The look of frustration on Christopher Thompson's 10-year-old face told the story. The 4-foot-5, bespectacled fifth-grader was losing the first tennis match of his just born tournament career to 11-year-old Nash Jones, who was at least three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.
Most of the spectators cheered Christopher as he attempted to win his first-round, 12-year-old-and-under match of the National Junior Tennis Lezgue tourney that will run through Wednesday on the Rock Creek Tennis Center hard courts.
It's not that Nash was a bully or any sort of villain. He played better tennis in defeating Christopher, 21-14, under a new jurnior-tennis scoring system that keeps youngsters from playing long sets in the heat and humidity.
But young Christoper is a favorite around the Rock Creek courts, where he practices. He's been playing since he was 4, when most kids are still watching cartoons and eating cornflakes on Saturday morning.
Christopher is not what you would call a prodigy, but he is one of the few inner-city youngsters who began playing tennis at an early age, and he benefits from the NJTL program that has developed novice players since 1971.
The program has been successful in providing an outlet for inner-city and underprivileged children who want to play tennis but traditionally have not had access to country clubs and other private facilities.
Christopher, who goes to the Landon School, does not fit into that category. His family provably could afford private lessons (his father is a doctor) but Christopher said he likes the atmosphere and the contact with other preteen tennis players in the NJTL.
"This is just a lot of fun for me," he said. "I don't plan to become a pro or anything. I just want to be good enough to be tough in tournaments. This is good exercise but I don't think I would do it for a living. I want to be a doctor or a lawyer."
Christopher said he doesn't feel any pressure to win, unlike some of the older youths in the NJTL playoffs who hope to play well enough to joing the 15 players who have won college tennis scholarships through previous playoff performances.
"Chris does play rather well for 10 years old," said Theodore Marcus, a 15-year-old in the league. "He hits steady and he doesn't seem to get too nervous. He already hits topsin forehands and that's not too common for a 10-year-old."
As Christopher warmed up for his match, he got his first taste of what it would feel like to perform under pressure as photographers and observers crowded around the court.
Once into his match, many of his usually accurate topspin forehands and backhands found their way into the middle of the net. He kept peering at the photographers between every serve and obviously lost all concentration.
After every unforced error, he held up his hands in self-disgust or, like many weekend hackers, looked at his racket in search of a hole.
However, Christopher says he is strongly against displays of emotion on court.
"My favorite players have been Rodney Laver, Arthur Ashe and now Bjorn Borg," he said, "because they always have perfect court manners, never throw their rackets like (John) McEnroe and (Jimmy) Connors and always play well under pressure. That's how I'd like to play."
It doen't seem like he's old enough to remember Rod Laver. CAPTION: Picture, Christopher Thompson slugs a backhand in National Junior Tennis League match. By Ken Fell - The Washington Post