Greg Hirshman’s high school tennis career has been filled with accolades and honors, but nothing, he said, could top the one he received earlier this month.
Hirshman, a La Jolla Country Day senior bound for Stanford this fall, was recently named a national high school All-American by the National High School Tennis All-American Foundation (NHSTAAF). He was one of 40 boys players selected from across the country.
“I was actually kind of surprised, but to be given that kind of an honor was definitely pretty exciting,” Hirshman said. “I know I’ve done well with tennis, but there are a lot of great tennis players out there, so it was really exciting to win it.
“This one is different. It’s a lot higher up on the ladder than some of the others.”
Added Country Day coach Angela Horacek, “It’s a great honor and an honor that he’s very deserving of. It really has been fun to watch his game develop over the last four years.”
To be considered for the award by the NHSTAAF, players must maintain an above-average academic and citizenship record, compete on a high school team and obtain an individual national ranking through the United States Tennis Association. Among the elite group of players honored in the past are Pete Sampras, Todd Martin, Kimberly Po, Aaron Krickstein, Jeff Tarango and Taylor Dent.
Hirshman may have been among the most qualified candidates in the country to be named an All-American. On the academic front, he owns a 4.6 grade-point average, he said, and took four advanced placement classes this year.
Entering the week of May 21, Hirshman was ranked 92nd nationally in the USTA rankings for boys 18 and under.
And after winning the Coastal League championship, he was scheduled to play in the 64-player CIF-San Diego Section boys singles tennis championships this week - he had already helped La Jolla Country Day to a quarterfinals appearance in the CIF-SDS Division III team tennis playoffs.
The final part of the equation might be the most notable. Often, top-level players of high school age don’t compete for their school teams because the level of competition isn’t anywhere near as high as it is on the USTA junior circuit. Hirshman, though, said there were many reasons he decided to play for Country Day the last four years.
“The one thing is that, when you’re playing for yourself in some of these (USTA) tournaments, basically the only person who knows how you did is yourself. You’re basically out there playing for yourself,” he said. “It’s great when you win, but when you play for the school, you’re playing for a lot more than just yourself. And that’s really what makes it so important and so exciting. Even though the level of play may not be the same, the teammates, the friends and representing your school is exciting. It will be the same thing at Stanford.”
Hirshman has worked for more than 10 years with a private coach, Jim Ferrari, to whom he credits much of his success. Horacek knew she had a special player on her hands when Hirshman first joined her team four years ago and wasn’t shy about admitting that her approach to coaching him essentially has involved staying out of his way and simply letting him play.
She has gained a greater and greater appreciation for his game as the years have passed.
“He really does understand how to construct a point,” Horacek said. “He can hit the ball hard like a lot of high school guys, but he can also change spins and speeds and depths of shots, which isn’t nearly as common.”
Hirshman’s thinking-man’s approach to tennis speaks to his cerebral nature. He has just completed a grueling two weeks in which he took advanced placement tests in U.S. government and politics, English literature and composition, chemistry and world history. He plans to study math and economics at Stanford, and was recently awarded a top prize in the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair recently, submitting a 376-page paper on a complicated mathematical theory. That paper has since grown to more than 500 pages for inclusion in this week’s California State Science Fair.
He also is an accomplished violinist and poet and was a subject for the recently released movie “Unstrung,” which follows the progress of seven top junior tennis players across the country. It was an experience he said was one of the greatest of his life.
For Hirshman, there is rarely any downtime between studying and practicing tennis. He said he got his work ethic from his parents - both high-achieving professionals - and his two older brothers.
“My nature is obviously to work very hard, but I’ve also been nurtured that way by my parents,” Hirshman said.
Added Horacek: “He’s just very unique and incredibly well-rounded.”