Kirk Academy senior Carson Stanford knows all too well how it feels to finish second place in a tennis tournament. It has happened often at junior tournaments and throughout his high school career.
Earlier this month, Stanford busted through that wall at the Midsouth Association Class AAAA Tennis Tournament at Ridgeland Tennis Center. Stanford cruised to a 6-3, 6-2 win over Matt Thomas of Canton to advance to the No. 1 boys singles title match for the second straight season. He faced Bert Bass of Laurel Christian in the title match, a year removed from losing to Laurel Christian in the 2021 finals.
After losing in the opening set by a score of 3-6, Stanford rallied in the second set to win 6-1 to force a third set tiebreaker. Running with momentum from the second set win, Stanford captured the title with a 6-4 third set win.
“It’s the goal of any player — to win a state championship,” Stanford said. “I’ve been second too many times in my life. I played in a lot of junior tournaments and was in the Top 10 in the state before I got burned out.”
Stanford first started playing tennis around the age of 8. His decision to play came from watching it on television and his parents were playing the game.
“I was watching the French Open and decided I wanted to play,” he said. “My parents had played and, I guess, had set the rackets down after having children.”
Seeing his love for the game, his parents sent him to Grenada High School Coach Chris Klinck to learn the game. He had the words all tennis player looks to hear from a coach or professional.
“He told me I had potential and needed to keep playing,” Stanford said. “It’s been 11 years since that moment.”
Stanford started playing varsity tennis at
No. 2 boys doubles when he was in the sixth-grade.
“I was getting killed, but it was character-building,” he remembered. “In the end, it did help me get better.”
Stanford got a chance to see Bass play in his semifinal matchup against Tri-County. After watching him, he knew he would have a tough task.
“I got to see him play and he was really, really good,” he said. “I knew this was going to be tough, but had confidence coming into the match. I was hoping to win a few off my serve and volley. He killed me in the first set and I knew there would have to be some changes. So, I changed my whole approach. I was trying to outhit him and we were hitting it back and forth and he was beating me on the baseline.”
The change in strategy was the difference in the match, according to Stanford.
“I hated to do it, but it was my only chance that I had,” Stanford said. “I lobbed it up, three-feet in the air, hit the baseline and kicked up. I was pushing him back farther from the net and trying to get him to make an error.”
Stanford won the second set to force an entire third set for the state title. With the third set tied 3-3, he won his serve and broke Bass’ serve to lead 5-3. With the adrenaline pumping, Stanford’s serves found the net and gave the advantage back to Bass cutting the lead to 5-4. Bass was serving and trailing 30-40.
“On the last point, it was 90 degrees and I got chills,” Stanford recalled. “I chipped one back and then we went back-and-forth for a couple of shots. Then, I chipped one just over the net and he hits it out of bounds for me to win.”
With graduation set for Friday, Stanford has offers from Meridian Community College and Northwest Community College. He also has a presidential scholarship offer from Jones Junior College along with a chance to play tennis there.