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Success story has French twist

A young tennis phenom's life takes a curious path from France to north Tampa to Alabama.

By TERRY JONES

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


TAMPA PALMS -- In the foothills of the Alps in northern France, Nicolas Beuque began swinging a tennis racket at age 3.

He and the racket were the same size, and getting the ball over the net was a feat. By the time he was 12, Beuque was being recruited by the French Tennis Federation into the Creps Sports Center Academy near Paris.

"The Creps Academy is a boarding school for promising athletes of all sports that is financed by the government," Beuque said. "My mother preferred that I focus on my studies rather than sports, but she and my dad agreed to the move."

Two years later he transferred to Palmer Tennis Academy here in north Tampa. Beuque, now 17, said it provides the perfect balance of school and tennis. He lives in Tampa Palms in housing provided by the academy.

Beuque misses the Alps but said he has adjusted to life in Florida. "I love Tampa and the hot weather," he said.

Beuque is ranked in the top 30 for 18-year-olds, has completed four years of high school in three years, and has earned a full scholarship at the University of Alabama, where he will start this fall.

He spends four and sometimes five hours every weekday on the tennis court practicing and training with international coaches, then spends another four to five hours in class. Since there are only 40 students on campus, teachers and coaches provide quality time for each student.

Richard Matuszewski, owner and director of the academy, said that all the students are offered college scholarships by the time they graduate.

"Nicolas has done well and selected one of the top tennis colleges in the country when he chose Alabama," Matuszewski said.

Leaving his family to live so far from home was difficult for Beuque, but his parents are supportive. He talks with them at least once a month and spends his summers at his home in Reims, France, playing European youth tournaments and traveling with his rock band.

Although he spoke no English when he arrived at the academy, some of the coaches and several other French students encouraged him to speak English. His guitar also became a close companion, helping him adjust to his new living situation.

"I love rock music," he said. His five-member band is called Silences Slames. "We have recorded two CDs in France and will do a small tour this summer when I return home."

But Beuque said tennis always comes first. "I plan to play more tennis than music this summer. The European competition is usually tougher than here, but I have learned enough at Palmer to be tougher there."

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