Michael Mmoh is tall for his age. At 6-1 and 168 pounds, he towers over many of his opponents in the 14-Under division at the Jr. Orange Bowl Tennis Tournament this week. The Washington native is a basketball junkie and plays pick-up games whenever he can. His favorite player is Heat star LeBron James. But he chose tennis over basketball, which is hardly a surprise considering his genes.
Mmoh’s father, Tony, played on the pro circuit in the 1980s and represented his native Nigeria in the 1988 Summer Olympics and the Davis Cup. He reached No. 105 in the world before retiring with knee injuries. Unlike Michael, Tony never played junior tennis. He started as a soccer player and got to tennis late.
Michael, on the other hand, already seems like a wily veteran at 14. He won the Jr. Orange Bowl 12s title two years ago, and left home at 12 to live and train at the IMG Academy Bollettieri in Bradenton. A No. 1 seed this week, he is a favorite to win the Jr. Orange Bowl 14s title at the University of Miami Tennis Center.
Hundreds of young players from 75 countries are in town for 51st edition of the prestigious tournament. The Boys’ 14s are at UM, the Girls’ 14s are at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, the Boys’ 12s are at Salvadore Park in Coral Gables, and the Girls’ 12s are at the Biltmore Tennis Center.
Mmoh said his father put a racket in his hand as a preschooler, when the family was living in Saudi Arabia. Tony Mmoh owns a sports marketing company and moved the family to Riyadh from the time Michael was 4 to 8 years old. They then moved back to the Washington area, where his mother, Geraldine, is a nurse.
“My dad taught me the fundamentals and was my coach until I was 9,” Mmoh said Tuesday, after advancing to the third round with a 6-1, 6-0 win over American Hady Habib. “He took me to tournaments, and I really enjoyed the game. When I was 12, we decided I needed top coaches, so I moved to Bradenton. It was hard at first, but now it feels like home.”
On Tuesday, Mmoh was down 1-0 and love-40, but rallied to win 12 consecutive games.
The tournament runs through Sunday. The finals for the Girls’ 12s and 14s and Boys’ 14s will be at UM starting at 9 a.m. The Boys’ 12s finals will be at Salvadore Park, because that is the one-clay venue, so all matches must be played on the same surface.
Admission is free.