At only 16 years old, Mika Garber of Marblehead has already established himself as one of the best tennis players on the North Shore.
The Magicians’ first single burst onto the college scene as a rookie, compiling an 8-1 record against top-flight competition and earning NEC Player of the Year honors. A year later, Garber continued to progress in the field.
He got bigger, stronger and more consistent in his shots, regularly wearing down opponents with his textbook groundstrokes, smart ball placement and unwavering mentality.
“Just his maturity,” Marblehead head coach Elisabeth Foukal said of what impressed her most about Garber. “It’s funny because the other kids say he barely sweats; he does, but he doesn’t take risks and is totally in control of his game. He plays smart, he stays low, and he forces the other player to make mistakes while rarely making mistakes himself.
Climb to the top
Garber’s current stature as a player to beat in the NEC – and beyond – was not engineered overnight. The player of the year was only eight or nine years old when he first picked up a racquet and there have only been improvements since then.
“My first coach used to coach my brother when he was playing and I came to see his practice one day,” Garber explained. “That’s when I started picking up a racquet, and a year or two later, when I was about 10, I started playing seriously in a few tournaments and continued move on from there.”
Garber quickly fell in love with the sport and his natural abilities combined with a dedicated work ethic saw him rise through the ranks quickly. He trains at the famed Manchester Athletic Club, competing in off-season tournaments through the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
By the time he reached high school, Garber immediately grabbed the No. 1 spot in singles – a daunting task for a freshman varsity athlete. In that position last season, he regularly faced players two or three years his senior; despite this, he only lost one game in the regular season, a competitive battle against St. John’s Prep’s top player, Hunter Wolters.
This spring, Garber got his revenge by beating Wolters, a senior, in straight sets (6-1, 6-4). He also won the Magicians’ lone point against mighty BC High and outlasted senior Masconomet star Sam Brockelman 6-4, 7-5, among other quality wins.
He has one loss so far, but it came against the state’s highest-ranked player, Brookline’s Jayanth Devaiah. Garber was happy to win a game with the verbally committed 5-star rookie in Division 1 Notre Dame, and it’s games like this that allow him to continue to grow and learn as a player.
“My goal is to go through every game and try to win. Last year I lost two games, one against (Wolters) and one in the tournament,” Garber said. out of conference and I feel like those are the ones that are going to be the toughest. I can’t wait to play against good opponents, it only makes me better.
On-the-fly adjustments They say practice makes perfect, and much of Garber’s noticeable progression can be attributed to repetition and just getting out there and playing.
But it’s the little things that have allowed him to really take his game to the next level.
Over the past year, Garber has made a conscious effort to hit the gym and build more muscle. He has also grown a good inch and is now just under 6 feet tall.
“I definitely got stronger and I feel like it helped me a lot,” Garber said. “My groundstrokes are definitely more aggressive than last year, my serve has gotten more powerful and I just feel stronger and faster in general. I feel better on the court, I make better decisions and I play smarter.
Garber, who uses a Babolat racquet, says a little tweaking to his strings has also helped him thrive.
“I recently changed my string tension,” he said. “The tension I used before was more for players who can’t generate a lot of power on their own, but now that I can generate that power, the strings help me be more consistent when hitting harder. “
While Garber’s two groundstrokes can turn heads, it’s his backhand that really keeps opponents on their toes.
“He can slice his backhand well, which keeps him in play,” Foukal said. “It’s a low risk shot for him.”
“I feel like a lot of people struggle with that,” Garber added. “It’s going well, especially the last games against tougher opponents. I also like to hit with power, but my slice is low, so it’s a tough shot for them to handle. It’s also a fairly consistent shot, so I don’t have to worry about missing it.
Using the Roger Federer-like backhand and combining it with a top-spinning forehand makes Garber a threat on either side of the court. His service game also took a leap forward, allowing him to hold serve more often than not.
“Last year I really had a main serve that was a flat serve, but I’ve worked on that now and I can mix it up and confuse my opponents,” Garber said. “Flat serve, kick serve…I’m earning a lot more points with my serve compared to last year.”
While he certainly has all the tools to compete at the college level after graduation, Garber has yet to decide if that’s what he wants. With over two years remaining in her high school career, there’s certainly no rush.
Right now, he is focused on winning his team’s matches and continuing to be a leader on and off the pitch. If they qualify – which is more than likely – the Magicians will participate in Div. 2 state tournament this season, with aspirations of advancing past the second round for the first time in recent memory.
If Marblehead is to achieve this goal, Garber will be a big reason.
“He’s just a very impressive player and more than that, he’s a super nice lad who wants to help our team,” Foukal said. “He helps me a lot because he works with the young players and he’s just very helpful and ready to play with anyone in the team.”
Contact Nick Giannino at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @NickGiannino_SN.