Swinging into the U.S.
Wednesday, 09 February 2011 15:33
Frank Chen was dressed in a white Nike Dri-Fit short sleeve University of Arizona shirt, white loose fitting tennis shorts with the UA "block A" logo on the bottom of the left side, white long socks, a white Nike Arizona hat and a pair of white Nike tennis shoes. He had three necklaces, two made of magnesium and one pure gold, draped over the collar of his shirt. Chen was walking back to the baseline on court three, about to take his first dual match start in doubles action of his collegiate career against the University of California Riverside (UCR) Highlanders.
An hour and a half prior to first serve, the 5-foot-10-inch UA tennis player sat in the team room at the LaNelle Robson Tennis Center listening to music. Not listening to anyone. Strategizing how he is going to play his first collegiate dual match since coming to the United States in 2008 from Taiwan, where he had lived for 16 years.
Chen, born Chih Chen in Houli, Taiwan on Oct. 4, 1990 has lived in three different countries: Taiwan, Australia and currently the United States. He carries something internally with him from each of the countries that he has been to. The sophomore lived in Taiwan for 14 years until he moved to Australia, where he learned the English language while attending school and training for tennis. Two years later, Chen was on the move again, back to Taiwan where he now could fluently speak English.
"It was hard," Chen said. "I had to use a lot of body language to support my English at the beginning."
Forced out of Taiwan because of the military drafting process, Chen and his father, Chia-Hung Chen, were on the prowl for a "good public school" in the United States. During the process, Chen attended Weil Tennis Academy in Ojai, Calif. to train for tennis while earning his high school diploma online from the Laurel Springs School. Chen, his father and his coach from the Academy narrowed his choices down to Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Minnesota and Oklahoma.
"My dad wanted me to go with a school that has good academics and a good tennis program," Chen said. "Arizona is the right place for me and coaches Tad (Berkowitz) and Tommy (Lloyd) are really good coaches. They had their best year before I came."
After choosing Arizona, Chen contacted Berkowitz, the head coach of the Wildcats. Tennis was always a part of Chen's life. He started playing tennis when was six years old after his father convinced him to play. He wanted him to play professionally and represent Taiwan. Soon after, Chen was on his way to becoming a part of the Wildcat family. He took a recruiting trip to the UA in 2009 when the team was facing Stanford in a dual match.
"I met everyone in the team room before the match," Chen said. "They all seemed really nice."
In retrospect, senior Geoff Embry remembers Chen as being a very respectable person in his first visit to Tucson.
"He bowed to us in the team room," Embry said. "He didn't say too much. Last season as a freshman we kind of gave him a lot of duties, but this year he's really coming into his own."
Chen said the biggest difference between Taiwan and America is the lifestyle and culture. The way people treat other people is very different along with the way people travel, according to Chen. He said he uses a subway to go places in Taiwan and Taipei City is busier than Tucson.
"I was told to be extremely polite and respectful towards my elders," Chen said. "When I was young I didn't express my opinion. I was just allowed to listen. I talk differently when speaking to my peers than I do speaking to my elders. Sometimes I even bow when I see elders. I remember when I didn't play well back in the day my coach would always scold me. I had to stand up right and put my head down while listening."
Here are 10 things to know about Chen:
Favorite food: "Taiwanese BBQ pork with rice and Korean sul lung tang."
Favorite kind of music: "Sentimental and depressing Asian music. If there's too much going on in my head I just need some music to calm down. So I feel peaceful."
Favorite day of the week: "Friday because you finish school and you have two free days."
Favorite tennis memory: "I was playing in an international junior tournament in Sri Lanka when I was 16 years old. It was a three and a half hour match. I had a bloody nose, headache and my legs were cramping I won 8-6 in a tiebreaker after being down 6-2. I couldn't walk. I couldn't even get up to go shake my opponents hand so he came to shake mine."
Philosophy on the court: "To give 120 percent and run to every ball until I can't run anymore. I'm always proud to play a match for Arizona, Tad and Tommy, my teammates and my parents."
How often do you get the opportunity to go back to Taiwan: "Twice a year, at Christmas and during the summer. It's a 14 hour flight."
What did you do while you were home for Christmas: "I went to the store called Carrefour, a place like Costco and bought a lot of stuff to bring back, hung out with family a lot and went to a New Year countdown where I watched fireworks in Taipei City."
How did you get all that stuff (pictured) back to Tucson: "I brought all that stuff in my racquet bag. I came back with a total of 100 pounds with my racquet bag and two suitcases."
Thoughts on the tennis season: "We are one of the best teams in program history. It should be a good season."
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