‘Meteoric rise’ to the top: Porterville’s Juan Cerros went from newcomer to No. 1 and a two-time EYL champ
Soft-spoken and straight-faced, Juan Cerros is as serious as they come.
The No. 1 for Porterville High School and The Recorder’s 2018-19 Orange Belt Boys Tennis Player of the Year, Cerros doesn’t say much but his play does the talking for him.
In doubles this season, the junior went 11-2 in the regular season before hitting the East Yosemite League championship tournament and winning a back-to-back EYL title with his teammate, junior Joseph Catalina.
Cerros’ wins come abundantly in doubles but singles, where he went 6-7 in all dual singles’ matches, is what he likes the most.
“It’s more work you have to put in to it and I think it just makes you a better player when you work one on one,” Cerros, said.
But when it comes to doubles, Cerros thinks he and Catalina obtained their success by simply being good teammates to each other.
“Me and my partner have experience because we have good communication and the other teams, every time we play them, they just get very frustrated with each other and we don’t,” Cerros said. “We usually just keep each other up and keep each other’s heads up.”
Coming onto the varsity level as a sophomore without high school experience wasn't a problem for Cerros. He quickly moved up the ladder from No. 6 to No. 4 and went from not playing doubles in duals to winning his first EYL doubles title last season.
“Probably could’ve been higher, frankly, I just didn’t play him higher because he was so new,” PHS head coach Kurt Nielsen said. “And then the No. 1 in a year and a half. Not to mention the two EYL doubles [championships]. He just carried himself pretty solidly at No. 1, that was hard because he didn’t have much experience. Most people work their way up the ladder from [junior varsity] to No. 5 to No. 2 ... So Juan has just been a meteoric rise. That’s all I can say.”
On Cerros’ strengths, Nielsen said, “Just great hand-eye [coordination]. Very fast, very quick. Good eye for the game, good tennis IQ. He just picked it up quickly. You could see early on he was going to be good. I knew he’d make varsity and we didn’t know how good he get.”
A fan of strategic games, like Clash of Clans, Cerros is always a student of the game and looking for ways to improve. His favorites to watch are Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, players he now styles his game off of when he trains in the offseason.
Prior to high school, Cerros said he played tennis in the summer of his sixth and seventh grade years as part of the Boys and Girls Club and did well there.
“I started to go and I found it really fun,” Cerros said. “And then I won two tournaments between our little group. Well it wasn’t a little group, it was a big group. And I just started enjoying it.”
Cerros didn’t play any sports his freshman year but as a sophomore he first played soccer at the midfielder and winger positions. He wanted a spring sport too, and it took some convincing of his parents to look past the possible late night pickups after matches, but Cerros finally joined the Panthers last season.
From No. 4 to No. 1, Cerros now faces some of the best and most experienced players in the area. Playing with a poker face that rarely betrays his emotions on the court, Cerros never lets any pressure get to him.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure because I can rely on my other teammates to finish their matches and secure a win for us as a team,” Cerros said. “But I would still like to get my win.”
One of Cerros biggest singles wins came at the end of the EYL regular season when he beat Monache’s No. 1 Sage Martinez in a one-sided 6-0, 6-1 win. The usually laid-back Cerros was focused on getting the win after he felt wronged in a first-round 6-4, 2-6, 10-7 loss to Martinez.
“First time we played, they kind of — we’re playing and it was like two to match point and I guess he thought it was a double bounce on my side but it wasn’t,” Cerros said. “Later in the match, I told him that was my point and he argued that it wasn’t and then his coach got involved with it and I just gave him the point. That made him win. Then the next time we played them I didn’t let him score.”
Cerros and Catalina advanced the farthest of any local player this season in the CIF Central Section Central Area tournament. Seeded sixth, the duo easily won their first match 6-0, 6-1 against a team from Strathmore but faced a tough battle against a team from Lemoore.
The match against the Tigers was a three-hour match with every set involving a tiebreaker. Cerros and Catalina lost the first set 5-7 but won the next two 7-6 and 7-5 to advance to the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. Unfortunately the duo lost 6-3, 6-2 to third-seeded Mt. Whitney.
“I think we were just still tired,” Cerros said. “That was a really beatable team. We could’ve beat them if we weren’t as tired … I started getting cramps in my match.”
Although his coach is hopeful he’ll make the switch to singles next season, Cerros is planning to finish his senior year with a rare third EYL doubles title and a trip to Valley.
“Yeah, I’m kind of hoping next year we play doubles again and we actually go to Valley,” Cerros said. “I think we have a pretty strong chance …Think we can get No. 3 [seed].”