May 3, 2017

Sparked by 2nd Doubles, Singles Star Decker, PDS Boys’ Tennis Takes 4th at County Tourney

GOING FOURTH: Princeton Day School boys’ tennis star Lex Decker follows through on a serve at the Mercer County Tournament last week. Junior Decker took fourth at first singles to help the Panthers place fourth of 18 schools in the team standings at the MCT. In upcoming dual match action, PDS hosts WW/P-North on May 4 before playing at the Hill School (Pa.) on May 5 and at Haddonfield on May 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The final day of the Mercer County Tournament didn’t turn out as Princeton Day School boys’ tennis player Lex Decker had hoped.

The junior first singles star entered the action last Wednesday at Mercer County Park hoping to end the day with a title.

Instead, he fell 6-1, 6-1 to Nolan Shan of WW/P-North in the semis and then lost in straight sets to Lucas Flotta of Pennington in the third place match.

“I wasn’t feeling too good; I was a little lightheaded,” said Decker, reflecting on his defeat in the semis.

“It has been a long week with school and tennis. Nolan is a good player; we have a history. He started playing really well, he was hitting the lines. He was putting it together and I just couldn’t find it.”

Decker rallied in the second set of the third-place match but couldn’t get over the hump.

“I just played a match last week against Lucas I won 13-11 in the third set and saved three match points,” said Decker.

“He played really, really well today, it was one of the best matches I have ever seen him play. Every forehand was hitting the line. I tried to put it together, I gave it my all. It just didn’t come together.”

Despite his tough day last Wednesday, Decker has made strides in his game this spring.

“I am definitely faster, a lot of those balls I was able to get back,” said Decker.

“My serve is definitely improved. It was one of my strongest shots in that match against Lucas. My forehand is normally a lot better, it is a huge improvement. It just broke down today, I wasn’t able to rely on it.”

In addition, Decker has benefitted from moving up to first singles from the second spot in the PDS lineup.

“For me, being at one is a great move because you know that you are going to get a great match every single time,” said Decker.

“At two sometimes there was too big of a gap for me sometimes. I would lose focus. At one, I can always count on it being a good match for me both physically and mentally. It has helped me to push myself to do better and always have the pressure on.”

Decker’s experience at the MCT will help him push through things the rest of the spring.

“Coach and I were just talking about it and giving it your all no matter how you are feeling physically or mentally,” said Decker. “What I took from it was just to stay positive throughout.”

The second doubles team of seniors Noah Liao and Leo Nye enjoyed a positive result as they took third, pulling out a three-setter against the top-seeded pair of Harrison Eu and Shraly Gupta of Hopewell Valley.

Liao, for his part, credited the win to the duo’s chemistry. “It is confidence and communication really talking over each other’s faults,” said Liao. “I think there is a little more than a bond just in tennis; we have a little telepathy.”

In Nye’s view, that telepathy has been developed by going through some ups and downs.

“We have been playing together for the past two years; we had the opportunity to play with different people and we decided to stay together,” said Nye.

“We are still at second doubles for the second year. Last year we lost in the first round here and just got destroyed. This year, we really kept fighting through the whole tournament, even when we lost to WW/P-South (in the semis).”

Coming into the third place match, Nye was confident of victory.

“We had played Hopewell before and we didn’t get to play a third set,” said Nye. “We played a super tiebreak and we lost 8-10. It was close so we knew we could beat them.”

In addition to their bond, the playing styles of Liao and Nye complement each other.

“He is really good at squash and he gets everything back,” said Nye. “He is really good at net. I have been playing tennis my whole life so I hit with a lot of topspin in my groundstrokes and serving.”

Liao, for his part, was thrilled to have a good ending at the MCT. “I was just hoping we would get seeded so it is a little bonus,” said Liao.

“I am really looking forward heading into Prep B knowing what we are capable of now. There is still a lot of improvement we can make.”

PDS head coach Will Asch was proud of how Nye and Liao made the big shots down the stretch of the win over HoVal.

“It was very exciting; they were down 4-3 and 40-love in the third and they came back and won the next five points,” said Asch.

“They made some very impressive shots, big winners, and good passing shots. It wasn’t on mistakes that Hopewell made, it was all on good play.”

In Asch’s view, the pair has made a big impact on the PDS squad. “They are a very tough doubles team, you look at them individually and they are not nearly as good as they are together,” added Asch.

“That says a lot about the two of them and how they support each other. We are very proud to have them on the team and they add a lot to our team chemistry.”

While Asch acknowledged that Decker had a tough day, he liked the way he kept battling.

“I think he was very disappointed after the first match; he didn’t have his best stuff today and he didn’t feel really great,” said Asch.

“It is tough to come out and play good tennis in your second match; a lot of times you feel like you don’t really want to play.”

With the state Prep B tourney coming up later this month, Asch is hoping the Panthers can end things on a high note.

“We have a good team, we certainly have a good chance,” said Asch, who has guided the Panthers to four straight Prep B team titles.

“I don’t know what the other teams have, traditionally Montclair Kimberley Academy is always good. Some team could come along and have two freshmen who are great. I think we will be competitive for sure.”

Decker, for his part, is ready to compete for another crown. “We do have a good group; we only lost one senior Scott [Altmeyer], who was our No. 1, and we got a freshman [Christopher Delaney] who became our two,” said Decker.

“We are virtually the same position-wise, everyone who was there last year has had a year to get better. I think we are confident for the Prep Bs.”