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GLADEVILLE — Michael Mercante was born six weeks premature and spent the first two weeks of his life in an incubator because he was considered too small.

Next week the 5-foot, 98-pound Wilson Central sophomore will compete for his first  Class AAA state tennis title.

Mercante weighed just three pounds when he was born and has faced the challenge of being smaller than others his entire life.

“A lot of people underestimate me, but I like to use that as a weapon,” Mercante said.

Mercante won the District 9-AAA and Region 5-AAA singles titles earlier this month. However, he’s not satisfied.

He needed three sets in both the Region 5-AAA semifinals and final to beat Rossview’s Eli Robinson and Logan Miller. The combined court time was more than five hours, and both Rossview players took medical timeouts due to cramps.

Yet Mercante was unfazed.

“I want to win the first match (in the state tournament), that’s my goal. I know how hard it is to get to state, so I want to at least make the semifinals,” Mercante said.

To do that, Mercante will have to beat Siegel’s Husain Al-Zubaidi, a state semifinalist a year ago. They play at 9 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals at Old Fort Park.

Mercante (14-2) is the first Wildcat to advance to the state tournament.

“He fights. His whole life he’s been a fighter,” Wilson Central coach Ryan Jent said. “The fact that he is going to state is amazing given that our program is still developing.”

Mercante was initially encouraged by his parents to start tennis, the sport he has been playing since he was 9.

“I just wanted to try. I thought it was a pretty interesting sport. I really enjoyed playing and have stuck with it,” Mercante said.

While Mercante is an accomplished tennis athlete, he also wrestles, which helps him stay in shape for tennis.

“In wrestling you’re taught to never give up, to keep going at it and to keep fighting until the end,” Mercante said

Mercante’s stature has helped him fly under the radar in his competition.

“Sometimes I do feel intimidated when my opponent is much bigger than me,” Mercante said. “I am faster than most of the kids though, so my size does help me occasionally.”

“So many times you see athletes who work, but don’t sacrifice. Michael sacrifices — he gives it his best,” Jent said.

Reach Andrew Preston at apreston@tennessean.com.