Neeraj Devulapalli was ready to go the distance as he competed in his final Mercer County Tournament for the Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team.
After winning his two preliminary round matches at second singles on Tuesday, senior Devulapalli arrived at Mercer County Park on Thursday hungry for a title.
In his semifinal match against Notre Dame’s Joe Sison, Devulapalli dropped the first set 7-6 but was undeterred, rallying to win the next two sets 6-1, 6-2 in advancing to the finals.
“It was tough, I was up 5-2 in the first set and I lost,” recalled Devulapalli. “It was nice to come back after that.”
Taking on Vashishta Kalinadhabhotla of WW/P-N in the championship match, Devulapalli dug another hole, losing the first set 6-2.
But showing his resolve, Devulapalli roared back to take the second set 6-2.
“I wasn’t being aggressive enough in the first set, I took it to him a little more in the second,” said Devulapalli, reflecting on his rally.
The PDS senior, though, ran out of gas in the decisive set. “He came through in the end; I wasn’t able to keep the momentum going,” said Devulapalli.
“I have been playing him since I was 10 years old so we go a ways back, both of us played well. I wish I could have won because I wanted to do well for the team.”
The Panthers proved to be one of the top teams at the tourney taking third behind champion WW/P-S and runner-up WW/P-N in the competition which included 17 schools.
“I love the team,” said Devulapalli. “I love Anupreeth [Coramutla] at first singles. He is playing really well, he is a very talented player. Scott [Altmeyer] had a great tournament. It is a luxury to have someone like that at third singles. At most other schools, he would be playing No. 1.”
PDS head coach Will Asch liked how his team performed at the MCT. “I couldn’t be prouder of how our boys played in the tournament,” said Asch. “I was real pleased.”
Asch was especially pleased with Devulapalli’s effort. “Neeraj had a great day; I was very pleased with both of his matches, he never gave up,” said Asch.
“He was one set down and he came back against a very strong player in the second match. I thought he battled him right to the end. I was real pleased with the way he played down to the last shot, the other kid was just playing too well today, that’s all.”
In Asch’s view, Devulapalli displayed his maturity as he fought through early deficits.
“I think he seemed very positive throughout the whole day,” said Asch. “Experience is helpful; kids grow up.”
Sophomore standout Altmeyer got some great experience at third singles, making it to the championship match where he fell to Kabir Sarita of WW/P-S, who posted a 6-1, 6-0 win.
“Scott was great; I think he was a little overmatched against Kabir but there is next year,” said Asch.
“He has been playing great, he played a tournament this weekend and he won it. He loves to play.”
At first singles, freshman Coramutla produced several great moments as he advanced to semifinals and ultimately finished fourth.
“Anupreeth had a very tough first set in the third place match; he lost it in a tiebreaker,” said Asch. “John Hu (of WW/P-S) is more experienced and I think his experience really showed.”
The first doubles pair of Josiah Meekins and D.J. Modzelewski showed some resilience by shaking off a Round of 16 loss to prevail in the consolation bracket.
“They won the backdraw very easily,” said Asch. “I thought that they would have a good chance to get to the semis and possibly get in the finals. It was a disappointing loss to PHS but they rebounded well. They did a good job; they are a good team. They like each other very much and they work together as a team very well.”
Asch likes his team’s chances as it pursues another state Prep B championship in early May. “I expect that we will have a good showing there so I am very, very pleased,” said Asch, who guided the Panthers to a share of the 2013 Prep B title along with Pennington and Montclair Kimberley.
“I thought the boys learned a lot here, they are very easy to talk to. I think they know what they have to work on.”
Devulapalli, for his part, is ready to keep working for a title. “It is bittersweet, I came in second at preps and MCTs last year so I was hoping for a win somewhere this year,” said Devulapalli.
“I think the competition in the counties is a little bit better than in the preps. I just hope to do better in the next tournament.”