He says he's 5 feet 10. That might be an exaggeration. But when he says he can play tennis, that's no exaggeration.
Langley's Philip Shipp placed third in the Northern District championships last year and is the favorite to win the district, region and possibly the state title this spring.
Shipp displays the strengths needed for such an accomplishment: he combines power and accuracy in his groundstrokes and has excellent court movement.
In a recent pro-set match, which he won, 10-3, against West Potomac's Adam Joyce, Shipp demonstrated one of his strongest assets -- endurance. Shipp, for the early part of the match, simply developed his rhythm while taking a 4-3 lead. Joyce appeared ready to stage an upset, but Shipp then reeled off six consecutive games, giving up no more than two points to Joyce in each.
"He'll work you around and make you really struggle for every point," said Joyce, toweling off afterward. "But don't misjudge him. He can take a ball and slam it down your throat."
Shipp transferred to Langley from T.C. Williams this year. According to Langley Coach Griff Lamkin, he needs to improve his serve and develop a stronger net game to be a dominant force. A sophomore, the left-hander has plenty of time.
Shipp confuses his opponents with what he calls his lefty spin. "It curves in differently than a right-hander would serve it," he said.
Against Joyce, Shipp remained at the base line for most of the match, trading swings and eventually tiring Joyce out. Trailing by 40-30 in the sixth game, Shipp played an 17-shot point with Joyce. Even when Joyce hit a drop shot on the fifth swing, Shipp darted toward the net, popped over a backhand and immediately retreated to the base line.
"He just outrallies them," said Lamkin. "He doesn't miss many shots and his return is a real heavy ball. An opponent has to be up for moving and hustling. Otherwise you've got your work cut out for you."
If Shipp receives any serious challenges in his bid for the Northern Region title, it maycome from freshman teammate Chad Ramsey (ranked No. 2 in the nation in the 14-and-under division last year), Madison's Mike Hain (whom Shipp defeated, 10-3, in the Great Falls Invitational last week) or West Springfield's Scott Manoogian. Joyce, however, says that if Shipp is at the top of his game, he'll be tough to defeat.
"He has the ability to end any point right at that moment," said Joyce. "Even when he's just going for a rhythm, he can all of a sudden whip a forehand right by you."
Shipp's ground strokes are his bread-and-butter; Lamkin says it's his quick feet that make it all happen. "He can hit with lots of top spin off both sides."
Early in the match, Shipp demonstrated. Leading 40-15, Joyce moved Shipp left with a forehand down the line. Shipp protected the corner with a gentle return that Joyce immediately fired into Shipp's forecourt. Shipp, with a quick shuffle of the feet, rifled a forehand cross-court return that Joyce could only glare at.
Another indication of Shipp's prowess is his ability to make an opponent beat himself. Leading two games to one and with Joyce serving at deuce, Shipp returned a base-line lob that landed just over the net and then bounced high above Joyce. Joyce squared himself for the smash and then proceeded to knock the ball long.
Although Joyce came back to win the game, that point had a further eventual effect on the match. Leading 5-3, Shipp twice lofted soft lobs that Joyce had ample opportunity to slam. Twice he opted to merely keep the ball in play rather than attacking.
And Shipp, in one of his rare appearances at the net, responded by slicing a backhand that seemed to ride the width of the net before falling just in front of a lunging Joyce.
"After I missed that first slam, I was hesitant to try again even though it was there and it was obvious I should have," said Joyce. "But a good player like Shipp will make you make those mistakes. You begin to doubt yourself.
"He plays smart," he continued. "He's got a very strong forehand and he keeps the ball in play."
"He's a power player," said Lamkin. "There's no doubt about that. He doesn't finesse you; he just goes out and overpowers you."
For Shipp to continue to perform well, he will have to overcome one minor enemy -- himself. "Sometimes I lose interest in the match and don't concentrate the way I should," he said. However, Shipp believes he possesses enough talent to overcome this weakness.
"I can play pretty good tennis," he said with a laugh. "I just feel like I'm a little more consistent, maybe even a little bit smarter on the court than the people I play."