By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WOODSTOCK -- Sam Barbour didn't play tennis growing up like many of the other players on high school tennis teams, but he did play ping pong. The Central junior said playing ping pong, a game he said he still loves to play, has definitely helped him on the tennis court.
"I've only played tennis for two years, but I've played ping pong my whole life," Barbour said Tuesday afternoon. "As strange as it sounds, the strategies of the two sports are very similar. When I get tired and my shots aren't falling, I kind of visualize the ping pong table.
"When to hit the ball and when to make what kind of shot, definitely comes up when you're playing ping pong."
Clearly it's worked for Barbour. After playing at No. 4 singles last year, he moved to the No. 1 spot this season.
Last week Barbour won the Conference 28 boys tennis individual singles tournament, which was held at Skyline. All his hard work earned him The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week for May 19-May 25.
"I just played like I played the whole season," Barbour said. "I played like in every other match and tried my best, and I came out on the winning side."
Barbour defeated Loudoun Valley's Dakota Deleonardis, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in two hours and 30 minutes in the semifinals on Thursday. Then after a 45-minute break, he came back and beat John Champe's Victor Ding, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, in a one-hour 28-minute match.
Barbour said that he feels like both Deleonardis and Ding were more talented players, but his ability to mix up shots and use strategy to keep them off balance made the difference.
"In the long run I just think being an athlete, and having endurance and playing smart was what got me through the match and helped me win," Barbour said. "They definitely get frustrated when you mix things up, and not hitting the same shot to them every time. They get frustrated, and they can't get into a rhythm."
Barbour said the feeling of beating them and being a champion was definitely the best part of his whole week.
Barbour came back the next day and played with teammate Bobby Loveland in the individual doubles tournament. The pair lost to John Champe's Ding and Colton Davies in a third set tiebreaker.
"In the second set we were down 4-0 and came back and won it," Barbour said. "So when you get down like that for a whole set, then you're trying to play the set after that you're just drained coming back. We got it all the way to 6-6 and then lost the tiebreaker, which was really tough, and we handled it pretty good. It definitely helped having another year to look forward to."
Barbour said he is surprised at how well he has done considering he's only played tennis for two years, and Central coach Luke Robinson said much of it has come through hard work.
"Sam has come a long way," Robinson said. "He was a football player that tried tennis and now he is a true tennis player who is understanding the game and all its aspects better and better each day. He is really coming into his own on the court. I'm proud of him and how much he has accomplished in such a little period of time."
Central lost to James Monroe in the regional quarterfinals as a team, but Barbour still has the Region 3A East individual singles tournament to look forward to. He plays on June 3 at James Monroe High School, and if he can win two matches he would advance to the state semifinals the next week.
Barbour said he wants to win next week, but he knows the competition will be tough.
"I'd love to win, but being a realist you gotta go in with a level head, and just play and play like I've played every other match," Barbour said.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd