Senior Andy Nakajima spent a term in Florida to improve skills

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior Andy Nakajima improved his game at the Chris Everett Tennis Academy in South Florida, and has come back with a newfound confidence for the Skyhawk boys tennis team. Nakajima beat Sunsets Jared Lin on Monday, 6-3, 6-4.

The Evert Tennis Academy is not for the feeble.

Geared toward players who are committed to an intensive training schedule in an effort to maximize their potential both on and off the court, the acdaemy systematically addresses every aspect of a player’s game, according to the website.

Based in the tennis hot bed of South Florida, the academy was 3,000 miles away from the comforts of home for Southridge’s Andy Nakajima when the Skyhawk senior decided to spend September through January grinding on the clay courts, sharpening his southpaw skill set, and making his game college-ready.

It might not have been the most comfortable circumstances, hammering balls in high humidity and absorbing gnarly training sessions for six or seven hours a day. But, the Utah State University commit has come back to Oregon this spring bigger, stronger, toned and steeled for the Metro District’s stretch run.

“It was a pretty rigorous schedule, but I think it worked out in the long run,” said Nakajima. “It took a while to get adjusted because the competition was much different, and so was the climate. But, it was an awesome experience. The competition and coaches were great, so it really helped me a lot.”

As opposed to Oregon’s dicey weather where it rains nine months out of the year, Nakajima said it was great being able to just go out and play in Boca Raton’s 90-degree heat. More than getting great instruction from some of the country’s best coaches, and learning how to incorporate a Rafael Nadal-like slide into his game that’s helped him reach previously untouchable balls on the outer reaches of the court, Nakajima’s fitness level has also gone to the another status.

“I can stay in the point for longer and be more patient than before I left,” said Nakajima. “I definitely got some much-needed experience. It was almost a step between high school and college. Obviously I’d love to win in high school tennis, but that’s not always the most important thing. I want to get ready for next year and the fall where I’ll be playing against bigger guys.”

More confident than at any time during his career, Nakajima has unhesitatingly thwacked some of the Metro’s best this spring with his latest victim being Sunset’s Jared Lin on Monday, 6-3, 6-4.

“I knew it was going to be a tough one for both of us, so I focused on what I needed to do,” said Nakajima. “I tried to focus on being patient and attacking with my better shots. Overall, I didn’t want to go for too much, and just focused on my game.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset's Jared Lin fought hard against Southridges Andy Nakajima, but lost a tough 6-3, 6-4 decision.

Playing against a fellow lefty with funky spin on his returns, Nakajima tried to limit Lin’s effectiveness by exploiting the Apollo’s weaknesses and ensure Lin couldn’t attack on his stronger side. About 95 percent of tennis players are right-handed, Nakajima noted, which takes a while to adjust to.

“You don’t see a whole lot of lefties around, so it’s definitely an advantage with the whole spin concept,” said Nakajima. “Most righties don’t see it coming, so especially earlier in the matches, it catches them off-guard and gets you easy points.”

Each set between Nakajima and Lin was one break each, so it wasn’t a blowout match by any means. Lin said he served reliably in the second set and felt overall played well. In the second set, the two were on serve, but that’s when Lin said Nakajima took over with his “crazy game that I couldn’t do anything abou.t”

Lin’s had it out with all of the Metro’s best this season as Sunset’s top player, and though the lefty admits he plays better on the USTA circuit, he’s adjusted to the high school setting.

“I’ve been improving each match, and hopefully next match I can play even better and hopefully win,” said Lin. “I’ve improved my game-style by playing so many matches.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset's second-ranked player Jonathan Suy beat Southridges Joaquin Sabrots on Monday.

Jonathan Suy said he wasn’t aggressive as he could’ve been at the beginning of his No. 2 singles’ match with Southridge’s Joaquin Sabarots, but by the match’s end was able to maintain the pressure on the Skyhawk for the win.

“I wasn’t losing the points, he had to win the points if he wanted them,” said Suy. “I wanted to attack at the net more often and make him miss. I wanted him to hit one extra shot no matter what. If there was a ball where it looked like he was going to win the point, I just made sure I got to that ball.”

Suy hasn’t lost a match this season as Sunset’s second-ranked player. He played well at the Jesuit tournament, which has him enthused about possibly winning a few district matches either a singles or doubles player.

“As long as you get to state, that’s what really matters,” said Suy. “Singles’ is a tough break because they’re all great players, so I’m thinking about playing doubles to try and get to state.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge's Joaquin Sabrots is a talented lefty who relishes the competition and team unity of tennis.

Sabarots said he gave up some costly free points that hurt, yet enjoyed rallying with Suy, a familiar opponent from the UTSA circuit.

“The adrenaline is crazy,” said Sabarots. “Your body just starts going nuts because you don’t want to be the first one to miss. You know whoever wins that point is going to get really pumped up. But, I really enjoy it no matter if I win or lose.”

A passionate player who wears his emotions on his sleeve, Sabarots “has a blast” playing with his teammates and using their support to buoy his game.

“When I’m down, I just think of how much I love playing,” said Sabarots. “It really brings me up sometimes. I just love the sport, and I love how my energy can bring me up when I’m down.”

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