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May 21, 2012 10:26 AM
Shepard_Moore_001_(2)In the past six months, Shepard Moore has come from near-obscurity to sudden acclaim. The Sandia High School junior picked up a tennis racket for the first time only four years ago. This spring he reached the 5A boys singles final at the New Mexico High School championships and took third place at the El Paso Sweet 16s, defeating No. 1 James Ponwith.
Q:  How did you come by tennis so late?
A:  No one in my family played tennis or sports, really. The summer I was 13, my brother Jordan   
and I were watching Wimbledon on television.  Roger Federer was playing. I learned how to score by watching and I learned the rules.
Q:  Where did that lead you?
A: We borrowed some tennis rackets from our youth pastor, Joe Bob Ellison, and started playing at Stardust Skies Park, near our house. We would watch tennis on TV and then run out to the park to play. That fall, I heard that my school, Cleveland Middle School, had a tennis team. I went to play with them. The coach, Sean Hopkins, showed me some technical things about strokes, but I had no strokes. Cleveland won the Governor’s Cup that year, which was really neat. 
Q: And you kept playing?
A:  I did. I played Junior Team Tennis that next year at Jerry Cline, and we got to Sectionals. After that, Sean took me to Tanoan and introduced me to Dave Pitts, and I started working with him.
Q: Pitts calls you the hardest worker he’s ever had. What did he do for you?
A:  [Laughs.] Well, first Dave saw that my backhand grip was my forehand grip.  He gave me lessons and then had me play with some very good adult 5.0 players, like Amit (Garg) and Gary Stansifer.  When I play practice matches with them, I play as if it’s a tournament match.
Q: You serve and volley a lot. How did that start?
A:  I don’t like long rallies, though I will stay back and bang it if I need to. Coming to net is what I love. It’s my strength.  I think I have an advantage because kids don’t see much of that in matches.
Q: What was your breakout win?
A:  At the APS singles this spring I beat Michael Tran.  I think I’d played Michael 25 times and never beaten him.  But I won finally, 1 and 3.  And then I beat him again after that in a tournament at Jerry Cline.
Q:  What kind of workouts do you do?
A:  I always practice with a purpose. When I hit with someone like Manola Colter, (ranked No. 3 in U.S. in 40s in 2011), I set a goal for my drills. For instance, I’m going to focus completely on my footwork.  I do exactly what Dave is teaching me. Another day I might aim to hit five consecutive deep crosscourt forehands. When I reach that number, I’ll start over and work to hit seven in a row.
Q: You appeared nervous in the state high school singles finals against Sean Baklini. Were you?
A:  I felt cloudy in the head.  I know Sean is the better player.  I’ve lost to him too many times to count.  I’ve beaten Sean in practice matches, but that’s practice. In the final I tried to feel I could win the match. I need to have that mentality. But it backfired and I lost focus.  I double-faulted six times in my first two service games.  I was on the biggest stage for me and suddenly I didn’t feel confident. Sean knows my weaknesses and he went after them.
Q: Do you wish you had started tennis earlier?
A:  If I had, I might be burned out. I see kids on the court who started very young and they don’t look like they’re having fun. Sean (Baklini) and Michael (Tran) were probably holding a racket when they were 4. As it is, I’m constantly playing catch up.
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