The No. 1 singles player finished the season with a 14-3 record and helped the Eagles reach the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
Despite his surprise, Mendes isn’t a stranger to the spotlight. He was named to the all-county team as a freshman and a sophomore, was the team doubles MVP in 2011 and the team singles MVP in 2012 and 2013.
Still, the honor was unexpected — much like his rise to No. 1 singles.
“We had a young team, but playing No. 1 singles for Etowah is really cool,” Mendes said. “I was also captain this year, so it was definitely a change. But we had a really good season, so it all worked out for the better.”
As the team’s top singles player, Mendes faced the best player from each of the team Etowah met and was expected to bring his best game every game.
He said he never really thought of it that way.
“I just go out and try to play the best that I can and don’t really think about who I’m playing,” Mendes said. “I just play the best that I can and see what happens.”
One of the things that Mendes has found appealing about tennis is that he gets to compete as an individual. He enjoys being part of the team, but showing what he personally can do is a big part of his drive.
“I like that you do your own thing,” he said. “You get to show everybody what you have. I like the competitiveness of it all and all the tournaments.”
Mendes, who has been playing tennis for four years, feels his dedication to the game is what makes him a strong player. He trains with Jason Fleeman throughout the year at Eagle Watch Tennis Center.
Before picking up a racket for the first time, Mendes played basketball, but that quickly fell by the wayside.
“One day, I just started playing tennis with a friend,” Mendes said. “I thought it was really cool, so I started doing lessons and drills and I just fell in love with it. It’s just something completely different.”
While he still has another year of high school remaining, Mendes is eyeing college. He hopes to earn a scholarship, and he’s playing tournaments throughout the year to help him move toward that goal.
“Any time that I can during the weekends, when I don’t have a tournament, I try to play matches with some people,” Mendes said. “I always just want to get better.”
Mendes also attended the U.S. Open a few years ago in New York and said it was an experience everyone should have.
“That was unbelievable,” he said. “I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about going. It’s phenomenal. Everyone that can, should do it.”
Mendes would like to return to the U.S. Open — hopefully as a player — but he knows he has some growing to do before that, and Etowah is a pretty good place.
“Tennis is pretty big at Etowah, so it’s a thrill to be a part of it and to be the one that everyone looks to,” he said.