Could 8-year-old Michael Antonius be the next great tennis player from the Buffalo area?
He won the “Little Mo” International 8 and Under Boys Tennis Championships in Forest Hills, N.Y. In September, he won the national boys 8 and under ”Little Mo” Tennis Championships in Austin, Texas.
Other players who have won these prestigious events founded by tennis legend Maureen Connolly have included Andy Roddick, Ryan Harrison, Donald Young and Madison Keys.
What separates him from other players, including those he practices with who are three or four years older, is Michael's all-around tennis skills. He has a strong forehand and also shows a keen knowledge of which shot he should use to win each point.
"Michael is unbelievably athletic, and it is obvious he loves the sport of tennis," said Todd Miller, who owns the Miller Tennis Center and oversees the tennis program at the club with wife Debbie. "He is very coachable and he greatly enjoys the process of improving his tennis game."
His main coach is Marcus Fugate, who played on the pro tour.
Michael tries to play tennis four or five times a week. He trains mostly at the Buffalo Tennis Academy at the Miller Tennis Center. He has also taken tennis lessons at the renowned Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy in Naples, Fla.
Asked if he ever gets tired of playing tennis, Michael said, "Never! I love playing tennis. I never want to walk away from the sport that I love."
But he also plays basketball, volleyball and soccer.
"They all help me with my footwork," he said. "And volleyball helps hit my net shots in tennis."
He has recently been invited to play on a soccer team that is going to Barcelona for a tournament.
“Knowing Michael he just might to be able to sneak in a little tennis at one of the local tennis clubs," his father, Daniel said.
Daniel is an excellent 5.0 tennis player and often practices with Michael. He starred in tennis at first singles at Stony Brook University, where he is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. His wife Beth starred in basketball at Stony Brook.
Michael said the National "Little Mo" tournament has been his favorite to date.
"It has many good kids that I can play against to improve my game," he said. "There is much more pressure playing in tournaments then there is when you practice. But I prepare by moving my feet and practicing my ground strokes and serve."
Michael has played well in other tennis tournaments besides the “Little Mo," including USTA 10 and Under tournaments and an incredible 12 and Under win in Rochester.
In writing for The News for many years, I have been fortunate to have witnessed every great local tennis player in Western New York during that time. The only two players who have showed the all-around skills that Michael possesses at age eight were Jimmy Arias and Bobby Banck. Arias went on to become the fifth-ranked player on the pro tour and Bobby Banck was ranked No. 200 on the tour.
Will Michael be able to duplicate their feats? Only time will tell.
"I would like to play pro tennis one day because you can make a lot of money," Michael said.