Connor Thompson’s court coverage has a frustrating effect on those opposing him.
The Bellingham senior didn’t need a lesson in speed — no explanation of tennis’ basics when he first began years ago. It was fairly simple — see the ball, get the ball.
“I always try and go for every ball and stay in the point as long as possible,” Thompson said. “If you get one more ball back, that gives your opponent one more chance to make a mistake.”
His math isn’t complicated, and its equaled several important victories over his career at Bellingham.
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Just a year ago Thompson, paired with his then-doubles partner Nick Nolan, made a push through the Class 2A Bi-District Tournament, staging a comeback from down 5-1 in the opening set of a winner-to-state match against Lake Washington’s Tristan Jiminez and Fergy Lu to win the next six games and clinch a berth.
The contrasting pair of Nolan’s competence at the net and Thompson’s all-out approach eventually led to a spot in the Class 2A State semifinals. Although they would fall to Lake Washington’s other doubles pairing, Daniel Yu and Josh Rasmus, placing sixth overall, that confidence is carrying over for Thompson, who’s returning to singles play in his final campaign.
“Last year, we felt like the way for him to go as far as possible was doubles, and it worked out,” Bellingham coach Steve Chronister said. “He’s more natural as a singles player. The best parts of his game are his ground strokes and his movement, and those things matter more in singles.”
Bellingham returns several key players after finishing in a tie with Sehome for first place in the Northwest Conference last year. Thompson and junior Charlie Carmichael will lead the singles players, providing yet another strong 1-2 option for Chronister at the top of his rotation. The Red Raiders, after defeating South Whidbey in their season opener Wednesday, Sept. 10, face Burlington-Edison on Friday.
The enigmatic Thompson is a blur on the court. While not blessed with great size, he’s learned to make the most of his talents, mainly his ability to pose a mental obstacle to his opponents in a game driven by the ability to remain composed.
“I will play people, and sometimes they will mention my speed is kind of annoying,” Thompson said. “My hope is that if my opponent is concerned that I will get to (the ball), that they will hit a tougher shot they wouldn’t normally try.”
Errant shots coming from players too concerned with playing line to line has drawn Thompson many a point. But that’s always been a staple of his game. The other aspects, such as his power from behind the baseline and volleying, have drawn praise from Chronister thus far.
In returning to singles, those are facets he needed to address given the differences in play. In doubles, the emphasis is less on speed and court coverage and more on ground strokes, volleying and serve. Thompson isn’t new to singles, though, most of his time his sophomore year being spent doing so.
The biggest change Thompson made mention of wasn’t necessarily the physical challenges, but the mental aspect of playing alone.
“There just isn’t another person out there. If you’re having a rough day or not playing well, you have to be able to figure it out yourself,” he said. “I really make sure to show emotion on the court and get excited and get excited for myself, but also works the other way if I have a couple bad points that I don’t show it and just move on.”
Such maturation has the senior ready to challenge for the top singles position in the NWC, facing the likes of Sehome’s Brady Anderson and Max Shmotolokha.