Matt Harris sees the game of tennis so well. He sees points several shots before they happen and he sees his opponents’ next moves before they do. With this vision, one must assume he foresaw a state singles title when he played his first high school match four years ago. As it came to be, patience was the young man’s virtue.
This was the year of destiny for Harris, a senior at Whitefish High School. He entered last week’s state tournament with every accolade he could ask for, except one: a Class A singles title. He had already won an extraordinary four straight divisional championships, one for each year of high school. He had been a state runner-up in singles his sophomore year and a state doubles champion his junior year.
So with one last tally on his high school career checklist, Harris took care of business at the Class A state tennis tournament in Kalispell on May 21-22. Harris coasted to four straight victories to earn the singles title, never dropping a set and winning 48 games while only losing nine. The closest match of the tourney was his championship victory over Ben Nearpass of Billings Central, 6-3, 6-1.
At the beginning of the tournament, Harris said a state singles title was “the one thing I’ve really wanted.” Shortly after beating Nearpass in the championship, Harris sounded appropriately giddy.
“Amazing,” Harris said. “It feels absolutely amazing. I can finally say I’m the singles champion.”
Considering his sheer natural talent, it’s somewhat surprising it took Harris this long. But his road to the top was paved with near misses and unexpected turns. After winning the first of four Western A divisional titles his freshman year, the young Harris went on to finish fifth at state, impressive for a 14-year-old. The next year, he won divisionals again and cruised to the final match at state. There, he lost to the talented Jordan Hatzell of Billings Central in straight sets.
Last year very well could have been Harris’s year, but it turned out to be his teammate’s year. Renzo Caimi, a Chilean exchange student, arrived in Whitefish with an impressive tennis background and a killer forehand. To make appropriate room on the roster, Caimi took the No. 1 singles spot and Harris moved over to doubles, teaming up with Brendan Viscomi. Harris and Viscomi won the doubles crown at state and Caimi won in singles to give Whitefish a clean sweep. Thusly, Harris’s season of destiny arrived in 2009.
Whitefish tennis coach Kathy Cummings calls Harris a “very gifted athlete.” That gift of athleticism, however, has always manifested itself most lucidly when Harris has a tennis racquet in his hand. From the time he could walk, swinging has been a natural motion for him, whether it’s with a racquet or bat. But other mechanics like throwing, he said, are a different matter altogether.
“I never could throw a football and I still can’t today,” Harris said. “If you can swing it, I probably have some talent for it.”
With tennis, Harris seems to have found a harmonious middle ground between his parents’ talents. His father played football and baseball, while his mother is a singer and pianist. For Harris, the tennis court has served as a venue for both athletic and artistic expression, as each is a tangible element of good tennis. Off the court, Harris finds solace in playing piano and guitar.
But it appears Harris’s competitive tennis career is over. He has elected not to play in college, choosing to commit himself to the academic rigors that await him at the University of Washington. He doesn’t know exactly what he’ll study, but he has his choices narrowed down and they reflect his varied interests – he’ll either study engineering or economics and philosophy.
Harris has been playing tennis since he was 4 years old. Though he expects tennis to remain a hobby for the rest of his life, he’s ready to put the racquet away for the time being.
“It’s been a long 14 years,” Harris said. “I’d like to try something a little different, at least for awhile.”
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