Brian Kowalski expects more from himself in one tennis match than most people do throughout an entire day.
The Hillsborough High School senior is notoriously hard on himself while on the tennis court, often shouting criticisms to himself and showing his frustration with a toss of the racket or a tug of his shirt.
"I play with a lot emotion at all times," Kowalski said. "I expect to make every shot no matter where it is on the court at all times. I get frustrated with myself and once the emotion gets going my energy level gets higher. I'm very critical of everything I do on the tennis court."
Being an individual sport, there are no teammates to settle Kowalski down and there is little coaches can do from the sidelines to change the 17-year old's mentality. In the end, it's that alone on an island aspect that Kowalski enjoys.
"I chose tennis because it's just me out there," Kowalski said. "You have to be everything you need, you can't rely on anyone else. The game comes down to motivation. I always want to win and I show it on the court."
For the casual tennis watcher, Kowalski's temper flare ups may bring back memories of John McEnroe. Saying that Kowalski plays with his emotions on his sleeve is putting it lightly. While sometimes intimidating to the opposition, his fiery displays are what coaches fear may do more harm than good.
"Sometimes I think he may be a little too hard on himself," Hillsborough tennis coach Mark Palus said. "It's good that he plays with so much intensity, but you worry that it could effect his play negatively as a coach."
Kowalski has polished his game at Cheval Golf and Country Club, the place where he first met Palus. It's there that he has developed his technique and stamina, a key part of Kowalski's game, to a level that could take him beyond high school tennis.
"My coaches at Cheval have worked with me endlessly on fitness," Kowalski said. "Last summer, I literally fell asleep for a half hour on a clay court after one of our work outs. We do a ton of drills, but you see it pay off when you chase down ball after ball on the court."
Equally important to his success as heavy training and high expectations for himself has been Kowalski's desire to succeed. He has sacrificed his social life and hours of free time to play extra matches and do whatever it would take to improve and get his ranking up in attempt to go to college playing tennis. Thus far, Kowalski has found that he has options for the future but has yet to make a final decision on where he will go.
From a technique perspective, a key part of Kowalski's game is the spin that he can put on the ball. Often times, opposing players are thrown off by the fact that the ball will not take the bounce they've anticipated, instead flopping onto the court and dying or jumping off of it and catching the opponent off guard.
"That has developed recently," Kowalski said. "I'm small so it was always tough for me to put a good amount of spin on the ball. What we've done is in work outs coaches will create an area that I have to hit the ball into with a certain type of spin on it. I have to do that so many times before I can get water, so that's the motivation."
His ability to put spin on the ball combined with his speed and quick thinking makes him a tough opponent. Yash Patel is a senior at Hillsborough and has trained with Kowalski at Cheval and on the tennis team. After playing against him several times, Patel can attest to the difficulties Kowalski presents his opponents.
"He's a great player, because he's so consistent," Patel said. "It's really difficult to get anything against him. The spin that he can put on the ball pushes you back beyond the baseline, so it's really difficult for you to get on the offensive."
Kowalski is the captain of the Terrier tennis team and is undefeated on the season. After a recent victory over district rival King high school, Hillsborough has set themselves up nicely for a run at success in 2011.
"Without Brian and Jack we probably wouldn't make it far," Palus said. "But right now we're in good shape and we'll probably have to meet King again at districts and maybe even regionals. If we get the most out of our key guys and can pick some wins from the other guys then we can make a run."
Kowalski's performances in particular are important for the Terriers as he is their No.1 player and sets the pace for the entire team.
As the Terriers move forward, Palus is confident that they can make a run at more than just a district title.
"Brian and Jack give us a good base, and if we can get some good performances out of the other guys we should be able to win districts and maybe do something in the state tournament," Palus said. "Tennis is usually such an individual sport so it's always fun to get the guys together and compete as a team like this."