Wil Spencer, a 5-foot-11 senior from Ponce de Leon, Fla., transferred to the University of Georgia after taking a year off in 2009-10 and playing two seasons at Texas A&M. The runner-up at the 2011 ITA Men's All-American Championships, Spencer will be competing in the upcoming USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y., Nov. 3-6. He recently took time from his busy schedule to talk to USTA.com about his run at the ITA All-Americans, readjusting to college life and tennis after taking time off, what he likes best about being a Georgia Bulldog and much more.
USTA.com: You had a great run at this year’s ITA All-American Championships. Talk a little about that event and how it affects your confidence moving forward this fall.
Wil Spencer: It’s always fun to play against good players, and All-American is one of the toughest tournaments of the year. The conditions were tough, so it was about who would stay focused and not let the wind get them frustrated. The coaches had a big impact on keeping me calm and disciplined with my game plan the whole tournament. I knew it was going to be my last All-American, so I wanted to make it count. Even though it was a good result, second place is never satisfying, but the good thing is it helped show me what I need to work on the rest of this fall to be ready for next season.
USTA.com: You transferred to Georgia for your junior season after a year off. Talk about some of the challenges of joining a new team and readjusting to college life and college tennis?
Wil Spencer: Being out of college was tougher than I thought it would be. During my time off, I worked out quite a bit and taught at Emerald Coast Tennis, which was close to where I grew up, but I didn’t have many chances to play with good players. Not being able to play showed me how much I missed the competition. I was excited to go back to school, and I decided to take a couple summer school classes to get back into the swing of school and training. It took a long time to get the feel back, and the results didn’t come right away. This time last year I lost in the first round of the qualifying at All-Americans. It was painful, but I kept training hard and staying positive. All the hard work has paid off, and now I’m playing better than I ever have.
Coming to UGA was tough because there were seven new guys in total, with three of us being transfers. A freshman is like being the new kid on the block; he has to earn his place and pay his dues, and being a transfer is especially tough because it’s like being a freshman all over again. There were a lot of different personalities, and it took awhile for everybody to get to know each other and come together as a team. However, it was also the key to our success last year because every one of the guys added something special to the team.
USTA.com: What do you like best about the University of Georgia and being a Bulldog?
Wil Spencer: Everything! I love being a part of the history here, the support we get from our fans, the atmosphere at home matches, playing for Coach Manny and Coach Will, the chemistry we have as a team, but, most of all, I like the fight in every Bulldog.
USTA.com: Your coach, Manny Diaz, has mentored a number of top players, many of whom have gone on to pro tennis success. What have you learned from him over the past year and a half?
Wil Spencer: I’ve realized from doing a little coaching myself how difficult it is, but Coach makes it look easy. He’s taught me a lot about strategy and helped me become more mentally disciplined on the court. He played a huge part in keeping me focused at All-Americans. He is great at communicating, which is something I’m trying to learn from him. He treats everyone with respect, and everyone on the team respects him. He also knows how to get the best out of people, which is a unique gift.
USTA.com: What are the goals for you and your team this season?
Wil Spencer: Right now, I’m focusing on improvement-oriented goals for myself. I’m working on hitting a heavier ball off the ground, getting a bigger serve, transition game, and staying mentally engaged in every point. As a team, we desire to be the most improved team, and our saying right now is "Win the Fall." This helps remind us to give our best in every practice and workout. All of us want to win NCAAs, and each day we are pushing each other to get there.
USTA.com: As a senior, your teammates look to you for leadership. What kind of leader are you on and off the court?
Wil Spencer: I try to lead by example. I know that I can’t ask the guys to do things that I’m not willing to do myself, so I do my best and then encourage them to do their best, as well. I also have a lot of energy, so I try to use it to get them fired up. All of the guys are hard workers and like and respect each other, so this makes being a captain a lot easier, too.
USTA.com: Free time doesn’t really exist for a student-athlete, but what do you like to do in your moments away from the classroom and the courts?
Wil Spencer: Sleep and hang out with my teammates.
USTA.com: Ten years from now, what will Wil Spencer be doing?
Wil Spencer: Hopefully still playing tennis.
USTA.com: What advice do you have for junior tennis players who want to play in college?
Wil Spencer: Playing college tennis has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I would definitely encourage juniors to pursue it. Things like playing in front of your home crowd or winning a 4-3 match cannot be fully appreciated until you actually experience it firsthand. College is also a great place to develop as a player. Having good players to hit with every day, coaches that help me with my game, and working out with a trainer has given me the opportunity to grow and mature as a player and person.
Work hard and enjoy the journey. Try to have a plan on what you want to work on every practice. Give 100 percent on the courts and in workouts, as well.