Mike Lopez has been playing tennis since his elementary school days.
The incoming junior at Manteca High used to hit the ball with his older brothers who also used to play for the Buffaloes’ head coach Frank Fontana.
“His entire family is from Manteca and went to Manteca High,” Fontana said of Lopez, the Bulletin’s 2013 Boys Tennis MVP. “Both of his older brothers played for me, and I’ve actually known (Mike) since he was 7.
“Both of his brothers were All-Area players and went to (the Sac-Joaquin Section Singles Tournament), so it’s kind of a family tradition of success.”
Lopez certainly kept the family’s culture of winning intact.
He credits that to his older brother – Manteca High 2011 graduate Xavier Lopez — who played tennis at Modesto JC the last two years, for providing the encouragement needed to get back on the court after taking a two-year hiatus from the game when he was 10 years old.
“Honestly, I kind of got tired of the sport,” said Lopez, who went 24-4 during his sophomore campaign. “I lost in a (youth) tournament, and it was heartbreaking. I didn’t think I would lose that match, and I didn’t want to ever have that feeling again of total defeat.
“Two years after that my brother Xavier just told me ‘to get up, we’re going to practice.’ I fell in love with the sport all over again.”
Mike has been in love ever since.
His efforts and hard work during his sophomore year have led to him being labeled the area’s best for the first time.
“Mike lost four matches all season,” said Fontana, Manteca’s eighth-year head coach. “And he lost against highly-ranked Nor-Cal kids. He doesn’t play a lot of tournaments, so he doesn’t get to play that type of competition. He doesn’t play year round, and when you get to (the section) level, it separates the players.”
It certainly separated Kimball High freshman Garrett Chun and Lopez during the Valley Oak League Singles Tournament final on April 25 at East Union.
Chun defeated Lopez (6-2, 6-1), who was making his second straight appearance in the VOL singles championship. His freshman year he lost against senior teammate, and the Bulletin’s 2012 All-Area MVP, Oral Nunis.
Chun, who wasn’t even the best player on the VOL champion Jaguars, is a year-round veteran on the U.S. Tennis Association circuit.
“My mental game has gotten a lot tougher,” Lopez explained. “A lot of tennis is mental and sometimes it can make you win or lose, but that wasn’t the case during my finals match in the VOL. (Chun) was just better than me.
“I was a little disheartened, but I realized that if he was able to beat me that (badly) that just means I have to work harder. I need to start working with weights, build muscle and get faster and stronger.”
Lopez was also the Buffaloes’ team MVP and a first-team All-VOL selection. He earned the ball club’s Captain’s Award as well. During his freshman year, Lopez earned a Coaches Award and an All-League patch as well.
Aside from the loss against Chun, Lopez also lost against Kimball standout Logan Staggs, who is ranked No. 13 for his age group nationally.
Lopez didn’t have to face Chun at VOLs or at the section tourney because Chun’s season ended after suffering an ankle injury.
Lopez’s final loss of his season came to pass during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Tournament on May 2 at the Johnson Racquet Club in Roseville.
Lopez went 1-1 there, winning his opening match against Mira Loma’s Ned Azimov (6-3, 5-7, 6-4) in a 2 ½ hour match. His season ended after falling to the tournament’s No. 4 seed Konner Macias of Whitney Rocklin (4-6, 5-7).
“It was actually a lot closer than I thought it would be,” Lopez said.
Now all he can do is put in the necessary time and effort required to take his game to the next level, whether it mean winning a VOL title or going deeper at the sectional tournament among the area’s elite.
“I think first things first,” Lopez concluded. “It would mean the world to me to win the VOL title just because that’s when you know you’ve done something.
“That’s when you know you accomplished greatness.”
Not to mention, keeping up the family’s winning tradition as a Buffalo.
To contact John-Joel Griffiths, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.