It is rare when Ahmad Saleem indulges in the luxury of taking time off from tennis.

“Oh, I take a day off during the week or maybe a week here and there, but mostly I just keep playing,” said the Desert Vista senior, who this season has moved up to the top rung of the Thunder boys tennis-playing ladder.

But a shoulder injury over the winter forced him to take some time off, and it could have jeopardized his senior year.

Instead, Desert Vista coach Wayne Brimley thinks it may have been a blessing going into the final season of his four varsity years.

“What has really helped him, unfortunately,” Brimley said, “is the injury. It forced him to take some time off and regenerate, not only physically, but mentally. He’s come back more focused after his injury.”

Saleem has played toward the top of the ladder since he made the team as a freshman, but usually didn’t carry the responsibility of leadership until this season.

“It’s easier to step into that role this year,” he said. “I had Jacob (Barnaby) and Austin Goe help me out a lot with leadership last year. I could see what those guys did and tried to learn from them.”

Saleem also gives credit to classmate John Yamuguchi, who took a year off and is a little behind, for some of that leadership.

“He’s a good leader and very motivating team-wise,” Saleem said. “He’s always there for the team.”

Saleem placed third in the state 5A-I individual singles championships last season behind rivals and good friends, two-time champion Andy Nguyen at Mountain Pointe and Garrett Dunn at Tempe Corona del Sol.

He also was a runner-up with Barnaby in the state doubles championship a year earlier.

That makes him one of the favorites to bring a singles title to Desert Vista this season.

“Yeah, I guess I’m the one this year,” Saleem said. “There are a lot of good players out there this year so it isn’t a walk in the park. But it’s a lot of fun, and I like the challenge.”

When he was a freshman, Saleem was on the team with his older brother, Omar, and this season he is playing with his younger brother, Mohammed, a freshman.

They make up the Thunder’s No. 1 doubles team.

“It’s fun,” Saleem said. “We’ve practiced in doubles before, and he’s getting better. I think he has more confidence now playing with me.”

The Thunder could be better from the top to the bottom of the lineup than they were last season when they made it to the semifinals last season or two years ago when they reached the finals.

“This team is pretty solid,” Saleem said, “and I think we have a good chance to make it to the finals again.”

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