Winston Churchill High School senior No. 1 singles player William Szamosszegi wears three pairs of socks for every tennis match and even that much layering doesn’t always protect his feet from the wear and tear he puts on them, he said. That stress is symptomatic of the counterpunching style of tennis the defending No. 1 singles county champion is reliant on, and drives his opponents crazy with.
“I triple sock but even then sometimes my feet wear out because I slide a lot on the hard courts,” said Szamosszegi, a Bucknell University recruit. “Walking on to the court, with the consistent type of game I play, the longer the match goes even if I do more running than my opponent, I know I’ll be better off. The only thing I would worry about is my feet.”
While Szamosszegi’s game is predicated on moving his opponents around the court and working each point in a surgical manner rather than attempting to blast winners on the second shot of every rally, he does his fair share of running during matches as well. In fact, because the Bulldogs’ third-year No. 1 is often scrambling and sliding around the court — not something everyone can do effectively — he said his teammates sometimes think he’s losing matches that he is winning easily.
At 5-foot-9, Szamosszegi’s groundstrokes might not possess the same bite through the court as most of his opponents’ but his quick feet and determination to track down every ball that comes back over the net make him the type of player any top player would be wary of.
“[Szamosszegi’s game] wears his opponents out,” first-year Churchill boys’ coach Meaghan Lee said. “He moves his opponents around and gets to every ball, he’s very fast on the court. When the other player thinks he played a winner, [Szamosszegi] will get it. ... I don’t really think he’s ever losing but there are certain points where he will not let the other player hit a winner so it looks like he’s getting run off the court. But he just keeps getting everything back.”
While Szamosszegi said defending last year’s individual title is important to him, his goals for the county tournament next month are more heavily geared toward helping put Churchill in a position to win its first team title since four-time defending champion Thomas S. Wootton’s recent run. The Bulldogs were second by only one point in 2013.
Szamosszegi said he also has his sights set on winning the state boys’ singles title over Memorial Day weekend. He will first have to weather a stacked field in the state’s toughest all-Montgomery County Region II that will likely include training partners and friends Wootton No. 1 Titas Bera, Walt Whitman No. 1 Aries Wong and Poolesville No. 1 Dennis Wong.
Lee said Szamosszegi’s drive motivates his teammates as well. Though Szamosszegi has spent the majority of his high school tenure as Churchill’s top player, as a first-year captain this spring he said he has relished the opportunity to take on more leadership responsibilities.
While consistency, aside from sheer speed, is Szamosszegi’s greatest strength, it can also be his downfall, he and Lee agreed. But being more aggressive when the opportunity presents itself is something he said he has worked on in recent months as he’s rededicated himself to the sport he chose over soccer three years ago because of its individuality. A long list of injuries that Szamosszegi said were mostly due to overtraining, had made tennis seem like more of a chore in recent years — high school season was different, he said. But something clicked this fall, Szamosszegi said. With his heart back in tennis, his game is rapidly evolving, though it will always be rooted in counterpunching.
“I really like [Rafael] Nadal and I know that sounds cliche, but I just like the way he plays,” Szamosszegi said. “He started making himself more of an aggressive player and I’m also making that adjustment. But he fights for every ball. Even if I don’t think I’m going to get to a ball, I run to it until it bounces twice.”