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Michael Mmoh, 14, has app for winning

THOMAS BENDER
Tennis player Michael Mmoh practicing at IMG Academy

Michael Mmoh remembers being intrigued when he read an article in a magazine about a high school student who made money by making a game that sold on the iTunes App store.

So Mmoh did what any enterprising pre-teen entrepreneur would do. He searched the Internet. He watched a bunch of tutorial videos. He made a test app. Then he made the real thing.

The iTune app is called Over-snow, a game where you touch falling snowflakes to make them disappear into thin air.

“I made the app when I was like 11 or 12,” Mmoh said last week. “I had a lot of free time then.”

Today, at the age of 14, Mmoh no longer has time for developing new apps. He is too busy developing a tennis game that many believe has a chance to eventually take him to the highest levels in men's tennis.

“It certainly looks like he has the goods,” said famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, who has coached 10 players who have been ranked No. 1 in the world. “He bangs the ball like Jim Courier. He likes to bang the ball and beat up the ball. He is going to be built strong and he is going to be a physical player.”

While the snowflakes in his app disappear, Mmoh seems destined to make a lasting run on the international tennis stage. One of just three 14-year-old players ranked in the ITF juniors top 120, Mmoh will take another step on his tennis journey this week when he plays in his first professional tennis event.

Mmoh has accepted a wild card into the IMG Academy $10K Futures tournament, which gets under way today at the Bradenton facility. He will play his first match this morning against Ryan Thacher.

“It's very exciting,” Mmoh said about the opportunity.

And that's about as much emotion that you will see with Mmoh. He is quiet, he is laid back, but anyone who mistakes those traits as a flaw in competitiveness often pays the price for that underestimation.

“He has a unique personality,” explains David “Red” Ayme, who has worked with Mmoh since the youngster arrived at the academy almost two years ago. “He is laid back so you are not going to see him bouncing off all the fences. But you have to look deeper than that and look how determined, how focused he is.

“He has so many of those intangibles that we like to talk about in sports. He has the work ethic and the discipline, all those things. But he has this unique ability to keep working on weaknesses, not just his strengths. And I love that.”

And there are a lot of strengths in the game of a 14-year-old player who already stands 6-11/2, weighs 170 pounds and has traveled the world.

The son of Tony Mmoh — a former player from Nigeria, who played professionally, reached a career-high ranking of No. 105 and played in the 1988 Olympics — Michael Mmoh wanted to become a professional basketball player while growing up in Saudi Arabia.

“I didn't like tennis that much,” he says. Yet he started playing the sport at the age of seven, had some success and quickly grew to like it.

By the time he was 12, Mmoh established himself as one of the top players of his age in the world. He arrived at IMG Academy, a virtual unknown, to play the 2010 Eddie Herr junior tournament. He breezed through qualifying, losing just one game in three matches. He then got all the way to the final before losing. A week later he won the 12-under title in the Orange Bowl tournament, the most prestigious event on the junior circuit.

This year his rise has been even more astounding. Starting the year ranked No. 680, he reached a career high at No. 116 in the 18-under division after reaching the quarterfinals in an event in Japan in October. Along the way, he helped lead the U.S. team to its first title at the ITF Word Junior Tennis Championships since 2008.

One of his personal highlights of the year came in September when he got a wild card into the U.S. Open Junior Championships. Mmoh worked his way through qualifying to reach the main draw. He then won a round there before losing a well-played match to 16-seeded Julien Cagnina of Belgium.

Once a liability, Mmoh has worked on his backhand to the point where he can hit it as a weapon on big points.

“Sometimes my backhand now feels even better than my forehand,” he says

“He competes hard every time he plays,” Ayme says, “and he is hard to beat. He rarely loses 6-1, 6-1. He usually finds a way to put himself in position to win.”

“He forces the issue,” Bollettieri says about Mmoh's play on the court. “He has very aggressive groundstrokes. He has a big serve and a big forehand that controls play.

“What we have to make sure is that emotionally he has what it takes to stand up at the professional level.”

Mmoh has time. But he also has desires.

“My highest goal? Probably win a Grand Slam,” he says.

As long as Mmoh's game keeps improving, he will have more than a snowball's chance of chasing his dream

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