Tates Creek's Roberts cruising in state tennis tourney

Grant Roberts was born to play tennis. It just took him a while to realize it.

Now a junior at Tates Creek, Roberts grew up splitting time between the soccer field and the baseball diamond. He didn't pick up a tennis racket until he was almost 12 years old.

Now, he's the No. 2 seed in the KHSAA boys' singles state tournament.

The single-elimination tournament started Thursday, and Roberts shut out his morning opponent, Marion County's Joseph George, 6-0, 6-0. Afterward, he greeted a slew of Tates Creek students — several with "T" or "C" painted on bare chests. He worked his way through the crowd to eventually find the man responsible for his tennis success, both inspirationally and genetically.

Peter Roberts, Grant's father, was born and raised in Australia and moved to the United States in 1975 to play tennis at Middle Tennessee State. After college, Peter landed a job at IBM and was transferred to Lexington, where he and his family have stayed.

"I'm originally from Australia and had no previous connection to the U.S.," the elder Roberts said with a faded Australian accent. "I ended up here because of tennis."

When Grant was nearing his 12th birthday, Peter said a friend of Grant's signed up for a "tennis thing," so Grant decided to give it a try. Peter said he tried not to pressure his son into tennis, noting that he would pick it up eventually if he wanted to. As soon as Grant hit the courts, Peter said, he fell in love with it.

Since then, Grant has focused his athletic attention on tennis. He joined Tates Creek's team as an eighth-grader, paired in doubles with his older brother, Matt, a senior at the time.

"It was fun as a parent. They actually did pretty well, too," Peter said. "I was afraid they wouldn't. It was a lot of fun; they had a really good match together. Grant was lucky to be 5 feet tall at the time."

Grant made his debut in the singles' state tournament in 2008 as the No. 8 seed. He lost in the quarterfinals to eventual state champ Eric Quigley, who just finished a Southeastern Conference All-Freshman season at UK.

Tates Creek Coach Luna Helton said she's been as impressed with Grant's game these past few weeks as she's ever been.

"He's just right on the money, and he's improved so much since last year," Helton said. "He's done some weight training, and a year's maturity has definitely put a lot more on his plate. He's matured up and I think he's ready for the challenge."

In the afternoon session, Grant defeated Clark County's Chase Kindred, 6-0, 6-2. During the second set of the match, Roberts hit two between-the-legs shots with his back facing the net in the same point, invoking applause from the stands and a simple, "I love that shot," from Helton.

Grant is now halfway to matching his quarterfinal finish in 2008, a goal he said he's had in the back of his mind all season long.

No matter how far Grant advances in this week's tournament, Peter said he's proud of his son. Five years ago, he said, he wouldn't have guessed he would be where he is today.

"As soon as I saw him play, I knew he had a lot of potential," the elder Roberts said. "But there's a huge difference between having potential and doing something with it. He's worked really hard, and I'm really proud of that."