OAKWOOD — Boredom caused Seth Hester to start playing tennis. His love for the sport caused him to strive for perfection.
Tired of the monotony of playing team sports like baseball and basketball, the Johnson High senior turned his attention to the individualized sport of tennis during his sophomore year, and experienced nothing but success since.
"It’s you against your opponent, and I love that," said Hester, who played No. 1 singles for the Knights this year. "Tennis is still a team sport, but in singles, it’s your responsibility to win your match.
From the time this Knights senior picked up a racket at age 16, to his final match as a senior this year, Hester has lived up to that responsibility. In his career at Johnson he had a 47-9 record, including a 17-3 record this year, where he went a perfect 14-0 in Region 7-AAA, leading the Knights to a No. 8 final ranking in Class AAA and the first-round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
For his accomplishments this season, Hester has been named the Times 2008 Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
"I knew every time Seth (Hester) walked out on the court that he would win," Johnson coach Marsha Wilkes said. "He has that can’t lose attitude."
Hester credits his coach for that attitude.
"She completely built my confidence," he said of Wilkes. "I was as confident as I could be. There wasn’t a match that I didn’t think I couldn’t win."
There was a reason Hester believed that he couldn’t lose, because he hardly did, even during his first year playing at Johnson.
As a sophomore, he went 10-4 at No. 3 singles, and according to his coach, showed immediate signs of a what would turn out to be a great tennis career.
"Just seeing the improvements he made in the first couple of months was phenomenal," Wilkes said. "He literally went from a beginner to a player that looked like he was privately coached."
But he wasn’t privately coached, in fact outside of the techniques he learned from Wilkes, he has never had any formal lessons; just a lot of time on the tennis court.
"I probably spent about five or six hours a day practicing during the summer," said Hester, who idolizes professional tennis player James Blake. "To get to where I am at now, you had to play for a long time, but I just scrunched it into three years."
All of that hard work and dedication culminated during his senior season, where he lost only three times, to players that were ranked in the top-35 in Georgia.
Two of those losses — to No. 7-ranked Tyler Mills (Holy Innocents’) and to No. 25-ranked Nathan She (McIntosh County) — came during the Granger Invitational in March, and provided Hester with confidence heading into region play.
"Playing against those guys made me realize that I could play with the guys in the region," he said.
One of those "guys" that Hester is referring to is Gainesville High’s James Wassel, who he still gets nervous playing against, despite having a perfect record against the Red Elephants’ senior.
"He’s such a great player," Hester said of Wassel. "He has much bigger shots then I do, and he hits it the hardest out of anyone in the region."
Despite his admiration for Wassel’s abilities, Hester, who categorizes his game as "not-flashy" and "not-overpowering," has won all four matches that the two have played, including the Region 7-AAA tournament this year, in a match that Hester was almost unable to be a part of.
A week before the region tournament, while at church, Hester became dizzy and fainted. His doctor told him that the dizziness was due to dehydration, and that he might not be able to play in the region tournament. He was eventually cleared to play and his opponents probably wish he wasn’t.
Along with the 6-4, 6-3 defeat of Wassel in the region championship, Hester won all three of his matches in straight sets, only losing 12 games along the way.
"He goes out there and takes care of business quickly," Wilkes said.
That statement was especially the case during the Knights’ first-round loss to Dunwoody in the Class AAA state tournament where he defeated Keith Singleton in straight sets, 6-0, 6-0.
While he didn’t know it at the time, that match would be the last one of his high school career.
"As a sophomore, if you would have told me that I would be where I am now, I wouldn’t believe it," Hester said. "It was a struggle early and I had to work on a bunch of things.
"But I know that if I can do this well in only three years, than I can be so much better two years from now."
Two years from now Hester hopes to be entering his sophomore year at Emmanuel College, which has offered him a partial tennis scholarship. If he doesn’t attend Emmmanuel, Hester said that he will attend Gainesville State.
No matter where he is two years from now, chances are he’ll be on a tennis court somewhere playing the game he now loves and will never get tired of playing.