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Goddard junior singles player Timio Lopez.

Goddard junior singles player Timio Lopez. Mike Hutmacher/ The Wichita Eagle | Buy this photo

Goddard’s Lopez makes mental changes to tennis game

Published March 12 at 5 p.m. | Last updated March 12 at 5:02 p.m.

Goddard junior Timio Lopez has heard the comparison a few times.

Even his new coach, Brett Jensen, says the Lions’ top singles tennis player has the type of physique most would associate with Friday Night Lights.

“He’s built more like a high school linebacker,” said Estes, the former Hays coach, who is in his first year at Goddard. “But it definitely helps him out. He has a lot more power than a lot of the kids he plays.”

Those physical tools have helped Lopez place 10th and fourth in Class 5A singles during his first two high school seasons. With the trio who finished ahead of him also receiving diplomas last spring, it’s logical to consider Lopez a potential contender for this year’s title.

In limited practice time, Jensen has observed the left-handed Lopez as a powerful baseline player, able to move opponents with the force and speed of his groundstrokes. But as Lopez passes the midpoint of his career, any fine-tuning to his game starts with his mental approach.

“I had to change some things that I consider crucial to my game,” said Lopez, who won 30 of 38 matches as a sophomore. “It wasn’t stroke changes. It was game-play situations. I needed to analyze how I was playing and who I was playing.”

Often, Lopez’s best tutoring has come in defeat. In last year’s state semifinals, Shawnee Mission South’s Kevin Kochersperger overwhelmed Lopez 6-2, 6-1 en route to the title. Lopez then lost a hard-fought, three-set match to Mill Valley’s Rafa Segura-Trujillo in the third-place match.

“The first guy who beat me showed me it doesn’t always have to be about power,” Lopez said. “He beat me with slices, moving me around and with good shot selection. He was pretty smart about it, knowing that hitting it hard was just playing into one of my strengths.”

Lopez believes he can size up a opponent’s strengths and weaknesses in the first two or three games of a match. His analysis begins earlier, however, in the warm-up session.

“I just try to see what a guy does and doesn’t like,” Lopez said. “Sometimes you’ll see them hide things a little bit, like run around to hit a forehand a little too much and hide their backhand.”

Jensen, who replaced Dan Buchanan, has focused on Lopez’s conditioning in early workouts. Lopez said he was bothered by patellar tendonitis in both knees throughout last season, and longer rallies against quality opponents accentuated his need to get in better shape.

Still, Lopez and his coach expect big things from his junior season.

“From what I’ve seen so far, his combination of power and placement and overall tennis knowledge is so much higher than most high school kids you’ll see,” Estes said. “There’s not many tennis players with the raw talent Timio has.”