In case the University School varsity tennis program wasn’t already strong enough, the Prepper aces will be adding one of the best rising freshmen in the country to their lineup.
The maroon and black already have three of the best rackets in Ohio, with rising senior Chas Norman placing fourth during the 2019 Division I state singles championships and with rising senior Charlie Joranko and rising junior Ben Martin finishing as state quarterfinalists in doubles.
Not to mention, University School had three other non-senior starters qualify for the district tournament this past spring season and help propel their program to a state runner-up showing in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament.
But with the addition of rising freshman Nico Godsick, of Chagrin Falls, the Preppers could be unbeatable for the 2020 spring season.
Ranked No. 5 in the nation for his age group, Godsick won the doubles bracket and took third in singles action during the United States Tennis Association Boys’ 14 National Clay Court Championships held July 14-21 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“It was the farthest I’ve gone in a singles event in a national,” Godsick said. “So, I think I just persevered through the heat. It was super-hot, and a lot of kids were not handling the heat very well. I got them tired, and they started to miss more, and I took advantage of that.”
Although Godsick is a Chagrin Falls resident, it’d be unfair to call him a stringer for a renowned private-school program.
The tennis phenom has attended University School since he was in kindergarten.
“Yup, I’m a lifer so far,” Godsick said. “I’m looking forward to high school. As of now, yeah, I’m planning to play high school tennis. I mean, we have really good kids on our team, and I’m looking forward to it. “I’ve really enjoyed my time at US. I have a lot of friends there, and we’re all super close to each other. So, I really like the brotherhood at US. It’s pretty special. And I think the education is amazing. I really enjoy learning at school.”
With tennis in his genes, Godsick has been playing the sport pretty much since he was old enough to swing a racket.
His mom, Mary Joe Fernandez, is an American former professional tennis player, who was ranked No. 4 in the world in 1990, finishing runner-up to Steffi Graf in the Australian Open that year. She also finished runner-up against Monica Seles in the 1992 Australian Open and runner-up against Graf in the 1993 French Open.
His dad, Tony Godsick, played football at Dartmouth College and is tennis great Roger Federer’s sports agent.
But Nico Godsick said watching his older sister, Isabella Godsick, a rising senior at Hathaway Brown who won a Division II state doubles title and is an academic all-American lacrosse standout for the Lady Blazers, is what got him interested in playing tennis when he was 4 years old.
“I would always watch my sister play, because she was always playing, and I would go out and swing my racket a couple times,” he said. “And then, as I got older, I started to really, really love it. And then from then on, I was like, ‘Mom, I want to play tournaments.’ So, for a while, I was just playing local tournaments around here, around Cleveland. And, yeah, I loved playing tournaments. I loved competing. It was just fun for me.
“And then a few years back we found out about these nationals, and a couple coaches were like, ‘Maybe you should try one and see how it goes.’ So, we did that, and then maybe two years ago is when I started to really take it seriously and training hard and doing fitness, and that’s when we started traveling around the country to play all these national tournaments.”
Entering the USTA National Clay Court Championships earlier this month, Godsick was seeded fourth in the singles bracket, which featured a 256 draw with 192 players.
In his opening match in the round of 128, Godsick battled Russell Lokko, of New Jersey, to a first-set tiebreaker, 7-6(5), before cruising to victory in the second set, 6-0.
“I had heard my opponent was a very good athlete, and I had heard before the match that he was very inconsistent – he goes from playing very well to not as well,” Godsick said. “And I just had to stay with it in the first set. I guess I came out a little rusty, but he was playing very well. He was hitting balls back, and, yeah, the tiebreaker was tough. But the minute I got the set, the momentum kind of carried over, and the kid kind of died a little.”
Godsick went on to win his next four matches in straight sets, defeating No. 38-seed Justin Lyons, of Florida, 6-3, 7-5; No. 19-seed Andrew Delgado, of North Carolina, 6-3, 6-3; No. 16-seed Alexander Aney, of New York, 6-4, 6-2; and, in the quarterfinals, No. 24-seed Payton Young, of California, 7-5, 6-3.
While Godsick is focused on developing a big serve, clay isn’t a surface that lends itself to a first-serve or first-forehand aggressive style of play. That said, the competitive scores were to be expected, he said.
