When Michael Paul picked up a tennis racket at age 4, it was like extracting Excalibur from the stone.
Something magical happened, and in time Paul would become king of his court.
"I remember playing in the driveway, hitting balls with my dad, just dinking them," the Lakeside High School senior recalled. "I would say that the rest is history. I've been playing ever since. I just love the game."
And the game seems to love him. Paul quickly developed his skills and began to excel in national tournaments, and tennis took him places.
"Anywhere you can name, I've probably been there to play tennis," he said. "I've met so many people at all the tournaments I've played in. Those friendships are still lasting to this day. Tennis has been a good experience all the way around."
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Paul's prep career has been his own version of Camelot. He has lost only a handful of matches in four years with the Panthers, and this season he is unbeaten at the No. 1 singles slot for Lakeside.
The Lady of the Lake didn't bestow tennis talent on Paul - he rules with the power of his stroke.
"I just try to be aggressive whenever I play, step in on every shot and try to break down an opponent's weakness. When I'm playing well, my serve will always be on."
Paul's physical prowess is matched by his mental approach.
"He doesn't ever get flustered," Lakeside coach David Arrington said. "I've never seen Michael lose his temper on the court, and the other players learn from that. Everybody looks up to him."
For Paul, consistent play and a calm demeanor are a two-edged sword.
"I'm actually kind of relaxed when I play, and that helps me out. You have to learn when to be intense and when not to be ... get that pressure away from you and think about all the good times."
The Lakeside Panthers have won region titles in every year of their existence, and Paul has helped enhance that legend by leading the tennis team to the final four in two of the past three years.
There's only one thing left to make the kingdom complete, and it's not a round table.
Merlin might says it's magic, but for Paul it feels more like fate.
"My main goal is really to win a state championship this year," he said. "This could be one of the best teams we've ever had at Lakeside."
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