excel in the game. Through his wins and losses, he matured as a player and, more importantly, as a person.
"Having to battle back from missed opportunities and failed expectations is brutal," Russell said. "Having that experience has made me a resilient person."
Russell quickly rose up the tennis recruiting rankings, even holding a top 10 spot at one point. Currently, he is a five star recruit.
"Tennis has changed my life for the better; It has ingrained discipline, independence, and responsibility into my character and has truly transformed my work ethic," Russell said. "Through tennis I have made some lifelong friendships and have traveled all over the U.S. and abroad."
Russell has yet to commit to college.
"I will try to take tennis as far as I possibly can," Russell said. "If I get to a level where I can compete professionally that would be a dream come true. For now, I will take my tennis to college to sharpen my tools."
Aside from playing tennis, Russell also enjoys playing basketball, reading and going on adventures with friends. He knows the road ahead only gets bumpier but is ready to accept the challenge and maybe one day become one of the best to emerge from the Bay Area.
"'Sunny days wouldn't be special, if it wasn't for rain. Joy wouldn't feel so good, if it wasn't for pain' is one of my favorite lines from 50 cent," Russell said. "Having this quote in the back of my mind reassures me when times get tough. I like to think that tough times are there to make the best moments feel even more special."