14-Year-Old Wonder Named Willy : Tennis Stardom Is a Casual Quest

Times Staff Writer

A wonder at 14, he stood sideways to the net ready to uncoil for his serve in the manner of John McEnroe, only right-handed, his eyes steely blue, his brown hair tapered so that only the top strands went with the wind.

Willy Quest was where he has spent much of his young life: on a tennis court, fenced in, with people watching.

Impeccable in whites, he was playing in the Long Beach Junior Championships at El Dorado Park.

He tossed the ball high and swung his oversized racket up in a graceful arc. The ball shot over the net, dove wickedly and bounced past his opponent.

It was the kind of shot expected from the No. 2-ranked player in his age group in Southern California and No. 25 in the country.

Between points, Quest plucked his racket strings like pros do. On the rare occasions when his two-handed backhands or charging volleys did not land where he had ticketed them, he looked at the sky.

But he threw no tantrums. Nothing in his behavior could be construed as childish, which set him apart from most of the other players as much as his ability did.

Quest won his second-round match easily. When he and his opponent, Brandon Garcia, shook hands, Garcia's eyes were wide with admiration.

Garcia smiled, shook his head and said, "He's tough."

Quest said little. He was missing some basketball games on TV.

"Did Villanova beat Michigan?" he asked.

Quest's destiny, some predict, is greatness, but he is content to let destiny wait.

He knows he is good, but he is not inclined to rave.

"In my age category, if I'm playing good, I should be able to beat anybody," he says, and leaves it at that.

He does not talk much about tennis. He rarely watches it on TV.

"It's pretty boring," he said.

Playing tennis does not consume him either.

"It's pretty much fun when I'm on a roll," he said. "I like to win, but when I'm playing bad or too much I get sick of it."

He enjoys watching and playing basketball--he averages 15 points a game for the Rogers Junior High team. He also likes to read, talk on the phone and play trivia games.

And, his mother, Jane, said, "Girls call all the time."

When his morning match ended, Quest longed to get back to being a typical eighth-grader. He stood uncomfortably around tournament officials and other adults, anxious to get home to watch Georgia Tech and Syracuse before he had to return in a few hours to a high-strung world.

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