Youngsters hone tennis skills for tourney

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Baseline, baseline!&uot; Howard Mast calls to his Intermediate charges at the Suffolk Tennis Association Junior Clinic. &uot;Get the ball in one bounce!&uot;

It’s Monday morning, and dozens of youngsters are running up and down the Mast Tennis Complex behind Farm Fresh on Main Street, learning the basics of forehands, backhands, footwork, grips, and other basics of tennis. For the remainder of the week, they’ll be honing their skills for the Suffolk Junior Invitational Tournament, which begins June 24.

On Court Two, Robert Pablo and Kunal Kapoor are slamming the ball past each other again and again.

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&uot;Keep the ball in play,&uot; Mast tells them. &uot;Just keep the ball going for now; we’re not trying to score points yet.&uot;

Pablo, a Portsmouth resident, is relatively new to the court sport. &uot;My family got me into tennis last year, and I stayed with it because I liked it,&uot; says the 14-year-old. &uot;I finally learned to lob; for so long, I’ve been either hitting it too far or having trouble getting the ball up into the air. But the people here helped me change my grip a little, and I’m finally getting it into the air.&uot;

Kapoor, a two-year veteran of the STA, will be attempting to repeat his 2001 victory at the Invitational tournament. &uot;I don’t know how I’m going to do, because there’s going to be a lot of competition,&uot; says the 12-year-old Nansemond-Suffolk Academy student.

Not only did Kapoor win in both singles and doubles at last year’s Invitational, he also teamed with Lakeland High School tennis coach Randolph Holland to win the Kat and Kitten (adult-child) doubles tournament at the Mast Complex last weekend.

&uot;But I think I’m better at singles, because I’ve played it more,&uot; he explains.

One of the STA’s oldest competitors is Lisa Godwin, 16, a member of the Nansemond River High School team. &uot;I was seeded third on the team last year, and I’m going to try to make it to the top this year,&uot; says Godwin, who helps instruct the younger players. &uot;I just hope to improve over the summer for school.&uot;

Godwin bases her style of play after Venus and Serena Williams. &uot;They always try their best and work really hard.&uot;

The clinic has a great deal to offer players of any age, says Mast. &uot;The smallest kids, the Munchkins, we teach about footwork,&uot; he says, standing as though he’s about to hit a forearm smash. &uot;They need to learn how to place their feet when they’re hitting a forehand or backhand. They learn a lot about grips, which deals with how to hold the racket as you’re swinging it. Our youngest competitor is about four.&uot;