Tennis ace lifts mental game

Beyer High's Doug Azevedo knows what it's like to struggle, but he also knows what it takes to mount a comeback.

"You can't look at the score and think a match is over, no matter how bad it looks," the Patriots' No. 1 singles player said. "That's the mental part of tennis, the difficult part."

Azevedo drew on his mental toughness a few weeks ago after dropping the first set 6-1 to Modesto's Nick Lowe in a matchup between two of the Stanislaus District's best.

"He smoked me the first set, serving long and getting hard shots past me," Azevedo said. "I reversed that in our second set, and I started placing the ball to take advantage of his weak points. I was real happy with how I turned it around."

Azevedo rallied to win the final two sets, 7-5 and 6-4, beating Lowe to maintain his perfect Modesto Metro Conference record. He puts that 11-0 mark on the line today when he has a rematch with Lowe.

The Patriots, 10-1 and atop the MMC, face the Panthers at Modesto High at 3 p.m.

Beyer coach Melinda Freeman said she has seen her No. 1 singles player adjust his game during the season.

"He has been working on his backhand and his mental approach," the Patriots' first-year coach said. "He's doing a better job exposing his opponent's weaknesses."

Preparation has a lot to do with Azevedo's mental game.

"I try to study players to see where they like to hit, how they serve ... are they aggressive on the first serve, or do they just try to get it without faulting," he said. "You need to know who you're playing."

Azevedo also has become a more physical player, using his strength as well as technique to get the ball past foes.

He's in training for a biathlon or triathlon -- he's still deciding which -- and uses different regimens on different days to keep him fresh.

"I don't play the (U.S. Tennis Association) tournaments any more," said Azevedo, who swung a racket for the first time when he was 10 years old. "It took me a few years to get serious about tennis, but when I was 13, I decided to put everything into it.

"Now, though, I'm trying to spend time with my friends, watch movies and work out."

Azevedo still plays plenty in the offseason, but it's more social and he's usually hitting balls with his older brother, John, or his friends, Matt Weinapple or Ken Gercich.

John Azevedo is playing for Modesto Junior College and Doug hopes to follow his brother's footsteps in the fall.

"We try to stay casual when we play, but I usually do good against him," Azevedo said.

When he wants to get serious, though, he puts out a call to teammates Andrew Wu, Matt Palotta and Nate Bibey.

They're good opponents for Azevedo because they're familiar with his style and will try to exploit his weaknesses.

"I use my forehand a lot and I'm pretty successful at placing it so it's difficult to do anything but just return it," said Azevedo, who was 5-1 at this season's prestigious Clovis Tournament. "If you keep the other guy focused on getting to the shot, rather than where he's going to return, that makes him play defensive."

Azevedo, on the other hand, prefers to let 'er rip from his serve through the volleys.

"I like players who are aggressive and come at me, rather than playing the baseline," he said. "It's more exciting."