“It’s not big-strike tennis,” Godsick said. “You try to grind more and wear out your opponent on clay by moving them side to side, because it takes a toll on the body for sure. And they’re just way more physical points, and you have to be creative with the shots, with volleys and hitting higher over the net. It’s a lot more of a grind.”
In the semifinals, Godsick lost a three-setter against No. 6-seed Dylan Tsoi, of California, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Tsoi is now ranked No. 4 in the country.
“He makes the match very physical, and it was a grind,” Godsick said. “He made me work very hard for my points. He didn’t give many free points away. And the first set, it was tough. The wind was very dominant on one side, and it was tough to hold serve against the wind, because he was just taking big hits at the ball. So, I was struggling.”
Godsick ended up breaking Tsoi with two aggressive points at 30-all to close out the second set, 6-4, and even the match, but then he took on abdominal cramps and fell behind, 4-1, in the third set.
Getting a second wind, Godsick evened the frame, 4-all, but Tsoi was able to put the big points away when he needed to close out the match.
“Always losing in the semi you’re a little upset, but you want to go out to get that bronze,” Godsick said. “I had played one of my good friends, Learner Tien, and he’s a lefty, very crafty and a shot maker. He can hit a winner from anywhere on the court. You have to play him with a solid game plan, because, if you don’t, he just kind of controls the points.”
After losing the first set, 6-2, against No. 3-seed Tien, of California, in the third-place match, Godsick came back and took the second frame, 6-1.
Riding that momentum, Godsick then grabbed a 4-1 lead in the third set, but Tien battled back to even the set at 4-all and then 5-all.
“He raised his level quite a bit and wasn’t missing,” Godsick said. “He started hitting winners, pushing me back. And then at 5-all, I saved two break points. And at 6-5, he had a little bit of a hiccup in his game. He was up, 30-love, and missed an easy forehand close to the net.
“And then from then on, I just played aggressive and didn’t let him control the points. I’d rather lose playing on my terms than him win on his terms.”
Godsick took the final set, 7-5, to close out the match and finish third, his best singles showing at a national championship.
All the while, Godsick and his partner, Joseph Phillips, of Atlanta, ran the show in the doubles bracket with straight-set victories propelling them into the finals, including a 6-4, 6-1 victory against singles-runner-up Tsoi and Dylan Charlap, of California, in the semis.
Locking horns with singles champion Nishesh Basavareddy, of Indiana, and Tien in the finals match, Godsick and Phillips pulled off a three-set victory, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4, for the national doubles title.
“It’s pretty cool that we ended up winning it without any practice,” Godsick said of Phillips, whom he first paired up with during the hardcourt nationals last year. “Joey has a very good lefty forehand, and his serve is very good. He hits it very hard. And I’m aggressive at the net. So, every time he hit a good serve, I’d move in and look for the ball to put it away. So, I feel like we complement each other pretty well.”
A rising eighth-grader, Phillips specifically traveled to Fort Lauderdale to play with Godsick in the doubles tournament.
Being a national champion is surreal, Godsick said.
“I was talking to my mom the other day, and she was like, ‘Nico, being a national champion is pretty cool. Not many people get to say they’ve won nationals,’” he said. “And I would just say that winning nationals with one of my good friends was pretty special just because you’re sharing the moment with them and it’s someone you’re really close to.”
Knowing what it takes to win at the top level in doubles play, Godsick’s mom, Mary Joe Fernandez, was the Olympic gold medalist with partner Gigi Fernandez (no relation) during the 1992 Barcelona Games and the 1996 Atlanta Games. She also won the 1991 Australian Open with partner Patty Fendrick and the 1996 French Open with Lindsay Davenport.
And knowing what it takes to win at a young age, Mary Joe Fernandez was the youngest player, at age 14, to win a main draw match at the U.S. Open, when she defeated Sara Gomer in the first round in 1985.
“My mom, she’s one of my primary coaches, and she’s been there from the beginning,” Godsick said. “So, I really appreciate to have her help me whenever I need it. Coming off of my game, she’s always there to help fix it. And, my dad, my dad’s more on the business aspect. He doesn’t help that much with coaching, but, when I need him, he’s there.
“It’s just nice getting to travel the country through tennis. It’s pretty awesome.”