High Desert Tennis Association High Desert Tennis Association

Mental Toughness

Silverado’s Nico Combes worked on unseen aspects of his game to succeed

Story by C.J. DAFT
Daily Press Staff
Monday, June 26, 2006
© Daily Press, a Freedom Communications Newspaper


Having to play a trio of best-ofthree set tennis matches in one day can be tough on anyone’s body. Try doing it with a 102-degree fever.

That’s what Silverado junior and German foreign exchange student Nico Combes had to endure when he awoke for the opening day of the CIF-Southern Section Individual singles tennis Championships late last month at the University of Redlands.

After winning a three-set, two-hour opening match, Combes felt drained, and it showed during his second-round contest. The Silverado junior dropped his first set, 4-6, and appeared to have nothing left. Combes though found the courage to overcome his physical ailments to win the final two sets and advance to a third match.

Combes, who would later say that he just didn't have anything left by his final match, lost to Los Alamitos' Taylor Leiby in straight sets 7-6 (4), 6-1. The loss proved to be just his second loss of the season, the first of which came in a one-set league match against Granite Hills Brazilian exchange student Gustavo Rodrigues.

"I was physically at zero percent during that second match," Combes said. "Winning that match in three sets made myself feel proud. That really showed, with my mind, that I can do anything. I wanted to win and I didn't want to lose in the second round."

Combes' ability to play despite the sickness impressed Silverado coach Suzi Paxton.

"He had been in bed for three days," Paxton said. "By the third round, he couldn't even lift up his arm. I was impressed that he made it through two rounds. Most people would have said forget it."

It was with this mental toughness combined with his natural talent that made Combes one of the toughest competitors this season in the High Desert. For that, he is the 2006 Daily Press Tennis Athlete of the Year.

Combes finished with a 46-2 overall record this season, including a 23-1 mark in Desert Sky League play, and topped Rodrigues in the final to earn a league title. He also helped the Hawks finish second in the DSL and a trip to the second round of the CIF-SS team Championships.

Combes believes mental toughness is his strongest attribute on the court.

"Tennis is 50 percent on the court and 50 percent in the head," Combes said. "My mental game is what makes me superior to other players. I'm not the biggest talent and I'm not the one with the biggest shots, but I can turn around many of my matches with my mind."

The Silverado student also built a reputation for showing his emotion on the court, explaing that it was key to his success this year.

"When I show that emotion and when I get upset, it gives me the power to win matches," Combes said. "I need that for my game, because I need to be in the game. That’s one of the keys for me. I need to be in it."

Playing high school tennis in the United States was a new experience for Combes because his German school does not offer scholastic sports. Back home in Germany, Combes will enter 12th grade at a 13-grade school. Combes, though, did compete for a club tennis team that played other clubs.

Adjusting to the United States and the High Desert wasn't too difficult for Combes, who credited traveling to different parts of the world, including the East Coast of the U.S. and scuba diving in Bali with his mom, Elke, with helping the transition. He also has an older sister who completed a foreign exchange program on the East Coast a few years back.

Combes enjoyed his time in the High Desert, especially with his teammates with whom he became close and with his host parents, Clay and Jan Carmean of Silver Lakes, who've become like a second family to him.

"It was a different experience," Combes said of his time in the High Desert. "That’s why I came over here, to get those different experiences. (I want to) tell my children how it is over here and be able to evaluate other places better."

Combes planned to play in a few International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments this summer in Germany and around Europe, where he hopes to take some of what he learned back with him.

See the full story here.