Poise wins over power

Unflappable Gull tennis star soars to unbeaten mark

By AARON COE

Herald Writer

EVERETT — Sunny Samuel is a nuisance.

Competing against the Everett tennis player can be a frustrating experience.

It’s not because he talks trash. The undefeated No. 1 singles player, who models himself after professional tennis nice guy Pete Sampras, would never show up an opponent.

He just simply wins. Samuel is 20-0 this year after winning the Western Conference 3A tournament, and will attempt to qualify for state for the second time at the Northwest District tournament at Stanwood High School this week.

"He’s got to be the strongest player, mentally, that I’ve played," said Blake Twisselman, who qualified for the district doubles tournament along with Everett teammate Chou Le. "He’ll never quit, and it’s tough to beat him because he’ll never beat himself."

Sparks do not fly from Samuel’s racket when he hits the ball. Often, his returns go back over the net softer than his opponents’ shots came at him.

But that’s just it. They go back over the net. Over and over again. Eventually, a mistake will be made. The error is rarely his.

Samuel finds a weak spot, and he exploits it. A good shot comes his way, and he finds a way to send it back. Competitors become restless, and hit the ball harder with each shot.

That’s what Samuel wants.

When he sees the frustration level building on the other side of the net, he knows he’s inside your head. And he knows you’re going to smash one into the net.

"I don’t have an overpowering game," said Samuel, who has not lost a Western Conference 3A match since early in his sophomore year. "Sometimes guys might think a shot is a pansy shot. Then they’ll start pounding on it, but they miss and get frustrated. That’s when they self-destruct."

That’s the philosophy Samuel used when he shocked two of the Northwest District’s best players last year and qualified for state. He was Everett’s No. 2 in 1999, behind Brandon Sieh, and beat No. 1 players as the Seagulls took two of the three district singles spots.

He’s able to beat the big boys because he’s unflappable. Samuel won five matches in one week twice during the season.

Samuel sometimes falls behind in, or even loses, his first set. But somehow the momentum always seems to change. Once he figures you out, it’s just a matter of time before you’re beaten.

"He’s willing to stay out there as long as it takes," said Everett coach Scott Arrants, an Everett alumnus. "I’ve seen him down 5-2 in the first set many times, and come back and win 7-5. He never crumbles."

And Twisselman knows something about that. He’s spent countless hours playing against Samuel. They play year-round on any court they can find. Summer days come and go with the duo dueling until dusk. Twisselman brags he’s won quite a few of those matches, but not the ones that count. Samuel’s always gets by Twisselman in the challenge matches, which establish the Seagulls’ Nos. 1 and 2 spots.

"If we’re playing on the weekend, for fun, I can beat him," said Twisselman, who is a team co-captain along with Samuel. "But as soon as it gets to a pressure situation, he always rises to the occasion."

The saying among Everett tennis folk is "The Sun always rises to the occasion." The name Sunny is short for Samuel’s given name, Sundeep. Samuel moved to Everett in 1985 at age 2 from India with his family.

The occasion Samuel wants to rise to this year is the state tournament. Making it this year will not be enough. He knows the deck is stacked against Wesco players because the season is in the fall, but the tournament is in the late spring. But he’ll drag Twisselman or anyone else he can find during the layoff to a court to prepare himself.

He will not be a wide-eyed No. 2 who is just happy to be on the same court as the state’s best. He believes he is one of the state’s best.

"Last year I was in awe," Samuel said. "This year, I want to make a strong showing at state."

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