If this whole tennis-playing thing doesn’t work out, rest assured Connor Garnett will have a backup plan.
Garnett, who has won boys singles state titles in each of his first two seasons at Interlake High in Bellevue, has plenty already going on. The junior will attempt to defend his 3A title at the state tournament in Pasco May 30-31.
Of course, there is the district tournament two weekends before that. Much of Garnett’s competition in the Sea-King district, however, he’s already beaten – albeit six months ago.
The boys tennis season is split in high school. The regular season takes place during the fall sports season, then takes a seven-month break until districts in mid-May each year.
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“It’s strange that way,” Interlake coach Matthew Perlman said. “If it were like all the other sports that have a regular season, followed by district and state, it would be about who is playing the best at the time. But in tennis, you could be a very different player when state rolls around.”
Garnett has navigated this strange road with aplomb the past two years. As a freshman, he won the 2A state singles title. When reclassification put Interlake in the 3A ranks a year ago, he survived a close semifinal with Mercer Island’s Brian Hou, 7-5, 6-4, then rolled past Kennedy’s Jamie Thorp, 6-1, 6-1 in the final.
Nothing has fazed Garnett.
“His mental game is so good,” Perlman said. “His tennis IQ is very, very high.”
Many individual-sport athletes at such a level eventually bypass high-school teams to concentrate on their club seasons to get ready for college. Garnett has a different take.
“High-school tennis has definitely increased in the number of players who play it,” Garnett said. “The competition is still really good in high-school tennis. And, it’s more of a team thing, which I like.”
The team concept has driven at least a part of who Garnett has become around Interlake and in the community. During the spring season, for instance, Garnett has come out to help Perlman manage the girls squad.
He’s also already started his own business that revolves around the game.
“I started with stringing rackets,” Garnett said. “When I got tired of just stringing, I kind of like switched.”
These days, Garnett is a tennis instructor. His business currently has nine students, including two adults.
“It’s kind of intimidating a little,” Garnett said of starting instruction with an adult as a teenager. “but after the first lesson, the barrier really isn’t there. I really like to tweak players’ forehands and see the results. And it’s a way to earn a little extra cash.”
Even his entrepreneurial spirit may not be where Garnett ultimately ends up.
“I’m not entirely sure what my direction is,” Garnett said. “I think coaching is just something for now. Maybe math or the engineering fields.”
There’s always a chance tennis could be a career option, as well. The Tennis Recruiting Network currently ranks Garnett the No. 1 recruit in Washington and the Northwest, and No. 123 nationally, for the Class of 2015.
Garnett has yet to seriously start looking for a collegiate home. But that will change.
And yes, if the chance to play professionally arose, Garnett said he would take the chance on the circuit.
“He’s definitely right there with the kids at that point,” Perlman said. “But Connor is also very, very college-driven.”
College and tennis will go together, of course. But first, there is business to be taken care of in high school – winning two more state titles.
“It’s going to be tough,” Garnett said. “I just hope I play well and get close, have a good run at state each year.”