Henry Paiste says tennis has never come easy for him.
Paiste swears he wasn't blessed with enormous natural talent.
Paiste even admits that his younger brother is a much better athlete.
The home-schooled Northwestern School District sophomore may be right about all those things it's just that his back-to-back District 11 singles championships make it hard to believe.
Paiste has done his best impression of a tennis 'natural' the past two seasons. His combination of power and finesse on the court has overwhelmed his opposition.
A little over a month ago at the Westend Racquet, Swim and Fitness Club in Allentown, Paiste rolled to five consecutive straight set victories to successfully defend his District 11 Class AA Singles title. During the three-day tournament run, Paiste dominated the best competition the district had to offer. He won 60 of the 70 games he played and six of the 10 sets he captured were by 6-0 scores. Only once did an opponent win more than three games in a set.
In a highly anticipate district final against 2010 champion Libario Obeid of Allentown Central Catholic, Paiste fell behind 4-2 in the first set before reeling off 10 of the next 12 games and to secure the championship.
During the district tournament, Paiste made beating the best of the best look easy.
But he said looks can be deceiving.
"The scores might not reflect it, but I was definitely challenged this year," said Paiste. "I played some very talented tennis players and they really made me work to defend my championship. I had to survive some long rallies and a number of deuce points in all of my matches."
Paiste's second consecutive District 11 championship and his berth in the PIAA State Tournament made him the 2012 TIMES NEWS Tennis Player of the Year. It was the second straight season he has received the award.
"I'm really honored," said Paiste. "I'm proud of the championships and awards I've won.
"But that's not what motivates me. I'm motivated by my love of the sport and my love of competition. I'm constantly pushing myself to get better."
His hard work and passion to improve is vital according to Paiste.
"I'm definitely not a natural," he said. "I really have to work hard and put in the time.
"My brother Jacob is the type of athlete that everything comes easy for. That's definitely not me. I usually have to put in long hours and lots of hard work to get the results I want. I wish I could say that tennis comes easy for me, but it really doesn't."
Unlike some tennis prodigies who have a racquet in their hand from the time they can walk, Paiste said he didn't start playing competitively until a few years ago.
"I probably didn't play competitive tennis until I was 12 or 13 years old," Paiste said. "I started out just going out to the courts and hitting some balls with my parents when I was about 8 years old. But I didn't fall in love with the sport right away and I didn't start playing in tournaments until several years later."
Paiste said his "tennis moment" came while watching Roger Federer at the 2008 U.S. Open. While Federer was rolling to his fifth straight Open title, Paiste was becoming more and more enamored with the sport.
Paiste immediately started dedicating more and more time to the sport and he hasn't slowed down since.
Federer is still one of his idols to this day, although now he has to share Paiste's admiration with singer Taylor Swift.
"They are the two perfect idols for what I want to become," said Paiste. "Roger Federer is an amazing tennis player and Taylor Swift is an amazing person.
"If I can become even a fraction of the tennis player that Roger Federer is, I will be thrilled. And if I can be as gracious, humble and giving a person as Taylor Swift is, I will be very satisfied."
With two more years of high school tennis in front of him, you might think Paiste is already looking ahead to a possible District 11 three-peat or four-peat. But that's not the case. He's more concerned about constantly getting better as a player and as a person.
"If I can emulate Roger Federer's work ethic and Taylor Swift's character, then I know I have a chance to be the best tennis player and the best person I can become," he said.
Paiste might not be blessed with as much athletic ability or natural talent as some of his peers, but he has made up for it with his passion and dedication.
It's something that's obvious whether the subject is his tennis game or his idols.
That passion and dedication are also a main reason why he is a two-time District 11 gold medalist.