The serve speeds toward Akhil Gupta and he smashes a right-handed shot back across the net.
The return sends him scrambling to the left, where he switches hands and drops a left-handed shot high onto his opponent’s backhand.
Well, what’s your plan of attack to beat Gupta now?
Gupta — a freshman at Fossil Ridge High School — is one of the rarest creatures in tennis, a stellar ambidextrous player.
Gupta enters this week’s Class 5A state tournament with an 18-0 record at No. 3 singles, notching Front Range League and regional titles in his first season in high school.
“It (has never) ever been done that successfully,” Fossil Ridge coach Steve Schultz said of Gupta’s approach, though the freshman mostly shrugs it off as no big deal.
The origin is simple and straightforward.
Years ago, he was doing a drill and a ball to his left was going to be hard to reach, so he flashed his racket to his left hand and returned the shot.
“I thought ‘I need to hit the ball,’ so I did,” Gupta said with a humble smile.
The natural lefty swing caught his coaches eye, so he encouraged Gupta to keep doing it.
Ever since then, he’s made it his game. Shots to his left he fires back left-handed. Shots to his right and he uses his natural right, which is also how he serves. For tricky shots into his body, he also has a right-handed backhand slice.
In warmups he’ll flip between right and lefty, surely forcing opponents to do a double-take.
“The past few years I’ve worked a lot to get my left hand as good as my right hand, now it’s getting a lot closer to that,” Gupta said. “Definitely six years of practicing it helps.”
More than enjoying his personal success, Gupta’s had more fun his freshman year getting to be part of the team atmosphere of high school tennis, which includes playing with his senior brother Arjun.
The SaberCats qualified all seven positions for this week’s state tournament. Akhil Gupta opens his first state tournament against Overland’s Henry Vice. He doesn’t have personal goals for placement, saying his growth as a player is more important than the results.
Whatever happens, it will be a sight to see.
“He doesn’t have that weak side,” Schultz said. “We’ve never had that success at No. 3 singles. It’s really cool to see his success.”