June 8, 2022

Sparked by Gu’s Superb Play at First Singles, PHS Boys’ Tennis Makes Group 3 State Final

FINAL STATEMENT: Princeton High boys’ tennis player Jonathan Gu hits a backhand during a match last season. Junior star Gu helped PHS make the NJSIAA Group 3 state final last Friday at the Mercer County Park tennis complex.He posted a straight-set win at first singles as PHS edged Tenafly 3-2 in the state semis and then earned another straight-set win to give the Tigers their only point in a 4-1 loss to Millburn in the state final. The defeat left PHS with final record of 16-2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Jonathan Gu got things off to a good start in what turned out to be a long day for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team as it competed in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 3 state Final 4 last Friday at the Mercer County Park tennis complex.

As PHS faced Tenafly in a semifinal contest, junior star Gu made short work of Jon Tsipunyuk at first singles, rolling to a  6-0, 6-1 win to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

“Tenafly is a good team, their No. 1 was a good player but I played really well,” said Gu. “I ended points early.”

Melvin Huang followed suit and posted a win at second singles for PHS but then Eric Zhu fell in three sets at third singles and first doubles team of Jason Singer and Nikita Medvedev fell in straight sets to turn the match into a 2-2 nail biter.

With the match hanging in the balance, the second doubles team of Aman Kapur, who moved into the lineup for the match, and Varun Vaidyanathan rallied to win 4-6, 6-3, 10-7 (in a 10-point match tiebreaker) and send PHS to the final.

“Aman and Varun came up clutch, they won the third set tiebreaker,” said Gu, noting that Roberto Haubold, who normally plays first doubles with Singer, was not able to play last week due to another commitment.

“It was a tight one 10-7. Roberto was out and Aman came in and stepped up.”

In the state final, the Tigers faced powerhouse Millburn and Gu came up big again, topping Matias Feoli 6-4, 6-2.

“Matias is really good,” said Gu. “I played really well today. I served really well and won a few crucial points. That made the difference.”

Gu’s triumph ended up being up the only win for PHS in the match as Millburn posted straight-set wins in the four other matches to prevail 4-1 and earn the title.

“Millburn is a big test, they are a top team in the state and we are not that far off,” said Gu.

The match against Feoli was a good tune-up for Gu as he turns his attention to competing in the upcoming state singles tournament.

“He is a three seed in the state tournament so it feels good to get a win,” said Gu. “It is just one match at a time, no match is a given match. Every match, you have to focus.”

PHS head coach Sarah Hibbert liked the focus her players displayed in edging Tenafly.

“It was a real see-saw this morning, it came down to a couple of tiebreaks,” said Hibbert. “The guys worked really hard. They were ranked higher than us in the state, so we know it was going to be a battle to fight through. On paper, it looked like it was going to be a 3-2 either way. We were really pleased to come away with that win and make it to the group finals with a player missing and having to change our doubles lineup before this.”

“Aman and Varun really came together and pulled it out, that was such a clutch match for us,” said Hibbert. “That was like their third match together, they played a really clutch second set and a tiebreak for us to pull through and get to the final.”

In the defeat to Millburn, Hibbert was not surprised to see Gu pull out his match.

“That was an incredible level of tennis, Jonathan is an incredible player,” said Hibbert. “He has been so solid, he was able to raise his game even higher. This guy was seeded above him, even though Jonathan has a higher UTR (Universal Tennis Rating). There was some question about whether that was the right decision. He proved today that he deserved that seed. He is a very solid player, he has continued rolling along undefeated for us this season. He finds ways to raise his game when he needs to.”

While losing to Millburn stung, it was a very solid campaign for the Tigers as they finished with a 16-2 record.

“Overall we had a great season; they worked really hard, coming through to the state finals was a great showing,” said Hibbert, noting that last year’s second singles star Jack Ling didn’t play for the team this year to concentrate on junior tennis.

“We had that really tough one in the semis last year (a 3-2 loss to Chatham) so it was great to make it through that hurdle and get to the final. We worked hard, we tried our best and unfortunately fell a little short in the final. We have had to do a lot of shuffling this year. It shows the depth, the character and how much they want it. I am proud of how they all fought through.”

Gu is also proud of what the team accomplished. “No Jack and no Roberto and we are still able to make a state final,” said Gu.

“It feels pretty good, we have a deep team. Melvin has played well, Eric has played well. The doubles have stepped up.”