Rain-soaked Juneau is not exactly a hot bed of tennis, yet a four-time Alaska state champion resides in the capital city.
Alexander Sadighi, 15, won the Alaska State Junior singles championship last month in Anchorage. In March, Sadighi claimed the 16-under singles title at a similar tournament in Anchorage, and the 18-under doubles title with partner Arun Srinivasan from Anchorage. At age 13, Sadighi won the 14-under singles.
Sadighi will compete in the U.S. Tennis Association's Pacific Northwest Sectional Tournament this October in Eugene, Ore., where he'll face the best players from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
All this from a player who rarely, if ever, practices outdoors. On any typical rainy Southeast afternoon, Sadighi can be found at the Juneau Racquet Club, hitting the ball with friends his age, or with the adults there who have witnessed his progress.
Sadighi named several advantages to playing in Juneau. One advantage is that with so few competitive players his age, Sadighi gets lots of attention.
"I get so much help from so many people," Sadighi said. "All the adults here are so kind and generous with their time. They're always willing to hit. They really help me out a lot."
Sadighi's main competition is adults. Against players twice his age, Sadighi made it to the finals of the Spring Tennis and Racquetball Tournament in the open singles class at the Juneau Racquet Club.
JRC tennis pro Rick Simeon spends a lot of time coaching Sadighi. He said at first the older players would take it easy on Sadighi, but now they play him as they would any other opponent. "They've reached the point where if they do (go easy), they'll get beat," Simeon said. "He's probably the fifth- or sixth-best open player in Juneau." Sadighi's father, Arsalan Sadighi, played some tennis while in college at UCLA. He put his racquet away for several years, then picked it up again three years ago when Alexander began to take interest in the game.
The elder Sadighi said playing with adults has helped Alexander.
"It's kind of a bittersweet situation for some people," he said. "They don't want to lose. They try and beat him and keep him humble. Which is good."
"It takes awhile to be accepted by the adults if you're a kid," Simeon said. "And he's done that."
Alexander named several disadvantages as well. The group of dedicated players his age is small. Local players who have also participated in state tennis tournaments include Josh Finley, Tristan Knutson-Lombardo, Emily Cotter, Sarah Lowell and Amra Kamolz. Sadighi also plays with his 13-year-old sister Naomi.
"There's no competition. We're all just friends and we fool around," Sadighi said. "Down south, there's a tournament every weekend you can just drive to. Here, I don't get the match experience."
Arsalan Sadighi agreed. "It definitely is a detriment to his development," he said. "He doesn't have any real competition at his age level. And travel will be so costly. We really can't afford to go to too many tournaments outside of Juneau."
"Travel from Juneau is just a killer," concurred Simeon. "Basically, when he travels he needs to squeeze in three or four tournaments to make it worthwhile."
When Sadighi does travel to the Lower 48, the play is outside -- sort of a novelty to Sadighi, who plays five or six times a week inside on climate-controlled courts.
"It's hard to go down south when it's hot and windy," Sadighi said.
Sadighi's played in sectional tournaments three times, with varying results. His first experience, after winning the 14-under state title, left him feeling he could compete with anyone his age.
"I didn't do as well then," Sadighi said. "That was the first time I played outside Alaska. They were really serious. But I got to see what the rest of the tennis players my age were like, and I realized they're not much better than I am, if at all."
Simeon said with little competition from players his age, Sadighi's biggest obstacle will be self-motivation.
"I'm pretty busy, and at times he's gonna have to self-motivate himself," Simeon said. "He needs to be at tournaments where he is not the best player, where you know there are 25 other kids that can beat you."
Sadighi said his goals include earning a scholarship to play in college, and someday playing in satellite tournaments, which Sadighi described as "kind of like the minor leagues in baseball."
"To play Division I at a big university is my dream," Sadighi said.
"He's the best player in Alaska for his age," said Simeon, who reached the national tournament as a college player at the University of Montana-Minot. "And usually the best player in a state can expect a college scholarship. But anything after that is a bonus. Depending on what program he gets into, he could go higher."
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