A heartbreaking loss at state last year combined with new strategies for winning big points and maintaining emotion balance has Cascia Hall’s Aiden Robinson poised for another run at a tennis triumph.
Aiden Robinson came oh-so-close last year as a freshman. Still, this time around, the Cascia Hall tennis player is focused on claiming a state championship, and his ability to remain calm during matches gives him a considerable advantage to pull it off.
His young team finished a disappointing fourth at the Class 5A state championships last season, although they were just six points back of co-winners Bishop Kelley and OKC Heritage Hall. Robinson is also aiming to rectify that situation in 2020.
“This year, I’m going to try to win it all,” he says. “Last year, I got second individually, and we got fourth as a team, but I think that was a little bit disappointing. We were young last year with three freshmen on the team. This year, we have a little more leadership with two seniors, a junior, sophomores, and I think a freshman might be on the team.”
The Commandos have a great chance to do just that, with Robinson and fellow sophomore Hunter Henry, who placed fifth at state last year in No. 1-singles, back with an extra year of experience, among other key contributors.
Playing in the No. 2-singles slot last year, the second-seeded Robinson won three matches to reach the state final, then waged an epic battle with No. 1 seed Cole Knutsen of Riverfield Country Day, but eventually fell 6-2, 6-4.
“That was an incredible match,” says Cascia Hall tennis coach Kristin Liles. “I thought the quality of tennis they played was better than the No. 1-singles final on the adjacent court. Anybody who was there would tell you the same. Aiden opened the match with three aces. Those guys battled. That is probably the best tennis I’ve seen boys play.
“He wasn’t unhappy with the way he played even though he played great. And that’s great character. He had a very tough opponent, no question, and he didn’t disappoint in any way. He went out with a mission, and I think he did what he set out to do.”
Robinson acknowledges it was a good contest, but it still showed him some things to work on.
“It was a great match,” says Robinson, who trains with his private coach Tomas Stillman, with the Tucker Tennis Academy at RH91, a tennis and fitness club on 91st Street near Riverside Parkway. “I think I could have played differently. I played well, but I think winning the big points was what mattered and I didn’t win the big points later in that match. I think this year, I need to work on winning bigger points more.”
He also notes that the state final defeat hasn’t stuck with him. He went about his business training for the current season, trying to continue making progress as a player. Part of his focus has been on improving his decision-making process under pressure.
“I’m kind of over it,” he says of the loss last spring. “I’ve been training hard at RH91, and I’m looking forward to the new season. I’ve been working on moving forward [closer to the net] more and winning the bigger points. My coach [Stillman] is trying to help me learn different strategies that will help me do that.”
One of Robinson’s best attributes on the court is his ability to maintain an even keel emotionally and not get too upset after a mistake, something he’s worked at over the years.
“Your mental state is everything,” Robinson says. “The physical state has to be there, but the mind makes it all work. When I was younger, I would freak out a lot, and I’ve learned how to control my emotions. You have to move on and focus on the next point. Whenever I tried to tell myself, ‘Let’s play positive this match,’ I would have better results than I would before.”
“He’s very steady emotionally on the court, he keeps it together,” Liles adds. “That’s a good quality to have in a tennis player. Aiden is a great kid with excellent character. He is steady on the court; you can’t tell if he’s up or down. He walks out on the court, knowing he can win every match.”
He’s been playing tennis since he was younger, initially as part of a fun, family activity. From there, it progressed into his passion.
“My parents wanted me to play because they were starting to play, and it was going to be kind of a family thing,” Robinson says. “It was fun, and I just really got into it.”
He does follow pro tennis, and the player he likes the most isn’t necessarily one of the best ones. But Félix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who is 19 years old and ranked No. 19 in the world, is one of the most respected, as much for his behavior off the court as on it, and that again speaks to Robinson’s character.
“He’s my favorite player,” Robinson said. “I like his attitude on the court and how he respects his opponents.”
Robinson has also worked hard at maintaining high grades. He had a bit of a difficult time adjusting to the high school workload last year as a freshman, especially when he was juggling both basketball and tennis at the same time. But Robinson, who won the Cascia Hall Middle School Geography Bee in eighth grade, worked through the issues and is better off for the experience now.
“I played JV basketball freshman year and baseball in middle school,” says Robinson, who is also involved with the student council and French Club at Cascia Hall. “I quit baseball and basketball to focus on tennis completely. [Managing all the schoolwork] is tough. I think freshman year helped me with my time management so that I can put that forward into this year.”
Further illustrating his maturity level, Robinson recognizes that he doesn’t want to go all tennis all the time. So he keeps himself busy with other activities, such as hunting deer and quail, among other things.
“I like to go hang out with friends, and go fishing,” Robinson says. “I like to keep a good balance, with family, friends, and tennis.”
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