BOB LIEPA PHOTO
Patience and an ability to think on his feet have helped Riverhead’s freshman first singles player, Seth Conrad, compete against more experienced opponents.
To those of you who wouldn’t think that skateboarding is an aid to producing good tennis, we bring you Seth Conrad.
Conrad, a former skateboarder, said the balance he developed when he was a skateboarder serves him well now as a tennis player.
Evidently so. Conrad is a rarity in high school boys tennis — a freshman first singles player. Better yet, he is a first singles player in only his third year in the sport and second year on the Riverhead High School team. Not only that, but he is a first singles player who has acquitted himself well this season, putting up a 2-2 record, all against older opponents.
“It’s kind of intimidating because a lot of times you’re working with people who have been playing a lot longer than you,” said Conrad.
For all of his athleticism, though, what may separate Conrad from most freshmen players is his patience and ability to think on his feet. His coach, Bob Lum, can appreciate both qualities.
“His patience is very, very good for his age,” Lum said. “He understands that at this level of tennis, it is about getting more balls back in play. Sometimes people will give [the point] to you.”
And Conrad is willing to take it.
“My shot isn’t amazing,” he said. “I don’t win it with my shot; it’s mainly consistency. As long as you can return it inbounds, the chances are you’re going to end up winning the point.”
Not to be overlooked, either, is Conrad’s fierce desire to win.
“He’s one of these people that deep down hates to lose,” Lum said. “Sometimes when people hate to lose, they really do the extra that needs to be done.”
Conrad’s most recent match came against an experienced senior, Sam Agoglia of Rocky Point, on Monday. Conrad had taken a 3-2 lead in the first set before losing the set and then the match, 6-3, 6-0. Conrad said a cut on his right pinky that he sustained prior to the match bothered him as the match progressed.
Yet, Conrad still showed some of that consistency he is known for. He put 75 percent of his first serves in play and 78 percent of his second serves. In addition, he registered five service aces, four double faults (including one for the final point of the match) and made five unforced errors.
Conrad said he uses matches like this as inspiration. “I see players like the one that I played today that have great shots,” he said. “I want to be up there with them. I want to be able to beat them easily.”
Last year Conrad played second singles. He helped raise his tennis game in practice against Adrian Summerlin and Richard Bliss, both of whom have since graduated.
Conrad can also play mind games. He said he sometimes uses his youth to his advantage by letting his opponents know that he is a freshman.
“It can get in their head,” he explained. “That’s another great thing. I usually ask the person’s grade before I play them, and if they ask me, I tell them I’m a freshman, and that sort of gets underneath them because if I get ahead of them a little bit, they start beating themselves.”
Conrad acknowledged he has a good deal to work on. He wants to improve his serve, backhand and volley. Lum said Conrad’s footwork also needs work.
“You can’t put a limit on how far someone can go, especially if they’re really athletic, but it doesn’t come without hard work, and it has to be hard work for a long period of time,” Lum said. “My only question with him is off-season. How much is he going to work [in the] off-season? That will dictate how good he gets.”
That same question was posed to Conrad.
“I want to get better,” he replied. “I want next year for me to win more games. I like to win, you know.”