There’s a lot about Austin Hardy that’s different this year.
For one, the long mane of blond hair that made Hardy look more like a Southern California surfer instead of a tennis player is no longer.
He sports a shorter haircut as he prepares to serve an LDS mission later this year.
Hardy still plays tennis at Desert Hills High, but at No. 1 singles instead of doubles.
Had he played doubles this season with his doubles partner Conner McArthur, they may have been favorites to win the Class 3A state No. 1 doubles title after they won the No. 2 doubles championship last season over Snow Canyon’s Jonathan Morgan and Trevor Muse.
The Thunder, like many others in Region 9, are a young team.
From a match standpoint, Hardy’s move to singles makes some sense.
Putting the team’s two most experienced players in different spots increases the chances of winning two of the vital five points in a team dual match instead of pairing them up and having a good chance of winning just one of the five points.
But there’s a little more to it.
“I’m kind of glad I’m doing singles because I like being on my own,” Hardy said on Tuesday as Desert Hills took on Dixie High. “It’s just more fun to play singles now that I’ve played it.”
Hardy didn’t play against the Flyers as coach Dow Christenson experimented with parts of his lineup that aren’t 100 percent solid yet.
Hardy himself may look unrecognizable without the long hair and by playing on the singles court, but his tennis style might appear unrecognizable in a singles match.
He plays with a doubles mindset: rush the net and finish the point fast, which is completely different from how singles is played where players bash groundstrokes at each other from the baseline and see who blinks first.
That’s not how Hardy rolls, partly because of his focus on doubles in recent years.
He has a variety of shots and moves and doesn’t settle for the baseline forehand or backhand from the baseline.
Thunder coach Dow Christenson says one benefit to Hardy’s nuanced playing style is that he can easily adjust it if he’s in trouble.
“You get those kids that don’t have that game, and what are you going to tell them to mix up their game? If they’re stale and they’re in trouble, they can’t do anything else,” Christenson said.
Singles favors players who can either outlast their opponents by hitting 30 ground strokes without fail or smash winners at ease, not players who can decisively and quickly finish a point with a well-placed volley or passing shot.
Simply put, singles favors the tortoise, not the hare.
Yet, here’s Hardy, who’s expected to be one of the more challenging players standing in the way of Region 9 favorite Matt Morgan from Snow Canyon.
“(Hardy) can play angles. He’s awesome at the net. If he gets up to the net, he’s going to finish it with grace,” Christenson said.
Long gone are the days where the serve and volley was the only strategy for winning a match, and any player who thought otherwise would be looked at as a fool.
A serve and volley in singles is usually unexpected, unlike in doubles. Against Hardy, any shot can be expected, including a serve and volley, which he says he loves to do.
Hardy, who also teaches tennis at the Tonaquint Tennis Center, admits singles is tougher because he doesn’t have a partner to talk to in between points.
But he enjoys it because there’s more to do.
“In singles you’re all on your own and you just play games in your mind, and you’re thinking about the score when you should be thinking about each point. You just get in your own head,” Hardy said.
Whether or not Hardy takes the Region 9 singles crown will be decided later. Morgan and Pine View’s Porter Atkien are tough draws at the No. 1 spot.
One thing is for sure before Hardy embarks on his mission: some quality beach time in Southern California, where if he still had long hair, people might approach him asking for surfing advice.