Ari Dechter's favorite pro tennis player is John Isner.
He's 6-foot-9, a racket-wielding skyscraper whose serves seemingly originate from somewhere near the Big Dipper.
"I like him because he never gives up," said Dechter, a Mundelein junior.
You remember Isner. He battled Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in a first-round match at Wimbledon in 2010. They needed three days to complete the match, because darkness kept rudely interrupting the classic.
Isner won, finally, 70-68 in the fifth set.
Dechter, fourth in singles at last fall's state girls tennis meet (as a 17-32 seed), faced Carmel freshman Brienne Minor in a No. 1 singles match on Aug. 23.
Beating Minor is an Isner-tall order, for most. Minor is No. 26 in the United States Tennis Association's Girls 14s rankings.
And she has an older sister, Jasmine.
You remember Jasmine Minor. The 2011 Carmel grad captured the state singles championship last fall and will blast winners, from now on, for Georgia Tech's women's team.
Brienne Minor topped Dechter, in straight sets, in the early-season showdown last week.
"She's a great player, with a lot of major weapons," said Dechter, ranked No. 9 in the USTA's Midwest Section (Girls 16s singles). "Brienne's forehand … she mixes it up, a lot. Her sportsmanship also impressed me.
"I took a lot of positives from that loss. And it'll motivate me to work even harder in practice."
When Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope conducts a practice, he sees talent. Lots of it.
Music, to his ears?
The sound of winning shots, struck often from the oh-so-sweet spot of his Pats' rackets.
"I have so many outstanding tournament players, so many outstanding young players," Stanhope said. "And, because of that, the chemistry is already there."
Of his top six players, three are freshmen: Kendall Kirsch (No. 2 singles) and Zoe Manion/Kaylin Dong (No. 2 doubles). Kirsch is ranked No. 18 in singles (Midwest 14s).
"Kendall is fast, a grinder," said Stanhope. "Not a grinder who pushes, but a grinder who keeps the ball deep and can vary up the pace in points very well."
Stevenson sophomores Alexxis Kiven (No. 16 in singles, Midwest 16s) and Danielle Vasiliev qualified for state last fall. Kiven, the team's returning No. 1 singles player, went 3-2 in singles; Vasiliev and current junior Gabriella Demchenko -- they're doubles partners, again -- won four of six state matches in doubles after netting a sectional title.
Look for Grayslake North senior Kelly Poggensee-Wei (No. 40 in singles, Midwest 18s) to end her season at state for a fourth year. The Knight was stellar on the final weekend of her junior season, winning six matches and reaching the consolation semifinals as a 5-8 seed.
"Kelly picks apart her opponents and preys upon their weaknesses," North coach Jill Tomasello said. "Her groundstrokes are strong; she hits unbelievable shots down the line."
Warren coach Vince DeSecki welcomed back four 2010 state doubles qualifiers: sophomore Max Mella and seniors Lauren Chibucos, Avani Patel and Jenna Westerberg. Mella has been going solo this fall, at No. 1 singles, while her sister, freshman Alex Mella, is serving as the Blue Devils' No. 2 singles player.
Brian Packowitz is Mundelein's new coach, succeeding Jim Drier. Brian's brother, David Packowitz, and Ross Putterman won the state doubles title last spring as Stevenson seniors. … Brian Packowitz's No. 2 singles player is senior Ali MacDonald, a state qualifier in doubles a year ago. … Sophomore Kelly McCauley, a No. 1 doubles player, transferred from Carmel to Mundelein after the 2010-11 school year. Her Mustangs partner is classmate Sara Jump … Libertyville senior Sarah Paulson placed fifth at No. 1 singles at last fall's NSC Meet. The Wildcats' top doubles player is two-time state qualifier MK Lee, a senior. … Carmel's Brienne Minor and Stevenson's Kirsch finished runner-up in doubles (Girls 14s) at the Western Closed Championships in Indianapolis in June. … Lake Forest junior Maddie Lipp, the top-seeded singles player at state last fall, opted not to play prep tennis this year; she is ranked No. 28 in the country (Girls 18s singles). Dechter stunned Lipp 6-3, 6-3 in the third round at state a year ago.
Among the other Lake County players to watch in 2011: Antioch's Sarah Mucha (Jr.); Carmel's Michelle Kannenberg (So.), Kathleen Felicelli (So.), Maclain Edwards (Jr.) and Emily Rhine (Jr.); Grayslake North's Liz Steinhoff (Sr.) and Kelsey Borders (Jr.); Lakes' Rachel Loos (Sr.); Lake Zurich's Sam Wilson (So.) and Mel Wilson (Sr.); Round Lake's Griselda Quezada (Sr.) and Fabiola Contreras (Sr.); Vernon Hills' Amy Sebastian (Sr.); Warren's Brittany Sunday (Sr.); and Wauconda's Emily Brennan.
Stanhope, after his Stevenson Patriots tied Highland Park's Giants 4-4 on Aug. 30: "I don't like ties in tennis. We should have spun a racket (to determine the winner)." Pats did emerge victorious on three (Nos. 1 and 2 singles, No. 1 doubles) of the top four courts.
Carmel coach Nancy Fehn, on Brienne Minor: "She's stoic on the court, very focused. She does her thing, and it works for her."
Dechter, on one of the many fond memories of her upset of Lipp at state last year: "A PE class (at Conant) watched and cheered for me for about 30 minutes."