DIXON – Emma Hubbs looked out on the blue tennis courts at Page Park during the 24th annual Emma Hubbs Tennis Classic and smiled. She was right where she wanted to be.
Hubbs was sitting in her personalized, purple-backed movie director-like chair when she looked over at Jonathon Rivera, one of the five boys playing in the 15-and-under division, and applauded one of his slick returns.
"Tennis players always seem to be smart kids," Hubbs said in appreciation. "They are always wanting to learn and improve at everything, and Jonathon has really improved. He's a smart kid."
Rivera, 13, was working on his improved swings over the summer, and now had his chance to try out his new moves in a competition setting. He noticed in past competitions that opponents would catch on to where he was spotting the ball and how he wanted to play during the second game. He said they would be able to counter him and find a way to beat him.
So he worked with Hubbs over the summer, as well as on his own, to better learn when to use each of his different swings to keep his opponents guessing: slices, top spins and flat swings.
"What I like about tennis is there is no perfect way to do things," Rivera said. "There are so many possible shots at any time out there, and you just have to try to get a perfect angle.
"I really work on placement and accuracy."
He needed all of his new tricks Monday, as the competition was high in the 15U division. It was packed with budding stars. Daniel Ferguson, who practices at least 6 days per week, Andrew Ivarson, Mason Moeller and KC Knack. Before round-robin play started for the division, Hubbs said that most of these kids can hang with the high school players.
Rivera placed second, winning 20 total games, while KC Knack won with 23 games as his big, powerful serve lead the way. Ferguson (18), Moeller (15) and Ivarson (4) rounded out the group.
"I keep coming back because it's fun," said Knack, who is participating for his sixth year. "These kids are really competitive. You really wouldn't know some are only 13."
Knack won at least six games against each opponent except against Rivera, who won five. He said his attention to detail was what helped him compete against the group, most of whom know his tendencies.
"Tennis is just very enjoyable," Rivera said. "I've been trying to work on my second serve, so it's not so easy to return."
But while he has spent a lot of time perfecting his game, he has had quite the busy summer.
Rivera has dreams of becoming a programmer, and built a robot that responds and moves toward the sound of a clap. The Reagan Middle School eighth grader is also in the process of building a remote controlled tank that fires LED lights.
"There always seems to be something on about robots somewhere on the news," Rivera said. "I think it's really cool."
He also spent time at a creative writing camp at Northern Illinois this summer. There, he wrote a good start to a fictional story about magic and a group of people with an agenda to stamp out its existence.
Rivera will play in doubles during the classic later in the week with Ferguson, and hopes to find time to finish that tank and the story.
"So far," he said. "It's been a really busy summer."