Hudson Dunn had never stepped foot on a tennis court when he showed up for practice at Providence Country Day just a few weeks ago. He didn’t own a racquet, a pair of tennis sneakers or even know the rules of the game.
Yet 48 hours or so after he hit a tennis ball for the very first time, Dunn became PCD’s No. 1 singles player. He has been playing competitive matches for just over two weeks and with a 6-0, 6-0 win against Scituate last Thursday, the first year tennis player improved to 3-1.
Dunn, the first year player, is a surprise addition to the squad and has been the unexpected key to PCD’s early success. The Knights are 4-0 in Division III.
With a roster filled with inexperienced underclassmen including 11 freshman, PCD first year head coach Mike Silva didn’t anticipate a 4-0 start.
“I thought this was a rebuilding year and now we have a shot to win the division,” said Silva.
Practice had already been underway when Dunn, a junior who arrived at PCD this year, showed up at the Kendbrin Tennis Courts in East Providence. Dunn let Silva know he had never played tennis before. Dunn also let Silva know he was a nationally ranked squash player.
“So I knew right away he’s competitive…he’s got footwork and just hits the ball in a non-tennis way. Everything is the slice,” said Silva.
By the second day of practice Silva pulled Dunn from the doubles court filled with rookies and sent him to play a match with PCD’s experienced No. 2 singles player.
“I wanted to see how he would do in a singles match,” said Silva. “He had never played a singles match before.”
“I didn’t know anything about tennis. I knew you had to keep the ball in the lines,” said Dunn.
Dunn went out and beat his PCD teammate in 20 minutes, 6-0 and then took down the No. 1 singles player in similar fashion, 6-2.
“The first match against the No. 2 is the first time he played a single match – ever. He played tennis for a few days and he’s hitting short angles and running this guy all over the court. This guy was exhausted and couldn’t do anything with his spin. The same thing in the next match against the No. 1. (Dunn’s) coming to the net and this slice from the squash shot is coming in three feet over the net and by the time you get there to volley, it’s dropping low.”
Then Silva stepped on the court and faced the unconventional shots he had just witnessed defeat his top two singles players.
“Same thing. I was trying to hit this volley that I thought was right in my strike zone and it would drop so quick. I said, “This kid is going to be nasty. He’s going to drive his opponents crazy. The majority of the kids are going to be lost. There are some kids that he might struggle with, but he’s going to be tough to beat.”
With no equipment and little knowledge of the game, Dunn became PCD’s No. 1 singles player.
“Mike gave me a racquet and shoes, because I was playing squash shoes and they are meant for wood squash courts- not a tennis surface. I ripped right through the side after two days.”
Dunn has taken the talents and skills he developed as a nationally ranked squash player – speed, footwork and competitive nature- and brought them to the tennis court where he has flourished despite his inexperience.
Dunn had to adjust to the bounce of the tennis ball, which was much slower than the rubber squash ball he was used to. He also had to adjust to the weight of the tennis racquet, which is heavier than a squash racquet and caused soreness in his forearm. But Dunn showed no signs he was new to the sport. With a borrowed racquet and a new pair of tennis shoes, the 6-foot, 135 pound Dunn frustrated his opponent with his slice and unconventional side serve and easily won his first high school tennis match 6-1, 6-1.
“I’ve been doing (a) slice for ten years playing squash. I think people don’t really understand how to defend it. That’s one thing. Initially, I didn’t have an overhead serve. I had a side spin serve. I think that confuses people, too. My game is a lot trickier to play than a conventional tennis player,” said Dunn.
“Tennis is a lot slower than squash so the amount of time I get in between a ball I can get set up and ready for the next one a lot faster than squash. In squash you are hitting off the wall at 110 miles an hour. I also have a lot of speed and have done thousands of hours of footwork on a squash court so it comes natural to me.”
“He doesn’t have a winner, but he tries to make his opponent make the mistake. He’s so quick and he has a lot of confidence. He knows how to compete and he doesn’t get frustrated. Even the one match he lost (6-4, 6-4 to North Smithfield), he kept his composure and kept fighting.”
“I’m really good at competing. I’ve been doing it for so long, especially when it comes to an individual sport,” said Dunn.
He has been competing in squash for more than a decade. He was introduced to sport when he was a little boy by his father, who played at Boston College. By the time Dunn was 11 he was nationally ranked.
“I was good at winning at a young age,” said Hudson. “And there was so much to learn about squash – – it drew me in.”
Dunn, who has competed in tournaments across the country and and all over the world, is currently ranked #28 nationally in the under-19 Division and has ranked as high as 4th in the country (when he competed in under 13).
As a high school freshman, he attended Avon Old Farms in Connecticut and was a key member of the squash team that finished fifth in the country. He studied remotely at home in Narragansett when the Coronavirus shut down Avon’s campus and when his squash coach left the school, Dunn decided to stay home and attend PCD, his dad’s alma mater.
PCD requires its students to play a sport each season. It doesn’t offer squash, but some of Dunn’s friends played tennis so he decided to give it a shot.
“I like the individuality and the support of the team,” said Dunn. “I’m having a lot of fun,” he said.,
Dunn’s goal is to keep moving up the national ranks in squash and to play in college, but for now, he’s enjoying the success he is having with his new racquet sport and his new team.”
“I love tennis. It’s a lot of fun. I love Mike (Silva) and this team,” said Dunn. “I want to keep learning and keep getting better. I love winning. There’s nothing better.”