Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 18
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
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WINNING TRADITION: Princeton Day School boys’ tennis star Neil Karandikar displays his forehand form. Last Wednesday, junior Karandikar outlasted Chris Seitz of Hun, 7-6, 7-6, in the Mercer County Tournament championship match at first singles. It was the fourth straight year that a PDS player won the MCT first singles crown with David Holland having held the title from 2006-08.

Upholding PDS Boys’ Tennis Tradition, Karandikar Wins MCT 1st Singles Crown

Bill Alden

There was a sense that Neil Karandikar might be one of the best players in the area as he breezed to victory at second singles in the Mercer County Tournament (MCT) in his first two seasons with the Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team.

But playing behind gifted teammate David Holland, the MCT champion at first singles from 2006-08, Karandikar didn’t get the chance to test his skills against the top level of singles competition.

With Holland having graduated and currently playing at Duke, Karandikar moved up to first singles for PDS and competed in the MCT last week with the opportunity to show that he was a worthy successor to Holland.

Carrying the No. 1 seed into the MCT, junior star Karandikar did feel that he had a bull’s eye planted firmly on his back.

“I was excited but I definitely felt a lot of pressure because I think most people expected me to win,” said Karandikar.

“There was an article that said I was the heavy favorite; I read that and I was like OK, let me try to do that.”

Karandikar lived up to his advance billing in the first three rounds of the tourney as he dropped a total of three games in six sets in advancing to the championship match last Wednesday afternoon at Mercer County Park.

Facing unheralded Hun School freshman Chris Seitz in the final, Karandikar had to draw on his tournament savvy and will.

After winning the first set 7-6, Karandikar was hit with a cramp in his left thigh midway through the second set.

After a 10-minute injury timeout, Karandikar returned to the court and gutted things out, winning another tiebreaker on the way to a 7-6, 7-6 win and the title.

Afterward a relieved Karandikar savored his hard-earned triumph. “It means a lot,” said Karandikar. “It is an incredible feeling.”

In Karandikar’s view, it was his conditioning and resulting power that helped carry him through in the battle with Seitz.

“I have been doing some off-court strength training; I have also been working on my fitness more,” said the wiry Karandikar.

“I think I got a lot more free points off of my serve. It’s my best shot and I started hitting them pretty well.”

PDS head coach Rome Campbell said that Karandikar had to use a variety of shots to hold off Seitz.

“We had to make a lot of adjustments in the match,” said Campbell. “He certainly wanted to stay off Chris Seitz’s great forehand. Neil was mixing it up as far as pace.”

In addition, Karandikar, like Holland before him, had to dig deep to fight off the cramps that hit him in the second set.

“It was the third final in a row where we have had injuries,” said Campbell, shaking his head and smiling.

“The trainer did a nice job getting him back on board. It was still painful for him with the cramping. It hurt his mobility but he won three of the last four points in that tiebreaker.”

Seeing a PDS player win the MCT first single title four straight years has certainly been nice for Campbell and the program.

“We have been very fortunate having a player of David Holland’s stature winning it three years and being in the finals his freshman year,” said Campbell.

“We have had Neil winning the second singles for two years and then winning first in the third year. The rest of the players looked up to Dave Holland and they look up to Neil Karandikar as a good role model and someone to emulate. He surely sets the example as far as sportsmanship, character, and how to conduct himself as a young student-athlete.”

Campbell was hopeful that more of his players would emulate Karandikar’s on-court success in the MCT but none of them advanced to the semifinal round.

“We had hoped for some greater successes from the rest of the team but it is a tough tournament and there are some great players out here,” said Campbell, whose squad tied Pennington for fifth in the team standings in the 17-school competition won by WW/P-N. “It will certainly help us get prepared for the rest of the season.”

The Panthers are prepared for a big challenge as they seek their fifth straight Prep B team title.

“We have some tough opponents coming up, we are halfway through the season,” added Campbell, whose team hosts Lawrenceville on May 6, plays at George School on May 7, hosts Ranney on May 8 and Princeton High on May 11, and then plays at Wardlaw-Hartridge on May 12.

“We have some tough contenders in the Prep B championships. It’s going to be a dogfight, everyone is coming after us.”

For Karandikar, having the support of his teammates made a big difference for him last Wednesday as he survived his dogfight with Seitz.

“I think that what made this special for me was playing in this kind of atmosphere with the crowd and people cheering,” said Karandikar.

“Hearing your coaches, teammates, and friends supporting you even when I was down or when I had to leave. It definitely makes this win special. It was a tough match so it feels great to win.”

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