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Injury delays start of season for Tiger tennis player

Harrison St. Clair is working to overcome hand injury that slowed start to season.

The aggressive, free-flowing swing of Harrison St. Clair’s forehand and compact power delivered in his one-handed backstroke were derailed for the early portion of the tennis season by, of all things, passion for Oklahoma Sooners football.

As Georgia’s Sony Micheal took the direct snap, dashed outside Sooner defensive containment and sprinted along the sideline untouched for a game-deciding, double-overtime touchdown in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day to deny OU the opportunity to play for a national championship, St. Claire unleashed his frustration by punching a living room wall.

“It comes from my dad’s side,” St. Clair explained. “We’re crazy OU fans. We yell at the TV and it even scares our dogs. But that was an expensive punch.”

The end results were four pins in his right hand. Two each on the ring and pinky finger bones. It delayed the Broken Arrow High School junior’s tennis season, but offered quick educational.

“Don’t punch walls. Walls win,” St. Clair said.

The next thought was about the coming spring.

“There goes tennis,” St. Clair said. “The doctor said it was one of the nastiest breaks she had ever seen.”

Two months and two surgeries later, the player slated to play No. 1 singles for the 2018 Tigers will play his first competitive match of the season this week. At doubles. His hope – and that of Coach Scott Milner – is to play singles shortly after spring break.

“It was painful having to watch everyone practice and sit on the bench,” St. Clair said. “It’s one of the best feelings to get back and play a sport that I love.”

St. Clair’s passion for tennis came at a young age while watching the game on television. He idolized Roger Federer, the greatest player of his generation and perhaps of all time.

“His one-hander definitely made me want to have a one-hand backhand,” St. Claire said.

The injury has slowed the on-going development of that backhand, however.

“It’s hard trying to get back in the feel because I haven’t had enough power to put into my one-hander,” St. Clair said. “It’s not even really pain anymore. It’s just a little sting. I’m getting there.”

The forehand St. Clair claims as his “biggest weapon” is coming into form as well.

“When I unload on a forehand it stings pretty bad,” he said. “It makes me want to slow it down a little bit. It does pop in my mind that I’m going to hurt my hand again, so I ease it down. I need to find that middle stage.”

It is not just the power of Federer’s swing that drew St. Claire to pattern his style of play after the record-setting, 20-time Grand Slam champion.

“He’s so self-composed,” St. Claire noted. “I was a hothead in ninth grade. Tenth grade I was getting there, but now I’m just trying to be self-composed. Show no emotion and no one gets in your head.”

St. Claire is a two-time state qualifier. He played singles as a freshman and No. 1 doubles with Luke Herndon a year ago.

“He is not going to be surprised by any challenges or high pressure situations,” Milner spoke of St. Claire’s state tournament experience. “When he gets back into singles, he’s going to be motivated. He’s going to be pumped up. He’s going to be really hungry to earn his spot and establish himself. He will be in a good place mentally.”