Todd Paul can beat you with power. He also can win with finesse.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Fairfield Prep junior is his ability to defeat opponents with his mind - and he is only 16.
"Todd has tons of experience in big situations," Prep coach Robert Harris said. "He is in control on the court and he is a very heady player."
Paul, who lives in Stamford, has been a dominant force since he arrived in high school. He has lost only one of 63 matches, in the final of the 2000 CIAC State Open to senior Andrew Salak of Wethersfield.
This year, Paul cruised to his third consecutive Class LL title and is ranked 25th nationally in 16s and 80th in 18s. He also is a candidate to play in the U.S. Junior this summer.
"He's got a very good intuition on the court," said Trumbull junior Scott Denenberg, who lost to Paul in the LL final the past two years. "He's physically stronger than everybody else, so he's hard to hit through.
"He doesn't have any real weaknesses. In order to beat him, you have to beat him. He won't hand you anything. I'm working to keep up with him."
Paul was a tennis natural, but he began like many in the game do. His parents, Rovitta and Frantz, played the game. He quickly warmed to the sport. He liked the competition.
When he was 4, his parents tried to find a place where he could get good coaching at such a young age, so they took him to Ivan Lendl's Grand Slam Tennis Club in Banksville, N.Y.
There, Paul worked with Allyn Mihalek and occasionally hit with Lendl. He even played doubles with actor Gene Wilder. Paul was too young to know the significance of hitting with a Hall of Famer, but the experience was a great base for his game.
"It just showed me all the strokes I needed to use at an early age," Paul said. "Other players at my age now are changing their strokes."
Paul has progressed steadily for a simple reason.
"I have had a chance to hit with some good people," said Paul, just under 6 feet and about 160 pounds. "I just have fun out there.
"I don't play every day like some. I go four times a week. I try not to overdo it."
That doesn't mean Paul works at it less. He lives tennis. He does not play another sport seriously. He said he tries not to look ahead, taking each step forward, each day on the court.
Paul's sister, Tasha, went to Trinity Catholic-Stamford and played tennis. Paul had heard good things about the Prep program and decided he wanted to play there.
As a freshman, Paul burst on the scene.
"He fell into our laps," Harris said. "I didn't know anything about him. As soon as he walked on the court, it was obvious the level of talent and commitment that he and his family have toward his tennis career.
"He's made great strides each year. That's attributed to the amount of work he's put in and the outside coaching he gets."
Paul said people told him when he was younger he needed to work on his on-court demeanor. He has.
"Even when he's not playing well, he knows it is history when he walks off the court," Rovitta said. "He has learned to handle it quite well."
Paul is self-critical, but he is savvy. He recognizes when something isn't working.
If you ask Paul what his best attribute is, he immediately says the forehand. His backhand was key in winning the LL title in June.
"With the drop shots that he uses, or his touch on half-volleys, he can mix it up," Harris said. "He's got a tremendously powerful forehand when he wants to use it. He showed his versatility in the LL final."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times