Leo – Messi of the tennis court

Leo Matthysen laces up next to his prized possessions before going through some drills.

Sea Point-based Anthony Harris Tennis Academy’s Leo “Litchi” Matthysen, 10, competed at the under-10 world championships in Croatia, last month.

The left-footed Argentinian soccer wizard Messi was discovered at a young age. And once he joined the Barcelona youth academy, he grew from strength to strength and won the Fifa Ballon d’Or award for footballer of year on five occasions.

However, he’s also made news off the pitch due to his troubles with the taxman.

Leo from Mitchell’s Plain started playing tennis at the age of four and was taken under the wing of Anthony Harris Tennis Academy two years later.

The left-handed tennis wizard has been smashing through his opposition and is undefeated in all Western Province competitions this year.

Last month, the youngster got the opportunity to test his skills on an international level when he played at the world champs, also known as the Smirkva Bowl Tournament.

Leo is only the second South African junior to compete at this competition, following in the footsteps of Lloyd Harris – the current SA number two ranked men’s player.

“The tournament in Croatia was a great experience. I lost in the first round against a boy from Japan 7-6 and 7-6; then beat a player from Sweden 6-0; and lost to a Croatian player 7-6.

“Before this, I played in the SA championships in Bloemfontein but got knocked out in the semi-final to the player who won the tournament,” he said.

Having only turned 10 years old on Tuesday, Leo has always played in higher age divisions.

Currently ranked third in the country and first in the Western Province for the under-11 age division, he competed in the under-12 Constantia Junior Tournament and won the singles division, at the weekend. Leo said he also enjoys playing soccer but tennis remains his first love.

“I train everyday after school at the Anthony Harris Tennis Academy, and play soccer for Mitchell’s Plain Clinic of Excellence (MPCE) on a Saturday.

“The first time I picked up a tennis racket was when I went to watch my father (Nathan) train. After his training session we hit a couple of balls on the court and that’s when the coach invited me to join the club.

“I trained the very next day and it wasn’t long before I played in my first tournament. At the time, I was just five years old and I beat a nine year old player 6-1,” said Leo.

“I enjoyed getting that win and I kept on playing. Last year was the first time I made the WP team. I had to go for trials to make that team but didn’t need to do that this year because the top three players automatically make the squad. When I’m older, I’d like to play at Wimbledon and at Roland-Garros. My favourite player is Rafael Nadal, he’s also left handed and I enjoy watching him play,” he said.

Matthysen senior said both he and Leo learnt a lot at the world championships, and that they’ve highlighted areas the youngster needs to work on.

“The competition was awesome and we’ve seen how the other young players are doing things. How, at the age of nine, those players are already in a professional frame of mind,” said Matthysen.

On the technical skills side of things, Leo matched up very well considering the other players are competing regularly at an international level,” said Matthysen.

“The matches that Leo lost were on the tie-break so it could have gone either way.

“In those crucial moments, his opposition were just more focussed with the pressure,” he said.