A dream of playing tennis at the Division I level became a reality Tuesday for Oxford High’s Zach Wilder. The standout who led the Chargers to four straight state team titles during his prep career officially signed with the Ole Miss Rebels and coach Billy Chadwick, who has seen the standout grow and mature for several years.
“We’re extremely excited that he has decided to attend the University of Mississippi. To have a local person as accomplished as he is in the sport of tennis is very rare and we’re excited he’s going to be joining us here at Ole Miss,” Chadwick said about Wilder, who is only expected to improve during the next four years. “I’ve gotten to watch him develop through the years since he’s here in Oxford. The thing that has impressed me is he is such an outstanding young man. Not only is he a great tennis player, he’s a great team member too. From talking to (OHS) Coach (Louis) Nash, he is one of the premier players he has ever had. Zach’s success is a reflection of the Oxford tennis community and a product of his environment that includes Debbie Swindoll at the Oxford Park Commission, Coach Nash and his parents.”
Wilder’s strength, according to Chadwick, is his ability to play strong at the baseline and use his aggressiveness to return shots in a short amount of time, a skill that is not always easily accomplished by younger tennis players.
“I wouldn’t put him in the category of powerful but he is strong. He stands his ground up in the court and he’s very consistent. He takes the ball on the rise so he is aggressive in his approach to the baseline game. I have seen him improve in every area of his game even becoming more consistent and more aggressive,” said Chadwick, who added Zach plays a lot like his father, Mark, did when he was an All-American at Alabama. “Their style of play is very similar. His dad was one who went to junior college to hone his game and one that I would call a slow developing player in that he didn’t go straight to Division I. I feel like his biggest strength is his consistency. I like the way he stands up in the court and basically takes away space from his opponent. That’s very similar to what his dad does with tight shots that translates into not a lot to go wrong. He has a great presence on the court.”
Nash agrees that Wilder will become an even better player at the next level and under the direction of Chadwick.
“I think this would be a dream come true for Zach. I think for a long time he’s wanted to play Division I tennis and to play for a coach like Billy Chadwick. You can’t get much better than that. I think Coach Chadwick got himself a wonderful player and a great kid right here in his backyard,” Nash said. “Zach has got a lot of room where he can grow. He is the best player I’ve had, he’s already an excellent high school player. Practicing with those coaches out there and the kids that are on that team, you can’t help but get better. How much better? That’s going to be up to Zach. But I don’t think Zach is going to be hurting for any want-to.”
Nash talked about Wilder’s game and thought his ability to return the ball from the baseline quickly, while the ball is on the rise, is a strength moving forward.
“He doesn’t stand four, five, six feet behind the baseline and flail away. He stands up in the court and gets to balls early while the ball is on the rise and in the air. He tries to get the ball back to you as quickly as possible,” Nash said. “He is awfully good up in the court. You either learn that growing up or you don’t. A lot of kids are uncomfortable that close in.
“Zach doesn’t need a whole lot of technical points. He got a lot of that from his dad. A lot of the teaching and coaching with Zach was just him growing up physically,” Nash added. “If you need Zach to do something, something you thought was wrong in his game, he is very adaptable to change and I think he will be again. I think he will adapt to the things that make him better.”
Chadwick talked about the next step for Wilder before he gets to Ole Miss.
“I think a lot of wait-and-see. It depends on the type of summer he has. It is extremely difficult for somebody to walk in as a freshman and contribute immediately. With that being said, he has the potential,” Chadwick said. “He needs to play in as many tournaments and as many matches as possible against the best competition that he can.” (June 1, 2011, Page 6)