Butler’s Blake Givens eyes second trip to state tennis championships
by Andrew Stark
Last year, simply qualifying for the Class 4A boys state tennis championships was an eye-opening accomplishment for Butler’s Blake Givens. This season, more than anything else, he wants to get back.
Givens took an indirect path to the state championships last year, but overcoming adversity proved to him that he belonged among the state’s best players.
In the regular season, Givens lost to Matthew Fisher, who was at South Mecklenburg High but has since transferred to Covenant Day. He lost again to Fisher in the opening round of last year’s Southwestern 4A conference tournament and was forced to win the consolation bracket just to qualify for fifth and final spot at the 4A Western Regional tournament, which he did.
His prize for qualifying for the regional tournament was yet another match with Fisher, but this time the results would be different.
Givens was focused and determined, and defeated Fisher to advance to the state tournament.
“It was very, very exciting,” said Givens, who eventually lost in the first round of the state tournament. “I want to get back to states so bad this year. It was a great experience knowing that all of my hard work had paid off. At first, (the state tournament) was unbelievable just to make it, but it is cool to be with the best in the state.”
Entering the 2012 season, the Bulldogs junior said he was excited to get the year under way, start winning matches and get a good seed for the conference tournament.
To do so, he said he has to focus on his strengths and take each match point by point.
One advantage that Givens has over many of his opponents is that he is left-handed. Butler coach Joey Majdanski, who played tennis at Butler before graduating in 2007, told Givens last year to focus on hitting to his opponents’ backhand on every shot, something that he took to heart.
“Being left-handed is a great advantage,” Givens said. “Most of my opponents are right-handed and aren’t used to the different spin I can put on the ball. Hitting the ball naturally to opponents’ backhand is huge for me.”
Aside from being a southpaw, Majdanski said Givens excels at defense and often is able to extend points, eventually wearing his opponents down.
“From Blake’s freshman year until now, he has grown exponentially,” Majdanski said. “I think he is really good now, but by next year he can be really good.”
Givens said he is working on improving his backhand and that his serve has been “killing” him of late. His forehand has always been the shot he leans on when he needs a big point.
“My forehand is definitely a strength in my game,” Givens said. “My backhand is not bad and is getting better, but I don’t have the same power in it (as my forehand).”
While working on his strokes and concentrating on returning to the state championships, Givens has something else to accomplish before the season is over.
In this year’s season-opening match, a 6-3 victory over Mallard Creek, Givens played as the Bulldogs’ No. 2 player. His brother, Tyler, was ranked as the team’s No.1 player at the time, and Majdanski said the two would be interchangeable all season.
Majdanksi said if either Blake or Tyler – who along with their other brother, Alex, are triplets – had to play each other, neither would hesitate to play his best. Blake and Tyler have met four times previously in tournaments, splitting the series.
“We keep going back and forth for the number one spot,” Blake said. “It is a big battle to be No. 1, and it goes on all year to see who gets seeded higher in the conference and regional tournaments. It would be great if we could both make it, but that may not be able to happen.”
No matter who ends up as Butler’s top player throughout the season, Blake Givens has been gotten a taste of the state tournament, and that is what he is focused on experiencing again.
“Blake got somewhat of a fortunate draw last year (at the regional tournament),” Majdanski said. “He was able to beat (Fisher) the third time they faced, but winning that match was his top moment of the year.
“This is a tough tennis conference, and he is going to have to probably do a little more all season if he wants states again. (But) he does deserve an awful lot of credit for getting there last year.”
Givens said he knows the season is long, and immediate goal is getting back the Bulldogs’ No.1 ranking from his brother and winning every match. If he does that, Givens thinks the rest will take care of itself.
“There is a lot of pressure on me this time around,” Givens said. “People are going to say, ‘If you can get to states your sophomore year, you should be able to do it as a junior.’
“It won’t be easy, and I need to stay focused on the goals I have set. Hopefully, I can get back.”