June 2, 2021

Sparked by Gu’s Superb Debut Season at 1st Singles, PHS Boys’ Tennis Aiming for CVC, State Titles

EYES ON THE PRIZE: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Jonathan Gu shows his focus in a recent match. Gu and PHS have a big week coming up as they will be competing in both the CVC finals and the state tournament. In the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional, the top-seeded Tigers, who moved to 15-0 by defeating fifth-seeded Freehold Borough 5-0 in the semis last Friday, are slated to host second-seeded WW/P-North in the final on June 1. The victor of that match will advance to the state Group semis on June 3 at Mercer County Park. In the CVC competition, second-seeded PHS is playing at top-seeded WW/P-South in the final on June 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Jonathan Gu was fired up to make an impact at singles last spring in his freshman season for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team.

But with the 2020 season canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gu never got the chance to show his skills.

This spring with the season in full swing, Gu is making the most of his delayed debut campaign, starring at first singles as PHS has gone 15-0, advancing to both the CVC tournament final and the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional title match.

Gu is enjoying getting the chance to be a part of the squad. “It is cool,” said Gu.

“Last year I was excited for the season and we didn’t get it and I was pretty disappointed. Last year I met some of the other guys. We didn’t really play a lot and then this season we know each other a lot better, it is pretty fun.”

Last Wednesday, Gu had fun in the quarterfinal round of the sectional, defeating Jared Abazia 6-0, 6-1 of Brick Memorial as top-seeded PHS defeated the eighth-seeded Mustangs 5-0.

“I was mostly working on my serve, trying to get the first and second serve down,” said Gu, who plays in regional and national tournaments and is ranked 116th in the USTA Boys’ 16 National Standings List. “It was good practice, I have been playing on clay courts for a while.”

Playing at the top spot in the Tiger lineup has been a challenge for Gu.

“There is pressure on you playing No. 1,” said Gu. “In tournaments, I play people that are older than me as well. I think my serve, especially, has improved a lot. I have been playing every day with the team and then doing matches and then playing on the weekend. I am playing a lot and it is paying off.”

Gu started playing tennis at a young age, following in the footsteps of his older brother Jerry, a former PHS standout.

“My brother played first and he started at 7 or 8,” said Gu, whose goal is to play Division I college tennis.

“My parents just bought me a racket and I was on the side playing around. I first touched a racket when I was four and then I started playing. I hit with my brother sometimes now, it is good.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert is enjoying seeing Gu finally get in action for her squad.

“It is great to have him back on court; last year he came out for tryouts and then unfortunately the season was cut short,” said Hibbert.

“We were all excited to see what he could do but we never got a chance to watch him play last year. Getting the chance to see him and Jack [second singles player Jack Ling] play some of their preseason matches was really exciting.”

The Tigers were excited to get state tournament play underway with the match against Brick Memorial.

“We were lucky to get a bye in the first round and it is nice to get underway with the competition,” said Hibbert.

“It is always nice to have one where you feel confident in your chances when the match gets started. We have had a lot of good tennis this season; I am sure there is a lot more good tennis to come. We are just trying to play well; we have a lot coming up.”

Hibbert is getting some good tennis from her doubles teams with senior twins Ethan and Dylan Parker starring at first doubles and juniors Roberto Haubold and Eric Zhu having come together at second doubles.

“The doubles are starting to jell, they have been playing good tennis against each other,” said Hibbert, whose team moved to 15-0 by defeating fifth-seeded Freehold Borough 5-0 in the sectional semis last Friday.

“It was really nice last week. The Parkers were able to win some of their matches in two sets. We have joked with them that they have great first sets and then take a slight mental vacation in the second. They were able to win in two sets at South and in two sets against North. They are starting to find that pace and momentum at the end of their senior year. They are really hungry to play some good tennis. We are sticking with that second doubles pairing. It has worked out nicely because Roberto and Eric make a nice team.”

Freshman Melvin Huang has proven to be a stalwart for the squad, officially listed at third singles but playing all over the singles lineup when other players have been unavailable.

“Melvin has been doing great as well, he is our third singles and I think he played two matches at third singles all year because he has been first and second most of the time,” said Hibbert.

“It is great experience for him. He is working hard on his game and upping the consistency in addition to the pace he already has.”

The team’s unsung hero is freshman Jason Singer who has filled in a third singles for several matches.

“We have needed to call on him a number of times this season and he has come through when we needed him,” said Hibbert of Singer. “It has been a good situation all around so far.”

With PHS slated to host second-seeded WW/P-North in the sectional final on June 1 and then play WW/P-South in the CVC final on June 2, Hibbert believes her team is in a good place.

“Having the whole team intact is a great start,” said Hibbert, whose team would be playing in the state Group semis on June 3 if it defeats North. “It is just everyone being confident in their game, playing to the level that they are capable of, communication with the doubles, and just smart tennis.”

Gu, for his part, believes the Tigers are capable of doing some big things.

“Our team is pretty strong this year,” said Gu. “We have just got to play our game and I don’t think that there are that many teams we can’t beat this season.”