Finding his groove

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 4, 2023

Xavier Lopez has taken to tennis after growing up playing soccer

By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

No matter the sport, many kids tend to have idols in the particular sport they love.

But for junior Xavier Lopez, who plays on the boys tennis team at West Forsyth, not only did he not play much tennis until he reached high school, he never had an idol in the sport until recently. He’s improved so much that he’s now the No. 1 singles player for the Titans, having just won the Central Piedmont 4-A championship last week.

Lopez, who moved to the area when he was 10 years old from Spain, never really followed the best Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal. Nadal is arguably one of, if not the best, men’s tennis player ever after winning 22 Grand Slam singles titles, including a record 14 French Open titles.

“I didn’t know anything about tennis,” Lopez said. “I knew about (Nadal). I had heard about him, but my family is not huge into tennis. I just started to pick it up.”

There’s a reason for that. He played another sport for the majority of his life.

“I played soccer all my life until the summer before my freshman year (at West Forsyth) where I started playing tennis,” Lopez said. “And then I just instantly fell in love with the sport.”

However, his sister Lourdes played at Bishop McGuinness and graduated last year and is now a freshman at Wake Forest. Lourdes picked tennis up while hitting around with their father, Joaquin, who is an engineer in Spain and spends about 5-6 months there. His mother Monica is an ophthalmologist in Elkin.

“I think my dad just had her try soccer and tennis for some reason,” Xavier said. “And she just liked tennis more.”

But even though his passion at the time was soccer, watching his older sister play tennis was the impetus in his starting to play.

“I think I picked up the racket once or twice,” Lopez said.

Of course, soccer, or football as they call it in Spain, is a passion for the country. That was no different for Xavier.

“I first started when I was 5 years old until I was 14 or 15,” Lopez said. “I loved (soccer in Spain). It was really competitive, and the team atmosphere was great.”

Originally hesitant about coming to America, he quickly adapted to the culture. However, coming to America changed his perspective on soccer.

“Here was really different,” Lopez said. “I feel like the team atmosphere wasn’t β€” it was more individual than it was in Spain, and a lot less passing and team play here than there is in Spain.”

As he started souring on soccer, he was just about to enter his freshman year at West Forsyth. Boys soccer is in the fall and boys tennis is in the spring, so he wanted to play both. According to Lopez, he was approached by Coach Jeffrey Williams of the boys soccer team at West Forsyth, with an interesting proposal.

“He wanted me to train with the varsity but play matches with the JV team, which I rejected it because I just wanted to build chemistry with my teammates,” Lopez said of Williams. “I felt like practicing with varsity and then playing with JV, I wouldn’t know any of the people on JV, so therefore it wouldn’t work out.”

Lopez, who was also playing club soccer for ’06 Fusion at the time, wanted to focus on playing full-time with the JV team for the Titans.

“I just wasn’t liking it anymore,” Lopez said of soccer.

That’s when Sara Cranford, the boys tennis coach at West Forsyth, met Xavier.

“He was a soccer player,” Cranford said. “He kind of came out and, he had played soccer in the fall. I think he played (tennis) a little bit, but he was not an awesome tennis player. I mean, he was good, good athlete, but I think he was a soccer player who was stepping out for tennis and he fell in love with tennis.

“I mean, he plays all the time.”

As a freshman, Lopez played No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles with Josh Lucero.

“I just tried to compete as much as I possibly could in all of my matches,” Xavier said. “And honestly, I just had a bunch of teammates that were way better than me, so I just had a good practice with people that were better than me, and I just tried to compete as much as a could in every match. And I managed to go undefeated.”

Cranford remembers Lopez’s freshman season well.

“He was undefeated at No. 6. And then last year, his sophomore year, he played all the time. I would go walking every day after school, and every day I would see him out there on Miller Park courts,” Cranford said. β€œIt was February, cold, rainy, dark at 5 o’clock and he would be out there hitting the ball. He played all the time.”

His meteoric rise continued last year as a sophomore and moved to No. 2 singles, while still playing No. 3 doubles. with Jeffrey Lyons.

“It was just constant tournaments and practicing every day in the offseason,” he said of the improvement.

Lopez’s work ethic continued to pay off.

“He came back his sophomore year a much better player last year,” Cranford said. “And he just kept grinding in the lineup. He started at 6 (singles), he moved up through challenges to the 5 spot, the 4 spot, the 3 spot, and then he ended up at No. 2. He finished out the season at 2, and then this year he’s been our solid No. 1 from start to finish.”

While playing No. 1 singles this season, he’s helped guide West Forsyth to an overall record of 15-2 and 14-0 in the Central Piedmont 4-A. This past Monday, the NCHSAA announced that West Forsyth was the No. 4 overall seed in the NCHSAA Class 4-A West dual-team tournament. West Forsyth was scheduled to have played No. 13 Greensboro Page this past Wednesday in the first round.

“I just stayed consistent with it just with my dad,” Lopez said. “Training every day and I started going to GTP, Greensboro Tennis Program, a couple days a week. That helped a lot because it’s hard to get better as you get better.”

Lopez, who has a 4.5 GPA, improved so much this season that be beat Bennett Russell, the No. 1 singles player at Reagan, 6-1, 6-1 last week in the conference-championship singles final. That was their third match against each other this season. Russell won first match 6-2, 3-6, (10-7) at Reagan, but Lopez won 6-3, 6-2 at West Forsyth.

Lopez will play singles this weekend, beginning Friday at the NCHSAA Midwest 4-A individual regional at Edgemoor Park in Mooresville. If he finishes in the top four, he qualifies for next week’s NCHSAA Class 4-A championship at Millbrook Exchange Park in Raleigh.

“That would be a dream come true,” he said.