Alex Sidney is 22-0 for the McDonogh tennis team this season. (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
McDonogh junior Alex Sidney could certainly earn a college scholarship without ever playing a match for the Eagles' tennis team. Ranked No. 20 in the United States Tennis Association's national boys' 16 singles rankings last year, he's getting plenty of college attention for his junior tennis status. Still, he wouldn't think of not playing for the Eagles, going 22-0 this season and losing only two matches over three seasons. He is the defending MIAA No. 1 singles champion and Eagles coach Laddie Levy said by next season he may be the best male player ever at McDonogh. Sidney, 17 and now playing in boys' 18 singles, plans to play tournaments all summer. He has a 4.056 weighted grade-point average and is also involved in several clubs at McDonogh, including the Helping Hands Club and the Ski Club.
Question: How did you get started playing tennis?
Answer: It all started around when I was 6 years old. I used to play golf actually.
Q: Before you were 6?
A: Yeah, all the time, because my uncle (David Baylin) was really into it and I grew up playing golf with him all the time. Then winter time came around and I didn't know what to do, because I obviously couldn't go outside and play golf, so we just tried tennis.
Q: When did you get serious about tennis?
A: I started playing tournaments when I was 9 and I was between tennis and golf up until I was 12. I played golf tournaments until I was 12 as well and I had to pick one. I just enjoyed tennis a little more, so I just went with it. At that age, you couldn't do both of those sports. They both take so much time, you've got to pick one and stay with it.
Q: When did you realize you were pretty good at it?
A: When I first trained at the Hilton [in Pikesville]. They have a wall of players, like what level you were at — state, varsity, junior varsity, national. The first time I got up on the wall, none of my friends were up there and I was with all the older kids. I was like, 'Hey, I'm not too bad at this.'
Q: What's the most prestigious tournament you've ever played?
A: Supernationals. Pretty much every junior who plays tennis would probably say Kalamazoo, Mich., because if you win the 18s bracket, you get a wildcard into the main draw of the U.S. Open. Hopefully, I'll be able to play that this year.
Q: What's the biggest tournament you've won?
A: Probably the Texas Open. That was a Level 3 national. But my biggest win ever was definitely when I played the [ University of Virginia] tournament and I played U.Va.'s No. 6, Lee Singer. That was by far the biggest win I've had and they're No. 1, too.
Q: You play at such a high level, why play for your high school?
A: Tennis is an individual sport. In tournaments, it's pretty much just you out there. No one's really on your side. You're playing against everyone else. Then when you're here [at McDonogh], it's great. You've got six other guys right behind you. When they finish their matches, they come over and they watch you and they get you pumped if you're down at all. I just think it's great.
Q: You play all summer. Do you get any real vacation, go to the beach or anything?
A: I wish! (Laughs) Last year, I got to go to Jamaica with my friend, but other than that I haven't gone on a real vacation for maybe four years. I have no time.
Q: What is your ultimate goal in tennis?
A: I'm pretty much looking to play at as good a college as I can and just kind of go from there. However well I do in college, just see how good I can get. After that, probably play some high-level tournaments and see if I can play professionally.
Q: Do you ever get tired of tennis?
A: After I had those five tournaments over the summer in a row, I took a couple days off, but not really. I just love the game, love playing. I have a passion for it.
Q: Describe your style of play.
A: I would say an aggressive baseline. I like to come in when I have the opportunity. I've been working on that with my coach. I have a big forehand. I like to hit a lot of spin on the ball and grind out the points pretty much.
Q: What's the one area of your game you're trying to work most on?
A: I'm really trying to work on my serve. That's the next thing. I need that to be big for me in the next couple years.
Q: How fast is it now?
A: It's around like 110. Pros are around 130. When I go for it and I try to hit it hard, it's around 115 maybe, but it's not going to be consistent. I just want to make it consistently 112-115 in the next couple months.
Q: Do you have a favorite pro player?
A: I like [Rafael] Nadal a lot. I try to base my game on his a little bit, because of all of his top spin. I also like David Ferrer. I play a similar style to him.
Q: Who inspires you?
A: Aside from Mr. Levy because he also helps my game, really my coach Ross Coleman. He's done so much for me and he's really taken my game to the next level. He's definitely made me more serious about the game and he's such a role model. He slowly refined my game.
Q: Are you superstitious?
A: Yeah, very (laughs). All tennis players are a little bit. When I step on the court, I always step on the lines with my right foot and I never step on it with my left foot. We get three balls for each match and if I play a bad point with one of the balls, I don't use that one the next point. I'm pretty much thinking about that all the time. Also when I sit down for the changeovers, I have the same routine — drink, towel off, look at my notes.
Q: I would think Ross would put the kibosh on the skiing?
A: Luckily Ross skis, so he doesn't think it's that bad, but Mr. Levy doesn't allow it.