That allowed Bates the chance to really observe the style of play that eventually led Isner into a successful professional career. Bates eventually patterned his own game after the 6-foot-9 Isner, known for a serve that can top 130 mph.
“It was cool seeing him go through UGA tennis, and now he’s the top-10 player in the world,” Bates said. “I love his big serve and big forehand, so I started patterning my game after him.”
While Isner is known for playing lengthy matches and winning most of them — he’s most famous for needing more than 11 hours over three days to beat Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon four years ago — Bates took care of business quickly this season. He rarely needed more than an hour to win all 14 of his matches.
Bates’ consistent play not only garnered him honors as the 2014 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Boys Tennis Player of the Year honors, it also helped Pope finish as the Class AAAAA state runner-up.
Bates’ closest match of the season was a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Riverwood’s Jacob Marcus in March.
“He dominated every match that he had, and I don’t remember him losing any more than two or three games a set,” Pope coach Victoria Kemper said. “He almost always lost the first game of the match, and from then on, he would dominate. Watching him play, he was so intense, and the rest of the team picked up on it.”
Five of Bates’ victories were by 6-0, 6-0 scores, and three of those perfect matches came in the first three rounds of the Class AAAAA state tournament.
Bates gave up only two games in winning his state semifinal match against Glynn Academy. Then, he went up against Northview’s Avi Singh in the finals, after already beating him twice during the regular season and the Region 7AAAAA tournament.
Bates said the match was tougher than the 6-0, 6-1 victory indicated. His biggest difficulty was finishing. He squandered two match-point attempts before sealing it with a down-the-line passing shot.
Unfortunately, Bates was the only winner that day.
Pope played Northview three times this season, losing each time.
“They were our last match of the regular season, and losing to them was a real eye-opener,” Bates said. “They beat us, and we were like, ‘Whoa, they’re the real deal.’ Then we lost to them in region finals and the finals at state.”
Though Bates couldn’t end his high school career with a state, it did start with one as Pope won the championship his freshman year in 2011.
Now, Bates will be heading to the Sunshine State, playing tennis at Florida Gulf Coast.
“They got put on the map when they made that run in the NCAA (basketball tournament) two years ago,” Bates said. “Looked them up and found out they were Division I, and good at tennis, too. From there, I contacted the coach, went on visit, and that was all she wrote.”
Bates is confident with the serve and forehand he picked up from watching Isner, but once he arrives in Fort Myers, he wants to have more of an all-court game, finishing points at the net.