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The last time professional tennis player Trevor Spracklin was in Washington, D.C., at the end of June, the 26-year old Reston, Va., resident had just won the Legg Mason Wild Card Challenge (“Tennis Anyone,” 7/16). That had earned him entry into the singles qualifying and doubles main draw of the Legg Mason Classic in August, some much-needed cash, and, perhaps most important, confidence. After collecting his trophy, Spracklin got in his car and took off to play a string of tournaments, ready to take on the world.

A month of successful money tournaments put a few thousand dollars into Spracklin’s pocket. This was enough to pay off credit-card bills and finance a trip to play two futures events in Illinois. The first week, Spracklin, seeded ninth in qualifying, rolled through two easy matches before facing off against a 16-year-old Czech player. On a changeover in a tense third set, the boy tried to strike up a conversation with Spracklin, asking him what his name was. “I was like, ‘What?’” says Spracklin, who ignored him but was nonetheless psyched out. “The whole rest of the match, I couldn’t get that question out of my head.” Spracklin lost in a tiebreaker.

He lost again in the second round of qualifying the next week, but he and his partner, Carl Clark, defeated the No. 1, 2, and 4 seeds on their way to the doubles title. That boosted his doubles ranking 100 places to 663, close to a career high, and turned a potentially wasted trip into an encouraging one.

This past weekend, six weeks after winning the Wild Card Challenge, Spracklin came back to town to redeem those wild cards. His singles ranking was the same as when he left, but his goals had crystallized. “First, I want to do a full schedule of playing only main-draw futures,” he declared. “That’ll take a bump of 300 to 400 ranking spots, but that’s really not that far away.”

Indeed, if Spracklin could win the three consecutive matches needed to qualify for the Legg Mason Classic, his ranking would jump to the low 700s. If he lost any of those three matches, however, he would have to go back out and win a futures event to earn the necessary ranking points.

In the first round of qualifying, Spracklin drew 403rd-ranked John Paul Fruttero, a player he lost to during college when Fruttero was attending UC Berkeley. The match was one of a handful to get pushed back a day because of the rains from Hurricane Charley, and on Sunday, under clear skies and a radiant sun, the grandstand court filled steadily as Spracklin and Fruttero finally played. After Spracklin fought off five match points to win 6-7, 6-3, 7-6, even the spectators watching from the grassy slope behind the court stood up and joined in the standing ovation.

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Spracklin played again in the afternoon, against seventh-seeded Yeu-Tzuoo “Jimmy” Wang. Though Wang is only 19 years old, the Taiwanese player has an agent, a sponsor, and a traveling coach, Scott Hill, courtesy of Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy, where Wang trains, gratis, when he isn’t on the road.

Wang, ranked 173rd in the world, had hardly broken a sweat the day before, beating Clark, 6-0, 6-0. Early on, Spracklin seemed up to the challenge, but he never got any traction, and he served miserably. Betrayed by his biggest weapon, Spracklin had his serve broken at love to lose the first set, 6-2. With no miracles left, he lost the second set, 6-1.

Hill, who scouted Spracklin and developed Wang’s game plan of pressuring Spracklin’s backhand, lobbing when Spracklin attacked the net, and serving wide to the corners, acknowledged that Hurricane Charley might have affected the outcome. “It’s too bad he had to play two matches today,” Hill said, “but we’ll take it. If he’d been fresh, it could have been a whole different story.”

After the match, an exhausted Spracklin sat in an empty food court. Beating Fruttero was no consolation for laying an egg against Wang. “This sucks,” he said, shaking his head. “This was a real good opportunity for me, and I’m disappointed.” But what about moral victories? “Reassurance I wanted in March,” he replied. “Right now, I want to win.”

Once the loss began to seep out of his system, Spracklin became more sanguine. “John Paul’s had good success on tour,” he mused. “He’s where I want to be, playing challengers and ATP qualifying, so beating him was really encouraging. And I’m still looking forward to the doubles here.”

The doubles title in Illinois had reminded Spracklin that his best shot of making a living at professional tennis might not be in singles. If he could beat the fourth-seeded team of Nenad Zimonjic and Justin Gimelstob, the number 15 and 77 doubles players in the world, he’d win $4,915 dollars and 40 ranking points, enough to boost him into the mid-400s.

The match began under the lights at 10:30 p.m., the last of the night. Spracklin and Clark quickly earned the respect of their opponents, getting three break points to Gimelstob and Zimonjic’s one. But they couldn’t convert. Gimelstob and Zimonjic could, however, and that was all they needed to win the first set, 6-4.

Spracklin and Clark pushed the second set into a tiebreaker, and they reached set point at 6-5 in the breaker. A Gimelstob volley winner evened it at 6-6, and Zimonjic’s ace up the middle gave the favorites the lead. Down 6-7, Clark spun in a second serve, and after a short exchange at the net, Zimonjic whipped a running forehand winner past Spracklin, who immediately dropped his head.

Spracklin hid his disappointment well while he and Clark signed autographs for a passel of young fans, but he was disconsolate when he walked over to his group of family and friends. “We had our feet in the door, but couldn’t kick it open,” he sighed.

Spracklin isn’t ready to give up, though. In a week, he will head out to play a series of futures events in Ecuador, his next step in attaining a ranking high enough to get him off the futures tour completely. Attaining this goal would disqualify him from playing next year’s Wild Card Challenge, however, which does not accept players who have participated in ATP or challenger-level events.

“That’s fine,” says Spracklin. “I’ll happily give up playing futures all year and just one big tournament. I want to be playing big tournaments every week.”CP