VAN NUYS — Birmingham High tennis player Anthony Gabriele has a new nickname these days.
Out is Anthony. In is "Nino," the Spanish word for "young boy."
But on the court, he is anything but a child.
Seeded No. 2 and having advanced to today's quarterfinals in the City Section singles tournament at the Studio City Racquet Centre, Gabriele, a senior, has an 80-8 career record in four seasons as the Braves' No. 1 player.
Nobody in this tournament has more experience or wins than Gabriele, who faces Palisades' Sergey Kordonskey at 12:30 p.m.
But when it comes to breaking into the group of elite junior players in Southern California, Gabriele, who is ranked 39th, has one small problem.
Nino is too sweet. He doesn't have a killer instinct.
"I don't look at him as a tennis player, but as a neat, well-rounded kid," Birmingham Coach Rick Prizant said. "I think he's too nice.
"His father [Antoine] gets so frustrated at times, because he sometimes wins the first set so easily and then he gives up the second set. But at the end of it he says, 'You know, he's a great kid.' "
Case in point: Gabriele beat Taft's Farshad Hajimirazee, 6-1, in the first set of his second-round match Tuesday. Then Gabriele dropped the second set, 6-1, before closing out the match by dominating the third set, 6-2.
"Yes, I'm too nice," said Gabriele, 18, who has a 3.6 grade-point average.
"It's good for the social life," he said. "Not for tennis. If I'm playing someone who's not at my level, I want to cream the guy but I hold back. I don't want to show my aggressiveness."
Gabriele says he also is unable to sustain his concentration throughout matches, which is another reason why he hasn't fared better against tough competition on the Southern California juniors circuit.
Yet he has been plenty good enough to dominate his high-school opponents. He has a 13-0 record in match play and he was 12-0 in single sets against 12 different opponents in the team playoffs.
He has a graceful, seemingly aloof style on the court, in which he blends power and finesse with a strong forehand, a backhand slice and soft volleys. He is a tactical server who will slice his opponent off the court or pound it to his backhand side.
"In the last four years, he's learned to manage his game," Prizant said. "He's had all the tools, but when he came up against good players, he didn't have a game plan."
Gabriele says he knows the styles of all the players in the tournament and he's confident he can clear what might be the only hurdle left in his high-school career. He hopes to make the team at UCLA next fall as a non-scholarship player, and a City title might help his cause.
Birmingham's Reza Alizadeh and Kennedy's Sonny Warda have also advanced to the quarterfinals of singles.