SANTA BARBARA — Picture Huck Finn with the personality of John McEnroe.
Tim Trigueiro has red hair and a disarming smile on his sunburned face, where freckles flourish. His self-esteem is also flourishing.
Trigueiro, from Santa Barbara High, is a tennis player and a very good one. He is ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section, heading for UCLA on a scholarship, and is one of the best 18-year-old players in the United States.
"I only get to see him about three times a year, but he has really worked at his game," said John Fullerton, the Palos Verdes High coach.
"He has really improved since last year. He has the ability and intensity to be a truly outstanding college player. Plus, he doesn't shy away from the work it takes. He's tournament tough. If he has an attitude, it's the attitude of a winner."
Tournament tough not only describes Trigueiro's resiliency in the clutch, but may partially explain an initial impression that sometimes comes across as arrogance.
"Yeah, we have to put a damper on the cockiness," said his father, Jack, who has been the tennis coach at Santa Barbara for 22 years. "We talk about humility and respect for opponents. I think the cockiness comes from the way people perceive him according to his tennis ability. It's nice to be perceived as a great player.
"Tennis is different from almost any other sport because it's so individual. The responsibility is obvious for success and failure. I think that can create great amounts of pressure.
"But the Swedes have proved that you can be great and still maintain a degree of humility. Tim's behavior on the court is actually pretty good."
Indeed, his son's behavior on the court is exemplary and once you get past the initial bravado, you learn that Tim Trigueiro isn't such a disagreeable sort. In fact, he's got the kind of confidence that may someday translate into a Wimbledon or U.S. Open victory.
"I beat myself sometimes because I'm my own worst enemy," he said. "I go for it too much. I'm too aggressive when I should be conservative.
"But tennis isn't a riot (simply fun) or anything. The better I get, the more secure I get in my ability, but I also get a little insecure, more scared. So I get better, but I get scared, too . . . because you have more to lose."
Trigueiro was in a pressure cooker April 6, playing Chris Garner in the semifinals of the Tropicana Invitational at Bradenton, Fla. Garner hails from New York, but he had the homecourt advantage since he is attending Nick Bollettieri's tennis camp, the site of the tournament.
Trigueiro played well, but lost to Garner in a tiebreaker. Even so, he relished the experience.
"I like it when the fans are hostile," Trigueiro said. "I couldn't care less if they are against me. It's hard when you play against a player and the fans, but when you get to a certain point and you have no choice, you better bear down and take them all on.
"But it's more important to concentrate on your match, otherwise you get distracted and that's not a very good position to be in.
"I like being the underdog. Anybody can beat me--anybody--but I can beat anybody, too. That's what makes the game interesting."
More interesting is Trigueiro's rise to prominence over the last few years. It wasn't meteoric, just steady. He credits his father for getting him started, but also praises Larry Mousouris, a club coach in Santa Barbara.
"I give tons of credit to Larry because he not only helped me in tennis, but as a person, too," Trigueiro said. "My improvement has been gradual because I have the type of game that is going to evolve as I become more physically mature.
"I play a serve-and-volley game and sometimes it's hard to see the improvement. You make spurts. You do well in this tournament or that tournament and all of a sudden you look up and say 'Geez, look how high I am in the rankings.' But it's not automatic. It's gradual.
"And as you get more experience, it becomes mental more than physical. You have to understand adverse situations and learn to cope with them and come out on top."
As a basketball coach, Trigueiro's father won 240 basketball games and lost only 90, coaching such talented athletes as Jamaal Wilkes and Don Ford. But he never won a Southern Section championship.
The elder Trigueiro has also won 17 straight Channel League tennis titles, but never a Southern Section championship. This year, with his son and senior Alex Nizet, who is heading for Cal in the fall, may be the year.
Beyond that, Jack Trigueiro believes that his son has the ability and the mental discipline to someday make his mark on the professional tour. Others agree. People such as Pancho Segura and Marty Riessen also see a bright future for the senior right-hander.
"He's got a big serve, a big net game," Jack Trigueiro said. "And he has great range at the net because of his athletic ability. He reacts to the ball extremely well.
"In his age group, out of the top 10 players, he's the only one who has never been in one of those tennis camps or schools. When he gets to UCLA, it will be his first experience in an intense program. I think his tennis will improve more rapidly than the boys who have already been exposed to it.
"But after a while the physical level equalizes as people become more mature. But the guys who win consistently, and consistently win the big points, are able to stay focused or concentrate for longer periods of time. It's mental toughness and Tim has it."
For his own part, the younger Trigueiro made a brash prediction, as if a reporter expected it, but then caught himself, allowing a little Huck Finn to show through.
"Are you going to beat Garner the next time?" he was asked.
"I guarantee I'll beat him," he said, and then added in a lower voice, "I hope."