Outside of strong tennis fundamentals, Roman Catholic tennis coach Patrick Shanahan knows why De'Sean Fennell was able to achieve four-year perfection while playing team matches for the Cahillites.
"He's got so much heart," Shanahan said. "In a game where choking is rather normal, I must say I've never seen De'Sean choke in a tight match. Actually, he takes his game to a higher level in those situations."
Fennell, a 5-foot-7, 145-pound senior, went a jaw-dropping 61-0 in his career while competing at No. 1 singles in team matches for Roman. He lost just three sets.
Last Friday, the 18-year-old captured his second PIAA District 12 Class AAA singles title in the last three seasons with a 6-3, 6-0 triumph over Central's Rodney Cherry. Fennell will begin his quest for a state crown May 27 at the Hershey Racquet Club.
"I'm pretty excited about the tournament," Fennell said. "I'd like to win it for my school. Roman has never been recognized as a tennis school."
The last three seasons, with Fennell leading the way, the Cahillites advanced to the Catholic League final before losing to perennial power La Salle. The squad bowed to St. Joseph's Prep in the semifinals this spring.
"I was hoping that we'd win at least one league championship," he said. "We came close, but just couldn't get over the hump."
The quick-footed Fennell, who lives near 28th Street and Allegheny Avenue in North Philadelphia, honed his skills for eight years at the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education Center in Manayunk.
"The people there paved the way for inner-city kids like myself to play and learn the game of tennis," he said.
Fennell now trains with High Performance Tennis Academy coaches at the Aquatic and Fitness Center in Bala Cynwyd.
"He wears you down from the baseline," Shanahan said. "His ball has a lot of topspin. He's a really smart ground-stroke player."
In the most recent United States Tennis Association Middle States rankings, Fennell was No. 14 in the 18-and-younger division. He will continue his career at La Salle University.
His favorite pro tennis players? Frenchmen Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
"With their quickness, they cover the court very well," Fennell said. "That's something I'm pretty good at, too."