Kevin Thomas: Being from New York, what made you come to Clemson?
Derek DiFazio: Just the tennis team and nice weather. Legendary Coach Chuck Kriese was coaching here when I came in as a freshman, and just the opportunity to work with him and be part of a prestigious school and a prestigious tennis team.
KT: Before you came to Clemson, you were ranked No. 1 in the East in singles. Did you have any other big-time college offers?
DD: Yeah, I had some offers from different schools around the country, but basically, once I met Coach Kriese, I told [him that] the deal was sealed. To be honest, the East doesn’t get a lot of respect usually, so I had some other offers, but none of the schools compared to Clemson.
KT: What got you started playing tennis?
DD: Growing up in Brooklyn, I lived right down the street from Laurel Park. It was about five houses down from me, and I used to go over there. Actually, how I got into it was I used to go down there and hustle for matches. Basically, there would be handball games going on and tennis matches going on all day, and I would just hustle for money. That’s how I got into it. I started out as a hustler, and basically that’s what I still am at heart—and I always will be.
KT: Who are some of the people who you model your game after or have really helped you develop your game?
DD: There was a guy who used to go by the name of Soldano down at the park, and he was somewhat of a legend. Basically, it’s known as his court, the top court there. He used to just beat everyone. Anyone that wanted to challenge him, he’d accept the challenge, and he’d take them down. When I was starting to get into it, I really looked up to him. He kind of took me under his wings and showed me a lot of things about the game. To this day, I still haven’t beat him, but he’s a legend for sure.
KT: Who is or was your favorite professional tennis player?
DD: Pete Sampras.
KT: Who do you think the best tennis player right now is?
DD: Roger Federer. If Sampras and Federer played in a match, Sampras would win, I think. But in the overall scope of things, I think Federer is a better player with all that he’s accomplished.
KT: How tough is it to balance classes and tennis?
DD: Getting an education is important to me. At times, it’s tough; there will be a week where you have three or four tests and you have a couple matches. But for the most part, the coaches really work with you if you need a break here or there, so it’s not too bad.
KT: What is your favorite memory here at Clemson?
DD: One night two of my buddies on the tennis team and I were bored, and we went down to Walmart, and we got this stupid idea that we wanted to play paintball on campus. We bought a couple of cheap paintball guns, and we had paintball wars on campus for a little while until the cops ran us down. We got a hard time from coach about that. It was one of those things where maybe I regret it looking back on it, but it was one of those memories you never forget.
KT: Being from New York, did you have any favorite professional sports team that you cheered for?
DD: Yeah, the New York Knicks—die-hard Knicks fan.
KT: What do you think about this season, playoffs?
DD: If they make the playoffs, I’ll cry I’ll be so happy.
KT : Do you like Coach Mike D’Antoni?
DD: Yeah, I like him. They’ve still got some holes, but getting better for sure. We’ve got at least a solid base now to build off of.
KT: What’s your favorite surface to play?
DD: I like all surfaces. I like a variety.
KT: What’s your favorite, singles or doubles?
DD: I love both, but I prefer singles.
KT: You recently participated in the USTA National Men’s Open Mixed Open Indoor Championship at Flushing Meadows, N.Y. You advanced to the quarterfinals in singles, the semifinals in men’s open doubles, and won the mixed open doubles. How was that experience for you, and what will you take from it?
DD: That was a great experience playing where they play the U.S. Open. Obviously, those courts have a lot history. I got to play 20 matches in four days because I played all three events. I got to play with the No. 1 junior in the world in mixed doubles. She’s a six-time Grand Slam Champion, and that was a great experience. She was nice and really pretty. I also got to play with my coach growing up, John Cook, in doubles. We had a lot of fun playing doubles, and basically it was just a great tournament.
KT: What are some of your personal goals for this season and for your future in tennis?
DD: My goals are to finish out my career, hopefully four good years at Clemson playing for the Tigers, and to help this team be as good as it can be while I’m a part of it. And with that, take what I can from this experience into the Pro Tour and try to make a living playing tennis.
KT: Where is the team currently ranked?
DD: I don’t really know exactly where we’re ranked. I don’t follow too closely, but I consider us around a top 40, top 30 team with room to improve.
KT: So far, the team is 2-0. What is your outlook for the rest of the season for this year’s men’s tennis team?
DD: We expect to be in the top four in the ACC and top 30 in the nation; those are our team goals. Building off last year, I feel we really can do it. We got off to a good start last weekend, and we had a couple guys playing well in the fall. We’re just going to try and take that momentum into the season, especially into the ACC schedule, where it really gets tough.
KT: Anything you would like to add?
DD: Yeah, a long time ago there was a girl I was in love with and lost touch with so if anyone knows Ali Andrews could you please help me reconnect with her. Also, if anyone knows the one and only Lisa Spinelli, Erica from Commack, Julia from Joel Ross Summer Camp Class of ’98, or the girl from Sayville, could you please tell them to contact me? It would just be amazing if I could get reacquainted with any of them. If anyone has any way of contacting any of these people, please tell them to call me at 631-901-5220. That’s about all; just Go Tigers!