Some See a Winning Future in La Plata Freshman's Loss at State Tennis Tourney

La Plata freshman Aaron Gomez lost in the state tournament semifinals Saturday, but his performance at the event drew the attention of spectators and coaches.
La Plata freshman Aaron Gomez lost in the state tournament semifinals Saturday, but his performance at the event drew the attention of spectators and coaches. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Stephen Ball
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 28, 2009

A quick glance at the boys' singles bracket from the state tennis tournament shows that La Plata's Aaron Gomez advanced to the semifinals, although he fell to Pikesville senior Paul Burgin in a three-set thriller. What the bracket does not show is the impact that Gomez, 14, made at the event last weekend.

To those who have followed Southern Maryland tennis, Gomez's abilities are no secret. The 5-foot-4 freshman generates unusual power in his serve and forehand, which complements the smoothness of his backhand and baseline-to-baseline speed.

Like many who make the state tournament, Gomez went unchallenged in conference play. Undefeated through the regular season, he swept through the SMAC and regional tournaments, never losing a set.

In his first-round match Saturday at the University of Maryland against friend and USTA practice partner Myron Davis of C.H. Flowers, Gomez looked tight. But even in a choppy and at times ugly match-up, he prevailed.

"We were both pretty tight and nervous most of the match," Gomez said. "It was the first time we'd played each other in a setting like that."

In his quarterfinal matchup against Churchill senior Felix Sun, who is ranked sixth in the USTA boys' Mid-Atlantic 18-and-younger rankings, Gomez relished the opportunity, and his play settled down considerably.

"I really was excited to play a guy of Felix's caliber," Gomez said. "He's so smart in the way he plays and thinks through a match. For me, it's easier to get mentally prepared for a guy like that than it is for someone I think I can beat."

The match became the highlight of the day, drawing spectators who watched every point intently. After Gomez took the first set 6-4, Sun took a 5-2 lead in the second and was serving to tie the match.

"At that point, I was just trying to go back and remind myself what I was doing early on," Gomez said. "I broke his serve and then held my own. From there, I was able to battle back."

Gomez won that match, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).

Even in his semifinal match against Burgin, Gomez never seemed overmatched, taking the first set, 6-4. But Burgin battled back, fighting off several game points and winning the second set, 6-2.

In the final set, Gomez and Burgin appeared exhausted. Their once powerful serves had slowed significantly, and what had been 10-shot rallies became three at best. Burgin prevailed, but as Gomez left the court, several coaches could be heard discussing his chances for next year.

"You know what's amazing?" one coach said to no one in particular. "When he wins this thing next year, he still won't be old enough to drive himself home."

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