May 4, 2022

Junior Star Gu Takes Title at 1st Singles at MCT, Helping PHS Boys’ Tennis Place 2nd Overall

WARMING TO THE TASK: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Jonathan Gu warms up before a match last week at the Mercer County Tournament. Making his debut at the MCT, junior star Gu won the title at first singles. Gu’s heroics helped PHS take second in the team standings at the event. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Jonathan Gu didn’t get the chance to compete in the Mercer County Tournament in his two first years with the Princeton High boys’ tennis team and he was fired up to do something special in his debut last week at the competition.

“It is my first time playing in this,” said junior first singles star Gu. “Freshman year it was canceled and last year we did the CVC team tournament.”

Gu ended up playing very well at the event held at the Mercer County Park tennis complex, posting two straight-set wins in the first two rounds of the competition on April 25 and then defeating Princeton Day School’s Joshua Chu 6-1, 6-4 in the semis to advance to the final against Josh Finkle of Pennington.

In the final, Gu kept rolling, posting a 6-1, 6-4 triumph, utilizing some inside knowledge gained from playing doubles with Finkle in some USTA events.

“I was just trying to keep the ball deep, making sure he couldn’t go to the net as much as he wants to,” said Gu. “He is good at the net so I wanted to keep him out of the net.”

Gu was pushed hard in the second set as he trailed 3-4 but he regained momentum to pull out the victory.

“I lost a bunch of really close games with many deuces,” said Gu. “I just made a couple of more balls. He had a few games where he made all of his balls and I lost. There wasn’t anything I could do. In the last two games, I just tried to hit the ball deep and force some errors.”

Earning the title in his MCT debut was special for Gu, whose heroics helped PHS take second in the team standings at the event behind perennial champion WW/P-South.

“It is cool to win,” said Gu. “It is not that often that these many good players come together.”

In order to become an even better player, Gu has focused on becoming more powerful on the court.

“I worked on my serve a lot,” said Gu. “I am trying to work on volleys as well and come to the net more.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert liked seeing the MCT resume its traditional format and was proud of how her players stepped up.

“It was nice to get back to some semblance of normalcy, none of the people on the team had played in this,” said Hibbert. “None of the seniors were on the team as freshmen the last time we had it. None of them knew how it worked in terms of flights and points so it was nice to get back out and have them get the chance to shine for themselves and still compete for the team. We had a good showing this year.”

Hibbert was not surprised to see Gu compete very well. “Jonathan is such a solid player, it is nice that you can just put him out on court and he does his thing,” said Hibbert. “It is nice for him to be able come in and be the champion and prove that he is best singles player in the county. He certainly provides us a lot of strength get at the top of our lineup and it is nice to have that.”

Sophomore Melvin Huang produced a strong effort for PHS, taking third at second singles.

“Melvin had an amazing tournament, he fought really hard,” said Hibbert. “He had a real rough battle with a North kid (Sounak Dhar) in the semifinal. It was three sets back and forth, they spent close to three hours on court. It was real high level tennis and then to come out there in a three-set battle again for the third place match (against Felix Zhu of WW/P-South), Melvin has really stepped up. He is one of the hardest working people. He is always at our courts. He is always taking serves and hitting against the wall. He is always trying to make himself better and it is showing. He is willing to play the long matches and do whatever he needs to do to win the match.”

The PHS first doubles pair of senior Roberto Haubold and sophomore Jason Singer advanced to the final where they fell 6-2, 6-0 to Andrew Van Dusen and Roy Liu of WW/P-South.

“They haven’t had that many matches together going into this, which would have really helped them,” said Hibbert. “They had couple of good matches early on. Their semifinal was a good showing with a win over PDS. They ran into a tough team in the final. I think they just need a little bit more experience.”

At second doubles, sophomore Nikita Medvedev and senior Varun Vaidyanathan took third.

“They had a good first match on Wednesday, there just a couple of mistakes at the wrong time,” said Hibbert. “They have had some good results early on this season. I think they have a good way to go for us. They provide strength at the bottom of the lineup. I have said to them on any day you can be the flight of the team to step up.”

With the state tournament around the corner, competing at the MCT should helped steel the Tigers for the challenges ahead.

“This was one of the closest county tournaments in a long time, I think a half point separated second and fourth, all of the teams are very close,” said Hibbert, whose team is 7-0 in dual match play so far this spring.

“I think there are places head to head where we are closer than it appeared today. We have a couple of other good matches going forward this week which will obviously help us and I believe we will see North again in the sectional. It is different head to head.”

Noting that PHS advanced to the state Group semis last spring where it fell 3-2 to Chatham, Gu believes that the squad is primed for another big postseason showing.

“I think our team could do well, we can go pretty far in states,” said Gu. “Last year was tough, hopefully this year we can win states.”