Producing Wins Through his Grind-It-Out Approach, Huang Helps PHS Boys’ Tennis Take Sectional Crown
HANGING TOUGH: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Melvin Huang hits a forehand in a match this spring. Last Friday, sophomore Huangposted a 7-6, 6-1 win at second singles over Akul Solanki to help top-seeded PHS defeat the fifth-seeded Rams 5-0 in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 3 sectional semifinals. PHS went on to defeat second-seeded WW/P-North 3-2 in the sectional final last Tuesday to improve to 15-1. The Tigers will now be competing in the state Group 3 semis on June 2 at the Mercer County Park tennis complex. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
As usual, Melvin Huang was the last player in action as the Princeton High boys’ tennis team hosted Hightstown last Friday morning in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 3 sectional semifinals.
Utilizing his grind-it-out style, sophomore Huang posted a 7-6, 6-1 win at second singles over Akul Solanki to help top-seeded PHS defeat the fifth-seeded Rams 5-0.
“I enjoy being on court so I want to stay on it as long as possible,” said Huang. “I want to give 100 percent because if I don’t give it now, when I am going to try. I want to put all of effort into tennis and the hard work has paid off a lot.”
Huang had to work hard to defeat Solanki. “He played really well, he made it really tough,” said Huang.
“He kept getting balls back that I couldn’t get back. He was running all over the court getting everything back. He really wanted to play and stay in the points. He made it hard to finish off points. After the first set, I just tried to calm down a bit and not try to overhit the ball and just make him run even more.”
Moving up to second singles this season, Huang has kept his cool in dealing with better competition.
“It has been kind of the same because I played a lot of second singles last year, it has been fun,” said Huang, who took over that spot after last year’s second singles player, Jack Ling, decided not to play for PHS this spring to concentrate on junior tournaments. “Third singles was kind of easier and now it is more of a challenge at second.”
Huang has fine-tuned his game to deal with those challenges.
“I think my serve has gotten a lot better,” said Huang, who topped Sounak Dhar 6-4, 7-5 to help PHS defeat second-seeded WW/P-North 3-2 in the sectional final last Tuesday and will now be competing in the state Group 3 semis on June 2 at the Mercer County Park tennis complex. “My backhand has gotten better and without a sore wrist, my forehand is better.”
PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert marvels at Huang’s intensity on the court.
“Melvin is one of the hardest people out there, he is always working on his game,” said Hibbert. “He will almost always be the last one out on the court. He works very, very hard, he grinds through matches. He has been battling a bit of a sore wrist and has been working through matches. Winning the second set convincingly today was a good turnaround.”
In the win over Hightstown, convincing straight-set wins by Roberto Haubold and Jason Singer at first doubles and Nikita Medvedev and Varun Vaidyanathan at second doubles helped set the tone for the Tigers.
“I am very pleased with how doubles were able to take care of business and get two comfortable wins there,” said Hibbert. “We played them in the opening match of the season where it was freezing cold and very windy. It was not a full barometer of how things would go. They have had a full season of matches and they have come along and have gotten stronger. I think we have gotten stronger since then as well. We were able to put out in an impressive showing today.”
While it was not the most impressive performance by Jonathan Gu at first singles as he topped Hightstown’s Jake Pandina 6-0, 6-2, the junior star gutted out the match.
“Jonathan wasn’t at the top of his game today but he was still able to put out a straight set win,” said Hibbert. “He worked through some things. Jake is a good player and he was able to still win a good match.”
At third singles, senior Eric Zhu showed some grit as he pulled out a 6-3, 6-7, 10-6 win over Prathush Neelagiri.
“They are closely matched, it just depends on whose game is on and making the big points,” said Hibbert, noting that the foes had played a three-set match in the season opener.
“Eric has worked his way in the singles lineup. To win a match in the sectional semis is a great thing for him, especially going to a third set and not letting the loss of the second set get him down and to be able to come back and rally in the third set.”
Looking ahead to the sectional final clash against WW/P-North, Hibbert knew her team would have be at its best to prevail.
“Making it back to the sectional final is great; we are in a tough conference, a tough county and a tough section,” said Hibbert, who got wins from Gu at first singles and Aman Kapur and Vaidyanathan at second doubles against the Northern Knights as the Tigers improved to 15-1.
“It will come down to if we can show up and put our best tennis on the line and with our A-game and prove that we want it and do what we can to earn it.”
Huang, for his part, was fired up for the challenge of facing North’s Dhar, who had defeated him twice previously this season.
“It is really great; it feels nice to get back two years in a row,” said Huang. “I am looking forward to playing. I already lost to him twice so it is a comeback arc. I think this is a time where I can beat him.”