Kevin Qiu knew he had to assume the role of mentor in his partnership with freshman Adib Zaidi at first doubles for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team.
Having played two years at doubles for the Little Tigers, Qiu has helped neophyte Zaidi learn the ropes on working in tandem.
“It is tougher because Adib is a singles player so he always feels like he needs to cover everything,” said Qiu.
“When you play doubles, you have got to remember it is not about believing in yourself but believing in each other. You have to trust each other to carry the work and to just play to the best of your abilities.”
Last week at the Mercer County Tournament, the duo showed a lot of ability in the opening rounds, posting two straight-set wins on the way to the semifinals.
Qiu and Zaidi thought they had a good chance to top John Hu and Peter Ku of WW/P-S in the semis.
“Coming in, we really expected to win,” said Qiu. “We practiced new things to try to counter how they play. I had played them last year so we knew to really work on our poaches and volleys. We kept on telling ourselves point by point.”
Unfortunately for Qiu and Zaidi, they didn’t get enough points as they fell 6-3, 6-3 to the WW/P-S pair, who went on to win the title.
Showing their growing trust, Qiu and Zaidi overcame the disappointment from the semis loss to beat Brandon Kumar and Rohan Gupta of Peddie 6-1, 6-4 to take third place.
“We were pretty sad from our South match so we just went in there and told each other to work hard,” recalled Qiu.
“We can get a medal and get points for our team; that was pretty much the mindset going in.”
PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert was happy to see her first doubles tandem fight for that third place medal.
“They have the potential to be a great team; they both have really strong shots and good doubles knowledge,” said Hibbert, whose team ended up in tie for fifth with Peddie in the team standings of the 18-school competition that was won by WW/P-S.
“The key for them is just playing well at the same time; I think these last couple of matches have really helped. They were right there in the semis; it was a real close match. They had some chances that they were unfortunately unable to capitalize on. I was proud of the way they were able to turn it around and still come back and get third today.”
The PHS second doubles pair of freshmen Tyler Hack and Rishab Tanga battled valiantly for third place but came up short as they fell 6-3, 6-2 to Dan Wang and Sanandh Ravu of WW/P-N.
“They fought hard; there were some really long points and some exceptionally long games and they were right there,” said Hibbert.
“They are both freshmen and this is a first experience for them. I am really proud of the way they got through their first round against Peddie; it was a real tough team. They were playing more experienced teams. I think another few matches here the rest of the season and next year they have the potential of doing great things.”
The PHS singles players experienced some frustration as they were knocked out on the first day. Eddie Percarpio fell in the opening round at first singles while Robert Zhao and Julian Edgren were eliminated in the second round at second and third singles, respectively.
“We had some tough matches; we had some tough draws, “ added Hibbert, reflecting on the performance of her singles players.
“The guys all lost to either a No. 1 or 2 seed so there is no shame in that. They put up good fights; sometimes that is all you can ask for.”
In Hibbert’s view, the experience gained at the MCT should toughen PHS for the fights ahead.
“I hope these matches will help us moving forward,” said Hibbert, whose team has a match at Allentown on April 26, hosts Steinert on April 27, and then plays at Ewing on April 30.
“Our doubles will be a little more experienced and our singles will have good competition as well. We start the meat of the season next now; four matches a week and states. It all happens quick.”
Qiu, for his part, believes that he and Zaidi will be even more competitive going forward.
“I think after this tournament, we improved dramatically,” said Qiu. “All that stuff is going to translate well.”