Shawn Sophasath has logged plenty of miles in his rise to the top of the Manitoba junior tennis rankings.

Sophasath, ranked No. 1 in the province in boys’ U16 and U18 singles, commutes from Portage la Prairie two to three times a week for training at Taylor Tennis Club in addition to regularly travelling to Winnipeg for Tennis Manitoba tournaments.

At the U16 Indoor Rogers Junior Nationals in Montreal in March, Sophasath dropped his opening match to Alberta’s Oscar Yang 6-0, 6-2. He was then beaten by Peter Kuszynski of Ontario 6-3, 6-3 in the consolation round.

“I played well but I think I’ve definitely improved since then,” said Sophasath, 15, who is coached by Roland Burrell. “When I go back in the summer (to nationals) I think I’ll do a lot better.”

Sophasath took up tennis at age 5 at Portage la Prairie Tennis Club.

“Both my older brothers played so if there was no one to babysit me at home I’d go to the courts,” he said. “I was always there so I started playing.”

As he honed his skills at the Portage club, Sophasath picked up matches whenever he got the chance.

“Every Sunday morning there are some seniors there,” Sophasath said. “I used to play with them until I passed their level.”

Sophasath had a strong finish to 2015, winning the men’s 4.5 at the WWC Singles Open in November and performing well on Tennis Manitoba’s inaugural Florida Junior Tour in December. He played five two-day tournaments for 17 total matches in Florida, winning a Casely International Championships U14 title and reaching the final of another tournament.

“It was great,” Sophasath said of the Florida Junior Tour. “There were so many different players from all around the world – Brazil, Japan, everywhere.”

Sophasath opened his 2016 season by winning the boys’ U16 title at the Ravenscourt Junior Open at Winnipeg Winter Club in January; he beat Marcello Audino in the final 7-5, 6-1. At the Kildonan Junior Open (May 13-15), Sophasath won the U18 doubles with partner Elinor Shpunt and lost the boys’ U18 singles final 6-4, 6-0 to Audino.

Sophasath plans to play a full schedule of Tennis Manitoba junior and adult tournaments this summer.

“I’ll be playing as many tournaments as I can – pretty much all the tournaments around here (in Manitoba),” said the Grade 9 student.

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