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Sparked by Infusion of Precocious Newcomers, PDS Boys’ Tennis Emerging as Title Contender

TALKING POINT: Michael Zhao gets interviewed after he won the 2011 Longines Future Aces Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. This spring, Zhao, an eighth grader, is starring at first singles for the Princeton Day School boys’ squad, helping the Panthers to a 4-0 start. PDS has a match at the Pingry School on April 18 before taking part in the Mercer County Tournament, slated for April 22 and 24 at the Mercer County Park tennis complex.(Photo by David Martin, Courtesy of Longines)

TALKING POINT: Michael Zhao gets interviewed after he won the 2011 Longines Future Aces Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. This spring, Zhao, an eighth grader, is starring at first singles for the Princeton Day School boys’ squad, helping the Panthers to a 4-0 start. PDS has a match at the Pingry School on April 18 before taking part in the Mercer County Tournament, slated for April 22 and 24 at the Mercer County Park tennis complex. (Photo by David Martin, Courtesy of Longines)

While the addition of a talented crop of freshmen to a tennis team would normally be a harbinger of good things to come down the road, the arrival of three young stars this spring has immediately changed the fortunes for the Princeton Day School boys’ squad.

After guiding the team to a 5-9 record in 2012, PDS head coach Will Asch knew things would be radically different when highly-touted eighth-grader Michael Zhao and freshmen David Zhang and Scott Altmeyer stepped on the court this March.

“I knew we had a good team as soon as we saw players like Zhao, Zhang, and Altmeyer,” said Asch

Sure enough, the Panthers have produced a sizzling start, going 4-0 and winning each of their matches by 5-0 margins.

The team’s success starts at the top where the precocious Zhao is displaying brilliant talent and skill at first singles.

“I would say that there is no ball he can’t handle, he has great hands, and he is extremely consistent,” said Asch, reflecting on the strengths of Zhao’s game.

“He volleys very well. He has a very big forehand for an 8th grader. He does everything well on the court and he has a great mind for the game.”

Zhao also possesses a maturity beyond his years on the court. “He doesn’t worry about winning or losing,” said Asch, noting that Zhao is coached by Marc Hill and former Princeton University head coach Glenn Michibata.

“He has an idea of what he wants to do and he doesn’t worry about the score. He has a certain shot and sequence of play that he wants to develop and he will work on it even if he is in a national tournament.”

At second singles, Zhang figures to give PDS some very good work. “He is very good,” said Asch. “He is very aggressive on the forehand; he covers the court very well. He is very consistent. He hits hard from the baseline and he is very fast.”

Last season’s top singles player, junior Neeraj Devulapalli, has moved to the  No. 3 spot and should be dominant in that position. “Neeraj is playing well, his serve has really improved,” said Asch. “He is having a great season.”

Altmeyer has also bolstered the PDS lineup as he been paired with junior D.J. Modzelewski at first doubles.

“Scott Altmeyer and D. J. are our strongest team,” said Asch. “They are both very good singles players. Scott is a very strong player; he has a lot of tournament experience. D.J. is someone who we have brought along; he has learned a lot of his tennis from playing on the team.”

Talented sophomore Josiah Meekins will anchor the second doubles pair with Asch tinkering with things to find the best combination.

“Meekins is our next best player,” said Asch. “We have a bunch of guys who are playing at the same level. We are sill working on that.”

Asch is confident that his team can perform at a high level in the upcoming Mercer County Tournament, which is slated for April 22 and 24 at the Mercer County Park tennis complex.

“The toughest thing is to win in the doubles at the MCT; we have four guys in the school who play in tournaments and some schools have 10 or 15,” noted Asch, whose team also has a match at the Pingry School on April 18.

“In singles, we should be the strongest team. Sometimes that is enough to win and sometimes it isn’t. We won all three singles a few years ago but South (WW/P-S) won the title. In the girls’ tournament two years ago, Sam [Asch’s daughter Samantha Asch] was our only flight winner but we won the team title.”

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