Manuel Bustamante earns golden ticket, spot in the NTRP National Championship

Published 8:30 am Saturday, March 23, 2024

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One of LaGrange’s very own has earned a golden ticket. No, Manuel Bustamante will not be taking a trip to a chocolate factory but rather will be heading to San Diego next month to participate in the 18+ NTRP National Championships.

“This became a real obsession and goal for me,” Bustamante said. “There was a qualifier up in Peachtree City that if you win they give you a golden ticket and you qualify.”

Bustamante is ranked no. 1 in the 18+ UTSA Southern and no. 4 nationally.

A native of Chile, Bustamante has been calling LaGrange home for over a decade now. Soccer was always his no. 1 sport throughout his life, but found the sport of tennis just a couple of years ago by chance.

“I moved to a new house over by the courts in Granger Park in 2021 and thought one day that I’d give it a shot since it’s right there and it would be a way to be more social in the new community, ” Bustamante said. “I started talking with people at the tennis center and they introduced me to my current coach and that’s where it all started.”

It has been a meteoric rise for Bustamante on the courts. So much so that if you had told him three years ago that he would be playing high-level tennis, he would have shook his head and laughed.

“I would never have thought about tennis before even as a hobby,” Bustamante said with a chuckle. “I was playing soccer with some friends up in Atlanta on the weekends then.”

With a racket in his hands, Bustamante now feels at ease. McCluskey Tennis Center feels like a second home. But the nerves still creep in at times. Whenever Bustamante takes the court for the opening match of a tournament it’s all nerves as it takes him a little while to settle in.

“It is terrifying,” Bustamante said. “Even to this day when I play my first match of a tournament, you can actually see my hands shaking. Whenever I start playing I start to think ‘What am I doing here? I don’t belong here.’ But once it gets going I settle down.”

Bustamante calms his nerves and remembers all the helpers he had had during his brief, but successful time on the tennis courts. Tom Standridge, his tennis coach, his fitness coach Christian Shakespeare and the man who strings my racquets, Bill Champion, have all been instrumental in Bustamante’s success. And whenever he feels the nerves jangling he thinks back on all they have taught him.

“I’m not from here, I’m from a foreign country, but they have really embraced me as part of the tennis community,” Bustamante said.

Tournament play can be a pressure-filled experience. Bustamante truly felt that pressure when he returned to his native Chile to take part in a tournament where his family got to see him play for the very first time.

“Last November I went to Chile to be named my nephew’s godfather and my family had never seen me play before so I registered for a tournament,” Bustamante said. “I ended up winning the tournament somehow because that was the first time he played on clay.

“I hadn’t been playing well that summer and into the fall, so to have my family there to see me win was special.”

His performance in Chile has helped him find his footing as he inches closer to the Nationals.

Bustamante will head to San Diego on April 2 with play set to start on the 5th. As he prepares for the biggest tournament of his life, Bustamante is brimming with confidence.

“I’m going to win. That’s the kindest,” Bustamante said. “I’m not saying I’m going to win as a statement, I’m saying that I’m preparing to go out there and win. I wouldn’t go if I didn’t feel like I could win.”