A time to remember: Inside senior Robert McKnight’s tennis career

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Courtesy of Robert McKnight

Holding their third place medals from districts, senior Robert McKnight stands alongside his teammate Matt Boyd and tennis coach Katelyn Arenos after a practice during their junior year. They spent most of their season playing doubles matches with each other. “Playing tennis has taught me a lot. Staying committed to my training has taught me discipline. Struggling through back injuries has taught me how to always find the silver lining. Most importantly, my tennis career has taught me a lot about humility and respect,” McKnight said. “Respect is earned in many ways. It’s about correcting your mistakes and putting others first, and improving the lives of those around you, because you [can] personally have an impact.”

After placing third in the district doubles tournament his junior year, team captain and senior Robert McKnight is poised to become a tennis star. Even though his final season has been postponed due to COVID-19, McKnight is excited for his future. He recently got accepted to the University of Missouri and plans to play tennis there. 

Before his season was postponed, McKnight had been getting over 20 hours of extra practice each week during the offseason. Since he works at the Woodsmill Tennis Club, he is able to practice for free. 

“I am so excited for what my future holds, but I’m pretty bummed about missing out on my senior season,” McKnight said. “It’s tough to know that much of that work will be wasted, but I’m keeping it all in perspective. I know things could be a lot worse and this is nothing to pout over.”

McKnight joined the tennis team during his freshman year to follow in his brother Scott’s footsteps, and found his passion during his sophomore year after he was positioned to play on the varsity team. 

“Tennis has always been something I enjoyed, but I probably found my passion for it [during] my sophomore year. It was my first year on varsity, and I realized what my peak could be,” McKnight said. “My brother played for four years, so I had some pretty big shoes to fill. You know you’ve found your passion when 20 hour weeks make you still feel like there’s more to be done. I just love playing tennis and I can’t get enough of it.”

“I’ve made some mistakes in my life and tennis has always been there for me. Through training, I’ve learned discipline and patience. Tennis has taught me the importance of hard work, and that nobody is special. It’s all about the work effort.”

— Robert McKnight

McKnight spent most of his time on the court developing his own strategy of playing close to the net.

I love playing at the net because it’s fast-paced and I have more opportunities to put points away. I had to set up my approach from a couple of shots out, waiting for them to give me the right shot I needed to come in,” McKnight said. “You can’t just charge in fearlessly right away though, because the opponent can hit the ball in a difficult spot to hit.”

McKnight’s favorite type of match to play is doubles, where two teammates play against each other on the same court. The team has recently found a lot of success while playing in their own, unique formation.

“I really enjoy playing doubles because I can play at the net as much as I want. My partner [senior] Matt Boyd and I last year did something a little different, and we played our version of the ‘I formation’ for all our points,” McKnight said. “It is basically where we line up in the middle of the court and get to decide which direction to go and do our best to fake out the returner and impact the game at the net. It was really great and fun as it really utilized our strengths in the match.”

During his district tournament junior year, he was able to win his final match by a score of 8-6 alongside Boyd. McKnight feels that this game was the highlight of his career. 

“The individual’s third-place match for districts was extra intense because we had already played the opponent during the season, so we both knew and had scouted how each other played. I was playing against one of the guys I play with most days in the offseason, so it was a really cool opportunity to face him in districts,” McKnight said. “Tennis is also a very intense sport and it honestly can be one of the most frustrating as well. There are just so many potential shots you have to be ready for and you’re the one responsible for all of them.”

The team also likes to have fun by creating their own recreational tournaments during practice.

“My favorite memory during my time playing tennis was probably our version of the Davis Cup during my sophomore year. We split our team into four individual teams and each represented a country,” McKnight said. My country was the USSR and we all just had a lot of fun challenging each other. We got pretty competitive.”

As his high school years come to an end, McKnight has learned how to better himself by overcoming his past mistakes and looking forward to his future at the University of Missouri by learning important values. 

“I’ve made some mistakes in my life and tennis has always been there for me. Through training, I’ve learned discipline and patience. Tennis has taught me the importance of hard work, and that nobody is special. It’s all about the work effort. Tennis can be one of the most frustrating sports, and through that, it’s taught me to keep my head up,” McKnight said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of my talent and the progress I’ve made, but at the end of the day, it’s high school tennis. I love the sport, but it’s a small aspect of life. Any accolades I’ve received has been a nice validation, but what’s more important is being able to improve so you don’t repeat mistakes of the past and so you can be proud of who you are.”