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By JOHN BASSETTI



Published: Mon, July 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By JOHN BASSETTI

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

CANFIELD -- Following his graduation from Canfield High School, Shalin Shah can look backward as well as forward.

He can look back on four Ohio High School Athletic Association state tennis tournament appearances.

He can look ahead to a future of education and its rewards at the University of Pittsburgh.

Shah, who just turned 18 on June 15, closed out his high school career with a fifth-place finish in singles competition in Columbus late last month.

Recently, he was selected second-team All-Ohio among Division I school players. The picks are made by the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association.

Shah first three state appearances were as a doubles partner, first with Steve Kongmaung as a freshman, then with Chris Kuppler his sophomore and junior years.

No. 1 for four years

During the regular season all four years, Shah was Canfield's No. 1 singles player.

Shah credits coach Larry Davis with developing his serve and volley skills.

"He did a really good job because, as a freshman, I didn't know how to hit a volley or serve a volley."

Shah had his most aces his senior season -- serving across the net and into the box that an opponent doesn't touch.

"I got stronger and smarter and improved my speed and placement. Placement is more important than speed."

Effective shot

The forehand was Shah's best weapon and his favorite stroke.

"An opponent's strategy was to keep away from my forehand," he said of his right hand. "Over the years, people played to my backhand. That's why I hit more backhands than forehands. But what they didn't know was that I'm just as effective backhand as forehand."

To force the backhand, opponent's would hit to Shah's left side.

Like most players, he used a two-handed backhand.

One weakness with Shah's aggressive forehand, however, is that he made a lot more errors.

Following singles and doubles matches in Columbus, a state team tournament is contested. In Shah's junior year, Canfield finished fourth in the state team tournament.

Top-ranked

During his Boardman Tennis Center days, Shah had his best showing as a 16-year-old when he beat two top 10-ranked players at U.S. Tennis Association tournaments.

One of the wins at the junior level came in a national USTA hardcourt supernational championship in Kalamazzo, Mich.; the other was the USTA supernational claycourt championship in Rockville, Md.

The following year, one of the top-10 players Shah beat was profiled in Tennis Magazine as the No. 1-ranked in the nation.

Now Shah, who started playing competitively at age 11, will put it all behind him.

"I won't be playing tennis in college," Shah said. "I don't know if I'll continue to play or quit and start when I get older."

Reasons

One reason is to focus on academics; the other is to enjoy the college atmosphere. "Tennis is really demanding. It's year-round. Plus, college academics will be more challenging. I'm not going to play tennis the rest of life, but academics will carry me financially. I had my years and fun playing and I made good relationships. It helped make me a well-rounded person."

A high school highlight for Shalin, the son of Dr. C.S. Shah and Shefali Shah, was the "walk-through" tradition.

That's when state qualifiers in any sport go through the halls and pass students who line the hallways. "I looked forward to that every year, when they'd shout and cheer. That was the only time I really got recognized because not too many people come out to tennis matches."

Although Shah is putting tennis on the back burner, he'll occasionally hit some with Kuppler to keep the senior-to-be ready for state.

"He was there to support me this year, so I'll be ready to support him next year," Shah said. "He's my best friend on and off the court."

bassetti@vindy.com




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