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At 14, Friedman making a racket in tennis world


He stands 5 foot 3 and weighs 105 pounds, yet wields a powerful racket.

He's routinely beaten the No. 1 singles tennis players at Loyola, Gilman and local high school power McDonogh.

Dustin Friedman is the nation's top-ranked 14-year-old according the United States Tennis Association.

"His racket skills and his offensive tennis are far superior to most kids his age. He probably would beat any of the high school players in Baltimore," said Tommy Bender, who along with Don Candy, former mentor for Pam Shriver, coaches Friedman.

"He understands the game and sees the court well and forces his opponents into errors if he doesn't hit an outright winner."

Friedman, an eighth-grader at Pikesville Middle School, increased his stock immensely at the April 14 Easter Bowl Tournament in Palm Springs, Calif., winning the 14-and-under category without losing a set. In winning, Friedman walloped the USTA's No. 2 player, William Boyles, his doubles partner, of Pensacola, Fla., in the finals.

It was the sixth tournament in what has become a busy year for Friedman -- a winner of the Spring Fling national tournament in South Carolina in March.

"I hit with him occasionally, but not to teach him or coach him," said Friedman's mother, Harriet. "Sometimes it's difficult to believe how composed he is. He's really progressing well."

Playing with the flu at a regional tournament in Newport News, Va., in January, Friedman finished third. But the player who beat Friedman lost his Easter Bowl quarterfinal to California's Cody Jackson, whom Friedman dispatched in the semifinals.

"I have a good forehand, and my ultimate goal when I play is to go to the net. But I'm comfortable staying back if I have to," said Friedman, whose most recent report card featured six A's and three B's. "Sometimes I try to serve and volley, but I don't have the big serve, so I have to be careful on attack."

Friedman's showing at the Easter Bowl earned him a trip to USTA's national training center in Key Biscayne, Fla., Wednesday. There he, Boyles and other top youngsters will take part in a four-day training program in preparation for the May 7-14 Junior Davis Cup competition in Mexico City.

From there, he is likely to play in an international competition in Japan in October, but not before playing in a couple other USTA-sponsored national tournaments.

Friedman, ranked No. 6 among men in Maryland, and No. 13 among men in the mid-Atlantic region, will compete in the national Clay Court championships (July 16-22) in Fort Lauderdale, the Aug. 6-12 hard court championships in San Antonio. After Japan, Friedman, winner of the 1993 junior world championships, will be in the Nov. 22-27 national indoor championship in Chicago.

McDonogh coach Laddie Levy, whose Eagles have won seven of their last eight league crowns, watched Friedman beat his No. 1 player, Nick Colvin, last fall.

"The kid was just tournament tough, and he played with a lot of confidence," Levy said of Friedman, whose family might move to Florida.

Friedman, sponsored by Adidas, practices for 1 1/2 hours a day, six days a week, often against pros.

"I also do a lot of sit-ups and push-ups around four days a week, run a mile and a half about twice weekly and do sprints about two or three times a week," said Friedman, who still finds time to "hang out at the mall with friends."

Friedman's athletic skills come honestly.

His mother, a former Maryland junior champion, was ranked No. 1 on and off for 25 years. His father, Marty, is a former marathon runner who still runs and cycles. And his younger sister, Alexis, 5, plays tennis under his youth coach, Leroy Levi, at Green Spring.

"I try to go to the tournaments as much as possible, more as a traveling secretary, and just to be there for him as a father and a friend," said Marty Friedman. "I've seen parents ruin it for their kids, but for him to stay in it over the long term, it's got to be fun."

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