Many children try a variety of sports during their childhood, sometimes going through a lengthy process of trial and error before they find something that really sticks.

Talan Nguyen had no such desire for a journey of athletic enlightenment. As the youngest member of a family of four tennis players, the recent Owen J. Roberts Sr. graduate was always destined to have a racket in his hands. The only question left was how far he would run with the chance.

The answer, it turns out, is quite a bit, though Nguyen didn’t find his feet overnight. While Nguyen inevitably knew he’d be playing on a tennis court, the Mercury All-Area Boys Tennis Player of the Year, a Pioneer Athletic Conference singles and doubles champion as a senior, had to endure humiliation before his own career could really take off.

“I was about 8 when I first got into the sport,” Nguyen said during a conversation in late June on a bench next to the OJR tennis courts. “My parents were both tennis players in college and my older sister played on the team here (at OJR). She did everything I did, just three years ahead of me. I didn’t have to experiment with other sports outside of elementary school because tennis was our big thing. I loved it from the beginning.”

Nguyen recalled watching his sister Lien compete for the Wildcats and eventually claim the top singles spot on the school’s girls’ team. Sitting with his parents—father Thanh and mother Kerry—on the grassy knoll overlooking the fields, he couldn’t wait to get out there himself. As Nguyen’s freshman year approached, Lien began promoting her younger brother to the coaching staff, which was looking for promising players for the boys’ program in the spring.

The stars aligned exactly as expected, especially when Talan emerged from freshman tryouts as the varsity team’s second singles player. All he had to do was outpace his competitors — but that didn’t happen, at least not right away.

“When I got to high school, I thought I knew what I was getting into,” he said. “My sister put my name out there with Coach (Jerry Styer), and he was kind of expecting me. I’m not going to lie, I started out as a cocky kid. I went in there and thought I could dominate the world. My mentality wasn’t there and I got humbled pretty quick.”

In his own recollection, Nguyen said his first match was a blowout, losing the second set by a lopsided 6-0 shutout. Competing against older, more experienced players showed him how far he still had to go, especially with his sights set firmly on that top singles position his sister had risen to.

Nguyen didn’t have a bad first season, by the way. He reached the second round in both the PAC Singles and Doubles Tournaments, the latter of which saw him play with classmate and fellow traditional singles player Jack Sawicki.

“I had a pretty good first year, but I realized that the first singles players were much better than me, so I would have to work really hard to get to that point.”

Injected with a necessary dose of humility, Nguyen entered his first offseason with a new determination. Over the winter, he enrolled in the Philadelphia Area Gold Cup training program, which offers 10 weeks of instruction that helps young players prepare for both the high school tennis season and tournaments. There, Nguyen got to train with and compete against other elite players in the Philadelphia tri-county area.

In addition, father and son Talan’s development on the field continued to improve and Talan said Thanh’s honest guidance was crucial to the next step in his career.

“My dad is still very much into tennis and I’m very lucky to have that because not many kids have parents who are neck and neck with them,” Talan said. “He’s been very important to my success because he knows my game 100 percent. He knows exactly what I need to work on, especially things that I was struggling with and wasn’t even aware of.”

Owen J. Roberts' Talan Nguyen hits a forehand during the final of the PAC Boys Tennis Singles Championships on April 15 in Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog - MediaNews Group)
Owen J. Roberts’ Talan Nguyen hits a forehand during the final of the PAC Boys Tennis Singles Championships on April 15 in Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

As a sophomore, Nguyen played first singles for the Wildcats all season. This time, he placed fourth in the PAC Singles Tournament, qualifying for the District 1-3A Singles Tournament for the first time. Against a first-round opponent from Cheltenham, Nguyen came back from a 6-1 first-set loss to advance to the second round, before being eliminated in the second round by a player from Conestoga.

Additionally, he and Sawicki took fifth place in the PAC Doubles Tournament and although they lost in the first round of the district doubles, Nguyen’s sophomore high school season went exactly as it was supposed to.

“I made it to districts (in singles), that was my goal,” he said. “I thought getting fourth place at PACs was really good, but I still lost to a lot of people along the way. I still had weaknesses in my game that opponents were exploiting, but I was still happy to make it to the second round of districts.”

As a junior, Nguyen reached the championship round at PAC Singles, advancing slightly further than the year before, though he fell in that match, as well as in straight sets in the first round of districts. He and Sawicki suffered a similar fate on the doubles court.

Nguyen continued to adjust his game in his final offseason of high school. Naturally a defensive player, Nguyen decided he needed to be more aggressive in close matches, which required more front-to-back and side-to-side court movement, additional adjustments to his backhand, and additional real-time processing and analysis to identify and attack an opponent’s weaknesses.

“Playing aggressively requires a lot more thinking outside of my comfort zone, so I would be so proud of myself if I could get those wins,” he said. “I made more changes from junior to senior year, and I had to be more aggressive against the kids in the PAC so I could have a chance against them (in the PAC Singles Tournament).”

Owen J. Roberts' Talan Nguyen hits a backhand during the final of the PAC Boys Tennis Singles Championships on April 15 in Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog - MediaNews Group)
Owen J. Roberts’ Talan Nguyen hits a backhand during the final of the PAC Boys Tennis Singles Championships on April 15 in Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

On April 15, Nguyen reached the final of the PAC Singles Championships again, proving his worth in adverse conditions once again, coming back from a 6-4 first-set loss to win the last two — 6-3, 6-2 — against Spring-Ford’s Henry Damiani. Finally, in his last chance, Nguyen had officially become the top singles player in the PAC.

“It’s like character development (in a movie),” Nguyen said, laughing. “In my head, I knew I wanted it and I could get it. At the same time, I had reached the championship before and lost, so I was very nervous. My coaches calmed me down after I lost the first set and I stayed calm, and then I started thinking about how proud I would be of myself even if I came second again. I started hitting with more power and confidence while playing my own game. It felt like all my dreams were coming true, so I was very happy when I won.”

Two weeks later, Nguyen and Sawicki completed their separate character development by winning the PAC Doubles Tournament, which required another comeback after a first-set loss.

“I’m a singles player at heart, and so is Jack, so we always felt like winning doubles was way out of our reach,” Nguyen said. “When we won, it just felt really surreal, like it was more of a surprise. We just went out there and had fun. Our seasons were kind of over, so doubles was a last hurrah. OJR hadn’t won the PAC in I don’t think it had been in six years, so to win the PAC twice as a senior was good for me and OJR as a whole.”

Nguyen officially ended his high school tennis career at districts, defeating Chichester’s Matteo Torres in the first round of district singles before losing to Central Bucks East’s Alan Zhang. He and Sawicki defeated a duo from Council Rock South in the first round of district doubles before being eliminated in the second round by a pair of Unionville juniors.

Now that his time at OJR is over, Nguyen will be heading to Penn State Berks in the fall, where he plans to study mechanical engineering. He said he’s talked to the coaching staff there about trying out for the tennis team, but regardless of whether he ends up playing in college, Nguyen knows tennis will always be a part of his life thanks to his parents and sister, who have been close by as pillars of support during his own rise on the court.

“They were very supportive and said I didn’t have to win — just do my best and if I win, that’s great,” he said. “I think I exceeded my parents’ expectations, and I exceeded my own. I’m very proud of myself.”