When Nik Speshilov moved from Moscow to this country with his family at age 10, the current Torrey Pines High senior couldn’t speak English — yet he could talk tennis in a sense.
Then still a novice in the game, Speshilov took to the court and found a way to connect with peers in Rancho Bernardo, where his family first located.
“The only way that I could communicate and make friends was through tennis,” Speshilov recalled. “In the classroom, I did not say anything. You just take small steps each day.”
After the first year, Speshilov could speak using basic terms, and following the second, he felt comfortable conversing. Meanwhile, his tennis game also made great strides to where he’s become a top contender for the San Diego Section singles championship this year.
Speshilov made a shorter move to the Torrey Pines area last year and helped the Falcons win their third straight section Open Division team crown and claim the Southern California Regional title as well.
“Nik’s a very good athlete and a good kid,” first-year Falcons coach Skip Strode said. “He usually wins just because he’s very, very consistent. You can’t just have an efficient game to beat him. You have to have a weapon.”
The 6-foot-2 Speshilov, who has added four inches in height during his prep years, has committed to play college tennis at Point Loma Nazarene, where he will study biology in hopes of a career in medicine.
“I like helping people out in general,” Speshilov said. “It’s a good fit for me because medical issues are always arising. I just want to help people who need it.”
While he has dealt the with aches and pains from this tennis workload over the years, Speshilov experienced a further medical issue last summer when he suffered a fractured foot following titles in two junior tournaments.
Initial X-rays didn’t reveal the fracture, so he persevered playing, but that only delayed recovery until he received the proper diagnosis. In all, he was sidelined for three months into October.
“That was tough for me mentally, but now I’m just thankful to be playing,” Speshilov said. “Now I just have to be more aware of my body.”
Into this year, Speshilov is developing more of an all-court game in preparation for college. It’s been his nature to stay steady on the baseline.
“I’m more of a defensive player, a counterpuncher,” Speshilov said. “I fight for every point. I usually wait for my opponent to give me a shot and then I go on offense.”
Speshilov became familiar with how tough it is to oppose Torrey Pines when he played his first two prep seasons at Rancho Bernardo. Then he joined the Falcons, contributing a singles sweep in their 12-6 section finals victory over Canyon Crest.
“When we moved, at first I was hesitant leaving all my friends at Rancho Bernardo,” Speshilov said. “But then I looked at it as a chance to experience a different atmosphere at Torrey Pines. The school is great, and the tennis amazing.”
Seeded fourth in the individual singles tourney, Speshilov lost in the quarterfinals to Westview senior Robert Liu in a match against a player he’s never beaten.
Now his goal is to take the title.
From the team standpoint, Speshilov inherits a leadership role as the only senior back from last year’s finals lineup.
“I try to bring my best tennis at all times for every point,” Speshilov said. “If the other guys have a positive example to follow, they’ll want to work harder and just be better players and people in general.”
That’s tennis talk in action.
--Glae Thien is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune