Clayton Valley High coach Rick Ortega said he could see something special in junior tennis player J.K. Kim when Kim was only 8 years old.
"The kid is just incredible," Ortega said. "He had it all, even at a young age. He had the speed, acceleration, the hand-eye coordination and most importantly, he had a lot of heart."
The potential Ortega saw eight years ago at the Fairfield Tennis Academy has been realized today, as Kim, a junior, has been a standout on the Clayton Valley tennis team. The 16-year-old has not lost a match in league play in the last two years, leading to an overall mark of 46-0 his sophomore and junior seasons.
The left-hander has also won the Diablo Valley Athletic League individual tournament each of the past two seasons, and during his sophomore campaign, led the Eagles to their first North Coast Section tournament in the last 15 years.
He is also ranked No. 50 overall in Northern California and was named the DVAL most valuable player for the last two years.
The junior models his game after two of his favorite professional players -- Gael Monfils for his tireless work ethic on every point, and Rafael Nadal because he is a left-hander with superior groundstrokes like Kim.
Kim said he owes much of his success to his personal coach, Phil Cello, whom he met during his freshman season.
"He's definitely had the biggest impact on my game out of everyone," Kim said. "After working with Phil, my game has just skyrocketed."
The difference is in his record and in his game. Since beginning workouts with Cello, Kim lost three matches his freshman season, but has since been undefeated in league play. His only loss came in the second round of the NCS tournament last season, to top-seeded Michael Guzman of Justin-Siena.
Since he's started working with Cello, Kim's weekly schedule revolves almost entirely on tennis. From Monday to Saturday, Kim participates in a tennis clinic with Cello, and on Tuesdays and Fridays, he has a private lesson with the trainer. The sessions have especially developed Kim's serve -- consistently between 100 and 110 mph -- and groundstrokes.
"(Cello) has really helped me with those two areas of my game, and it's helped me be a much better player," Kim said. "I still need to work on my ability to get to the short balls and playing more at the net. That's probably the biggest weakness in my game as of now."
Despite the flaws in Kim's game, he is still receiving a lot of attention from schools across the country.
Kim, who turns 17 in June, is focusing on earning a tennis scholarship to either of his top-three college choices -- Pomona College, UC Santa Cruz, or Amherst College.
"My goal is to definitely play collegiate tennis, it is what I'm focusing on primarily right now," Kim said. "Professional tennis would be cool if it happens, but I just want to look ahead to college first."
The accolades he earns from his coach are endless, as Ortega even compares his charisma and class on the tennis court to Roger Federer.
"There's no question he's one of the best I've coached," Ortega said of Kim. "Even when's he's down, he knows how to keep his composure and come back strong. He'll only get better with more experience and more matches."