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Top Arizona junior tennis player Xu undeterred by foot injury as he helps develop future players

CHANDLER — The line of tennis trophies sparkled and shined on the table in his living room, but for 16-year-old Josh Xu, his mind drifted to the trophies he couldn’t add to his collection.

“I was supposed to play another national this past weekend that I would’ve probably done pretty well at. But unfortunately with the injury I wasn’t able to play it,” Xu said Tuesday evening.

The BASIS Chandler sophomore dislocated his left ankle and broke bones and tore ligaments in his left foot while playing basketball with his friends last month.

Ranked second in Arizona and in the top 50 nationwide according to the Tennis Recruiting Network, Xu expects to be out until mid-July. Until then, he spends his time rehabbing his foot and working out to stay in playing condition. A speedy recovery can allow him to return to some familiar emotions on the court.

“The feeling of winning and knowing I’ve worked so hard for this moment of basically winning after a match or after a tournament is probably one of the best ever,” Xu said. “I just want to keep working at that, be able to feel that moment more and more, and just continue to be able to work and improve myself to the best that I can.”

Xu started playing tennis when he was 6 years old, and from the moment a racket was placed in his hand, he said he was hooked on the sport.

“Whether it’s hitting forehands or whether it’s drilling serves or up to the net, hitting volleys just gives me a rush like no other,” Xu said.

With all his success, an injury could turn into a major setback. But Xu’s tennis coach at Nonstop Tennis in Mesa, Jared Jacobs, doesn’t think that he’ll have that problem.

“It’s not like there’s ever a good time to get injured, but he didn’t seem discouraged,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs says Xu exhibits determination, focus and intensity on the court, traits he believes will keep Xu from becoming one of those young athletes that allows an injury to derail their promising career.

“I know he’s been working out and staying fit and doing everything he possibly could do,” Jacobs said. “It’s not like he’s sitting on the couch at home watching Netflix all day.”

From his first swing of a racket to his ascent through the rankings, Xu’s had his fair share of unforgettable moments on the court. One that came right to mind was a tight match at the 2015 USTA National Spring Tournament in Indian Wells, California, more commonly known as the Easter Bowl.

“I was in the third set. I was down 6-5 facing two match points to lose the match, and it had already been, we’re probably deep into the third hour,” Xu said. “We had a long rally and I managed to barely lunge out and grab a volley at the end of the point and it just barely dribbled over the net and I won the point. I eventually go on to win the match 7-6 in a third set tiebreaker.”

His drive to win on the court is also what’s pushing him to overcome his injury.

“Tennis is such a big part of my life. I’m used to playing tennis six days a week and all of a sudden taking that out of there just feels like there’s a huge hole in my life,” Xu said.

Xu’s injury also prevents him from being active in the Junior Tennis Ambassadors program he founded last year. The program helps introduce tennis to kids and teach them the basics of the game.

“(Tennis) teaches you work ethic, it teaches you a positive attitude, dedication to what you believe in, passion and all these life lessons I just feel like is not something I should keep for myself,” Xu said. “I should pass these on to other kids that are younger than me that haven’t necessarily been exposed to this wonderful sport.”

His inability to be on the court teaching kids and showing them his passion for the game is one more reason Xu is disappointed with his injury.

“Probably the favorite thing about JTA is that I’m on the court actively teaching the students and feeding them balls and telling them what to do,” Xu said. “Unfortunately with this injury all I can do now is watch from the side and just kinda like supervise.”

Xu is determined to return to the court and get back to doing what he loves. While he’ll only be a junior next school year, Xu eagerly awaits what opportunities the future may hold.

“I want to play D-I tennis,” Xu said. “Maybe after that try and go on the pro tour.”

Jacobs has no doubt that with the kind of person Xu is, he can get everything he wants out of life.

“You really can achieve these things that you’re going for,” Jacobs said. “It’s OK to be like, ‘Yea I want that and I want to go after it.’”

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