One bounce, two bounces, sometimes three. A deep breath, a pause, then a short, soft lob of the fuzzy orb into the air.
With a sudden ferocity that evokes a whistle from his racket, Anuj Vimawala unleashes one of his powerful serves — which, by the way, frequently go unreturned.
Such overpowering serves are one of the reasons expectations are high this season for Vimawala, a senior in his fourth year as member of the Jackson High School boys tennis team. He’s expected to be the top player in Wesco 4A this season.
Jackson has a history of dominance, including nine straight district championships. The Timberwolves are undefeated in Wesco 4A play over the past two seasons and Vimawala and his teammates have set a goal to continue that streak.
But as the team’s captain, Vimawala also wants to make sure his teammates enjoy themselves. With several new players on the squad this year, he wants to encourage them to work hard, while at the same time making sure they enjoy themselves.
Jackson coach David Hutt said Vimawala has the perfect mix of personality and credentials to pull it off.
“He’s pretty laid back, easy going, real mellow kid,” Hutt said. “In our league, there’s not many kids who can compete with him since Yevgeniy Kolomiyets from Cascade graduated last year.
“As a senior this year, he’s played so much tennis that he knows how to work hard and stay focused, and the other kids see that. He’s been to the state tournament every year, and that’s a lot of motivation for him — to play against the best in the state.”
Along with his powerful serves, Vimawala is known for his sportsmanship on the court. Regardless of the outcome of a match, he said he always tries to find ways to offer encouragement to an opponent. His natural outgoing personality has led to friendships with players from other schools.
“Coach Hutt always tells us to not take anyone lightly,” he said. “He keeps reminding me to go out there and take care of business, but to be respectful. Finish the match and respect the opponent regardless of the outcome.”
Boys tennis is a unique high school sport in the state of Washington in that the regular season concludes in the fall, but the state tournament is held in the spring. While this may seem like a potential hindrance for performance, Vimawala plays in tournaments at the Mill Creek Country Club year-round to keep his game sharp. He said that playing in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) tournaments has taught him a lot about his own game and playing against different styles of opponents.
Vimawala, who was introduced to tennis by his mother when he was 8 years old, has been to the Class 4A state tournament in each of the past three season. He played doubles as a freshman and in the singles brackets the past two years. His best showing was a seventh-place finish in singles as a sophomore.
This year, his goals are simple: have fun and help the team win, whether that means playing doubles or singles.
“With this being my last year, I just want to enjoy myself as much as I can,” he said. “I still want to win and I want to make sure that the other (Jackson) players have a lot of fun as well. Being put in a leadership role, I have to be more aware of what I’m doing on the court. I have to be a good role model, and I think I’ve been doing that anyway, but I need to work harder and keep doing it better.”
As for his plans after high school, Vimawala hopes to attend medical school. As gifted in the classroom as he is on the tennis court, he carries a 4.0 GPA and currently takes three AP classes: statistics, government and biology.
Among the schools he’s considering are the University of Washington, Duke and Northwestern.
Playing tennis collegiately also is an option, he said, with schools such as Whitworth and Whitman under consideration.