Sports

Best in Northwest: Stewart wins tennis title

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Mitch Stewart has basically grown up on the tennis court.

As an 11-year-old, Stewart already has spent the last six years hitting forehands, backhands and drop shots.

“I started playing when I was five,” Stewart said. “I just like running around on the court and playing.”

His parents live in the Marine Hills area of Federal Way, and took Mitch and his older brother, Jake, to the Marine Hills Swim and Tennis Club, where they took lessons and played plenty of tennis.

“His dad and I don’t play, but they really enjoy it,” said Mitch’s mother, Lisa. “They are both very competitive with each other and are good hitting partners.”

Jake Stewart has played on the Federal Way High School varsity tennis team for the past two years and was the Eagles’ No. 1 player last year as a sophomore.

But Mitch might be the more naturally-gifted tennis player of the two Stewart brothers. And he proved that last week when he won the prestigious United States Tennis Association Pacific Northwest Junior Sectional Championship in both the singles and doubles competitions in the 12-and-under division at the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center in Beaverton, Ore.

“This is a huge deal,” said John Cassens, the head coach at Decatur High School who has also taught Stewart in the past. “It’s the biggest tournament in the Northwest.”

Stewart rolled through his bracket at the tournament, which included players who are competing at the highest level of tournament play within the section comprised of Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Northern Idaho and British Columbia.

Stewart downed Toshiki Matsuya from Redmond in the semifinals in a rugged three-setter, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. Matsuya entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed in the Pacific Northwest, as well as being nationally ranked. Matsuya beat Stewart fairly easily earlier this spring, 6-3, 6-1.

Stewart then beat his doubles partner, Mercer Island’s Zack Elliot, in the final, 6-2, 6-3. The Pacific Northwest Junior Sectional included 300 junior tennis players competing in four age divisions in both singles and doubles in the largest tournament of the year in the Pacific Northwest.

“It felt really good to win,” Stewart said.

In doubles play, Stewart and Elliot beat Abraham Hewko and Spencer Watanabe in the final.

“He’s a great kid,” said Cassens. “He is just a little guy with a beautiful stroke and his hand-eye coordination is superb. He is a natural.”

Stewart’s tennis game is predicated on patience. He doesn’t go to the net much and isn’t classified as a “big hitter” from the baseline. He prides himself on returning everything hit to him and will gladly wait on his opponent to make a mistake.

“I just try to rally as long as I can,” Stewart said. “I guess I have a lot of patience.”

But unlike most of the other players in his age bracket, Stewart doesn’t live, breathe and eat tennis. He has played soccer for years with a team called the Revolution and was an all-star centerfielder/pitcher with Federal Way American Little League this season.

“Some tennis people have told us to just have him concentrate on tennis,” Lisa Stewart said. “But the other sports help out his tennis. He just loves it all.”

“I like playing tennis during the summer and baseball in the spring,” Mitch said. “I also like playing forward in soccer.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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