Payiavlas has his eyes on the prize

Harding senior hopes to capture a singles state title

Staff photo/Neel Madhavan. Warren G. Harding Anthony Payiavlas eyes up a backhand during a practice on Tuesday at Trumbull Country Club. Payiavlas is one of four top seeds for this week's district singles tournament in Akron.

WARREN — Tennis great Roger Federer has long prioritized the mental side of the game.

Emulating his idol, Harding senior Anthony Payiavlas has spent time improving the mental aspects of his tennis game in recent months in preparation for his final postseason singles run through the Division I district and state tournaments.

“When I first started playing my first few tournaments, I kind of let the game get the best of me — I let my emotions get in the way,” Payiavlas said. “But I think this past year-and-a-half, I’ve been focusing more on (the mental side) than my actual tennis game, and I’ve let my tennis game take care of itself. I have the right mentality (now). I have that positive aspect and I’m always trying to learn from my mistakes.”

Last year, after finishing fifth in the Northeast district tournament to qualify for states, Payiavlas bowed out in the first round in straight sets to the eventual state runner up. He said he learned a lot from that experience.

“At that stage, tennis is definitely important, but your mindset means more than your tennis game,” Payiavlas said. “Because you’re on that big of a stage, you can’t let your emotions get the best of you. When I’m out there (on the court), I just try to get in my own little zone and let my tennis take care of itself.”

With that increased focus on the mental side of his game, Payiavlas has a renewed sense of vigor and he hopes to qualify out this weekend’s district tournament again for next week’s state tournament to chase the state singles title he’s always dreamed of attaining.

“That’s what I’ve been working and training for,” Payiavlas said.

To get to districts, Payiavlas swept through the sectional tournament in Solon last week, dropping just one game in 12 sets across six matches to win the sectional title.

He’s one of four top seeds at the district tournament that begins with the opening rounds this morning at Springside Tennis Club in Akron and closes with the championship matches Saturday morning.

The level of competition takes a step up moving from sectionals to districts and eventually to states, but the traditional baseliner feels his groundstrokes combined with his new mentality will carry him far.

“I’m athletic so I try to make sure I get to every single ball,” Payiavlas said. “That’s my main mindset is to try not to give up (free points) — to just try to stay steady, make every ball and try to use depth and height with my (shots).”

After the tournaments are over, Payiavlas has tennis and classes to look forward to at Denison University in the fall.

The three-star recruit, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network, has a close friend who currently plays for the Big Red. That friend put Payiavlas on head coach David Schilling’s radar and the rest is history.

“(Schilling) started the recruiting process and I fell in love with him (and the other coaches),” Payiavlas said. “Then I went on an official visit and I just loved the campus and loved the guys on the team.”

Payiavlas said he plans to major in finance or something business-related, but for now, his focus is solely on the tournaments the next couple weeks.

“The first two years were kind of a learning lesson for me — I got to go there and get to know the (Lindner Family Tennis Center in Cincinnati state tournament) site,” Payiavlas said. “Now I can build from that and try to win states.”



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