WHITEMARSH >> Leading 5-4 in the second set of the No. 2 doubles match during Wednesday’s District 1 Class 3A team championship, Lower Merion’s Harrison Axelrod took a mighty swing at a volley just inside his own service line.
He was hoping to slam home an emphatic winner that would leave he and partner Jordan Robinson one point away from a decisive win over the Unionville duo of Zack Sokoloff and Matt Daniels. Instead, Axelrod caught the ball on the edge of his racket frame and watched it flutter like a wounded bird to his left.
Somehow, it landed well within the court, and neither Sokoloff nor Daniels were able to reach it. One point later, Robinson and Axelrod had a 6-4, 6-4 win.
It was one of a handful of breaks that could have gone the other way as Lower Merion held off Unionville in a spirited final for a 3-1 win and the district title.
“This was great,” said Lower Merion coach Dave O’Connell. “Everyone got a test. They were really good matches. I enjoyed watching it.”
The No. 1 singles match — a slugfest between Lower Merion’s Sean Attebery and Unionville’s Tristan Bradley — ended in the second set as soon as the team match was decided. Attebery was leading by a set and up 4-3 in the second when the celebration began.
“They’re both really strong players, and they are fun to watch because they play a little different,” O’Connell said of the Bradley-Attebery duel. “They don’t have the big topspin games a lot of people have, so it’s a fun match to watch because they’ll come to the net and pass people. It’s old-time tennis and I like that because I’m an old-timer.”
The deciding point came when Lower Merion’s No. 1 doubles team of Sesan Adebamgbe and Jared Robinson finished off a tough win over Haris Avgousti and Mikey Muscato, 7-5, 6-4.
“It was a battle from the start and we knew it was going to be a tough test since it was the district final,” said Adebamgbe. “I had to lift my intensity the last few games because I was slacking a bit, but we put it together.”
While Lower Merion won both doubles matches in straight sets, both were a few bounces and swings — like Axelrod’s fortunate mishit — from going the other way.
It was a serious challenge faced by Lower Merion, something the reigning state champions rarely encounter, whether in Central League play or postseason action.
The first point of Wednesday’s match went to Lower Merion’s Matthew Robinson, who cruised through a win over Unionville’s Victor Lee, 6-1, 6-0.
“We needed the test, especially our doubles. The doubles won the match for us,” O’Connell said. “I’m always talking to the kids about team, and tennis is a little tougher to feel like a team. I’m always telling them there’s going to be days the singles need to pick up the doubles and days where the doubles have to pick up the singles. This was a good example for our next run, and we’re hopefully going to start that on Tuesday.”
Lower Merion and Unionville both begin play in the Class 3A state tournament Tuesday. The Aces will face Wilson, the third-place team out of District 3, in the first round of the 16-team tournament Tuesday. Unionville will face the District 12 champion.
Three other District 1 teams — Great Valley, Conestoga and Strath Haven — will also compete in the state Class 3A tournament.
The highlight of Wednesday’s final for Unionville was the play of Ethan Bradley at second singles. Bradley took care of Lower Merion’s Matt Chen for the lone Indians point, recovering from an early 3-0 hole to win 6-4, 6-3.
“It was kind of hard coming into it knowing he was a senior,” Bradley said. “I really didn’t think I was going to win, but I just persevered and I knew everyone on my team was counting on me.
“I know it was 3-1, we’ll come back and play them again.” Bradley added. “I’m confident the next time we’ll beat them. We’re ready to go [in states], we have five seniors who don’t want to lose and we’re looking forward to it.”
Lower Merion and Unionville could meet in states, but only in the championship match, as they are on opposite ends of the draw.
Lower Merion 3, Unionville 1
Singles – 1. Attebery (LM) vs. T. Bradley, DNF. 2. E. Bradley (U) def. Chen, 6-4, 6-3. 3. Robinson (LM) def. Lee, 6-1, 6-0.
Doubles – 1. Adebamgbe-Ja. Robinson (LM) def. Avgousti-Muscato, 7-5, 6-4. 2. Jo. Robinson-Axelrod (LM) def. Sokoloff-Daniels, 6-4, 6-4.