Atholton sophomore Matt Sklar first picked up a tennis racquet when he was 5 years old and started playing competitively when he was 10. But when he came to Atholton last year, he saw tennis differently.
He has enjoyed and thrived in the team atmosphere and loves the support he receives and gives to teammates. After reaching the state tournament playing doubles with partner George Mao last year — they finished 24-2 — Sklar moved to No. 1 singles this season and has excelled.
After capturing the Howard County singles title and leading the Raiders to their third straight Howard County Cup team crown on Saturday, he took an 18-1 mark into District 5 region play on Thursday.
In capturing the Howard County crown, he defeated Marriotts Ridge sophomore Cade Buch 6-3, 6-3 as the Raiders edged the Mustangs, 35.5-33, for the title.
It was the third meeting between Sklar and Buch, with each winning once before Saturday. Sklar, who maintains a weighted 4.7 GPA, is a member of the Atholton Key Club. This summer, he will play junior team tennis for the U.S. Tennis Association's Green Spring Racquet Club.
What was it like capturing the No. 1 singles at the Howard County championship on Saturday?
I played Cade twice before. The first time I played a pretty good match. The second time, he played pretty well. It was close and I almost came back. I was down 6-3, but he still managed to win, 9-7. So, when I came back to play him [on Saturday], I sort of knew what I had to fix from the match before because when I lost to him he took control of pretty much every point. He's really strong and hits big, so I had to figure out how to neutralize his power.
What did you do differently?
I played smarter shots and gave him a little less pace to work with to slow down the pace on the points. I think I do that pretty well when I play in general, so it wound up working pretty well. I sort of wore him down, and that's something I like to do.
How fun is it having that rivalry with him?
I've already played him three times and I could play him once, maybe twice more. It's fun to have someone else in the county that you're real close with, and every time you play him you know it's going to be good competition. It's exciting knowing it's going to be like the next two years, too.
How is playing for Atholton and representing your school different than playing as an individual?
When I first started playing I didn't play on a team, I used to train at College Park. But when I came here, the atmosphere is a lot different. It's a lot of fun because you have people cheering for you no matter how you are doing and they can be a big factor in turning a match around. After I played my match [at the Howard County championships], the standings between us and Marriotts Ridge was real close. We knew if our girls doubles won their match we would win the Howard County Cup. So it was a great atmosphere — we had the whole boys team watching, and eventually we pulled it out. So, it's a lot of fun coming from a sport where you don't usually get that atmosphere.
What's your approach late in a tough match?
The way I like to play, I try to wear the opponent down, especially in the third set because that's where you can get a lot of free errors. So I try to steady myself and I figure if I can keep rallies going and then I can outlast them.
What's the best advice you've received?
When I was training at College Park, I had a coach who liked to say some funny things. One of the things I remember him saying was: "If Plan A is not working and Plan B is not working, throw the kitchen sink at him." I remember that quote and think about it all the time — a classic.
How do you get ready for a big match?
I try to treat most matches the same. I do the same preparation, keep level with a quick warm-up and a jog. I have a tendency to lose my intensity sometimes, so I try to keep my feet moving and try to keep the energy up before the match.