Like most kids, Michael Fotin dabbled in many different sports from the time he could walk. The Westport resident eventually gravitated to tennis and has now become a rising star in the sport.
Fotin, 9, is ranked the No. 1 player in New England by the United States Tennis Association for his age group (10 and under). The most recent rankings were posted on July 31. Fotin has won 30 of his last 31 USTA matches since the end of April.
His family, which moved to Westport in 2011, was watching tennis on TV and Fotin was hooked from then on. Fotin picked up a racket at age 3 and began playing competitively at age 7. In two short years Fotin worked his way to the top of the rankings.
Fotin will start fourth grade at Greens Farms Academy in the fall. Fotin has trained at Chelsea Piers in Stamford under tennis pro Faycal Rhazali twice a week for the past year. Fotin's younger sister, Maria, 7, also plays competitively.
"(Rhazali) is a great coach; one of the top 10 coaches in New England," Michael's father Alex Fotin said. "Faycal is a patient coach and he is able to turn the skills lessons and make them fun. He is one of the most favorite coaches Michael has had."
The ratings system is determined by performance in USTA-sanctioned tournaments and is calculated based on record over the past calendar year. Fotin is 52-25 in that span, and although not the best winning percentage on the list, has enough victories to claim the top spot.
Fotin earned a win in the Sterling Farms 10 L7 Futures Circuit Event, which was held June 28 in Stamford. The win earned Fotin the No. 1 ranking that he still has; he won five straight matches to earn the trophy. Fotin said it was the biggest win of his young career.
"It was way more matches than the other tournaments," Fotin said. "I was proud that I was able to play against good competition."
USTA tournaments are held locally almost every weekend -- about 20 to 30 kids participate in each -- and the schedule keeps Fotin busy. Fotin recently won a tournament held July 26 in New Haven.
"My favorite part is just meeting other players from around the region and competing," Fotin said.
Fotin likes to play other racquet sports (squash and ping-pong) as well as baseball. He also plays competitive chess, drums and piano. Fotin likes the friendly-yet-competitive nature of tennis in comparison to other sports.
"(My favorite part) is, of course, all the tournaments," Michael Fotin said. "More than any other sport you make friends (in tennis). In baseball you don't make any vocal contact with the other players."
Fotin looks up to 2014 Australian Open Champion Stanislas Wawrinka. Fotin models his game after the Swiss star because he has a fast and strong style. Fotin dreams of eventually becoming a professional tennis player.
Fostering Fotin's development as a tennis prodigy lies in the hands of his coaches. Off the court, his parents continue to strive to relieve the pressure of a competitive environment.
"Our job as parents is to relieve that part of the pressure," Alex Fotin said. "The kids have this internal motivation to go and play well. You want to stimulate it and reinforce it."
Although the competitive nature of USTA can apply pressure on kids this young, Fotin doesn't apply undue pressure on himself.
"Sometimes I am a little nervous," Fotin said. "I still have a lot of fun; lose or win I got to play to with these great competitors."