Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On the tennis court, it’s good to be Goodwin

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Now a senior, it’s time for Rockville High’s Chris Goodwin to take on the mantle as the county’s best public-school boys tennis player.
There’s something endearing about Chris Goodwin. Maybe it’s his laid-back, boyish demeanor. But opponents shouldn’t be fooled by the sheepish grin and rosy-red cheeks. Goodwin’s got killer instincts, at least between the white lines of the tennis court. A threat to the top players around since his freshman year, he’s spent the last three seasons lingering in the shadows of his older brother — former county champion Michael Goodwin, who’s now in his junior season at Emory (Ga.) University and was a three-time state champion — former Churchill No. 1 Jared Pinsky (now at Duke) and former Whitman No. 1 and last year’s county champion and state finalist Dan Stahl (now at Notre Dame). But now a senior, Goodwin, Rockville High’s No. 1 player, is ready for the limelight this spring.

Now 17, Goodwin will join his older brother at Emory next year and has some unfinished business to tend to this year. The regional champion and state finalist as a sophomore in 2006, he lost in the county and regional semifinals in 2007. He was admittedly nervous in the 2006 state final, but plans on avenging that loss this season.

‘‘I’m no longer just that underclassman threat,” said Goodwin, who compiled a 10-2 record last season. ‘‘I look forward to the opportunity to win the county, regional and state titles. But there are definitely some good players out there. It’s not going to be easy. But I feel like it’s a bigger accomplishment if you go through tough matches.”

Goodwin’s lanky 6-foot-1 frame isn’t physically imposing. But his game matches his serene nature. He’s a great ball striker and can crack a winner on command. But he’s not purely a power player like many of his peers. Goodwin, ranked No. 203 of 2,247 in the United States Tennis Association’s Boys 18s national rankings, possesses every shot in the book — effective serve, slice, topspin, dropshot, you name it. He executes them consistently and with seeming ease. But more importantly, he knows when to use them.

Goodwin boasts the type of game that drives opponents crazy. Extremely consistent off the ground, he rarely makes an error, more often forcing others to do just that. He has a knack for reading his opponents and dissecting their games. And that’s a dangerous combination.

‘‘He looks like he could blow away in practice,” fifth-year Rockville coach Frank Weaver said of Goodwin’s build. ‘‘Sometimes I’ll have to ask him, ‘You got weights in your shoes?’ But Chris is amazing, he really is. He just glides. Real athletes glide, and he glides. Chris has every shot you need to win.”

Goodwin, who started playing tennis at age 7, will have to make some adjustments this year. He’s gone from being the hunter to the hunted. But he’s got a new attitude; a new focus. In previous years he wasn’t expected to win big matches against Pinsky and Stahl. And Goodwin was willing to settle for a good fight. Now he’s in it to win it.

With that newfound will, confidence and belief, Goodwin’s taken on more leadership responsibilities in 2008. He’s made himself more a part of the team. Despite practicing two hours five times a week at Four Star Tennis Academy at Four Seasons Tennis Club in Northern Virginia, he’s at every Rockville practice, giving his all and encouraging his teammates to do the same. Tennis is primarily an individual sport but he values the team aspect.

Goodwin hasn’t yet played his first match of 2008. There’s a long road ahead to the state championships. Rather than get tied up with long-term goals he and Weaver have mapped out several smaller feats along the way, for example, winning all his matches in straight sets.

Goodwin doesn’t seek attention, fact is, he shies away from the limelight. But he’s ready to make a statement in 2008.

‘‘It was his brother’s show for a while,” Weaver said. ‘‘But I think Chris understands this is his time to shine. He’s attitude is completely different this year, you can see it. Chris never had that ‘step on you’ attitude. No he’s like, ‘I want to win. I am better than you and I’m going to beat you.’ He’s better all around this year. It’s kind of hard to believe he could get better, but it’s true.”