The Lower Merion freshman captured the Central League singles tournament title April 21, defeating Strath Haven’s Clay Gaieski, 7-6 (6), 6-0, in the championship finals. In the semifinals, he battled back to beat Radnor’s first singles player Max Safanov, 0-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5). He’s posted a 12-1 record so far this season (as of April 30), 7-0 in the Central League.
Q: You mentioned that your toughest match in the Central League singles tournament was the semifinal against Radnor’s Max Safanov, which you battled from behind to win. Tell us a little about the match.
A: The match lasted over two hours and every point left us worn until the relief settled in when I hit the final cross court forehand on match point which was unreturnable. I went down 6-0, 3-0, and my coach De-Sean [Fennell] came on court and encouraged that I change up the patterns by going no more than two shots to his forehand to keep him off balance. I ended up winning the match 0-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).
Q: What is your vivid memory of the Central League singles tournament?
A: My most vivid memory, apart from the fact that I didn’t think I was going to play that morning due to a sickness, was in the first set of the finals when I went down 5-2 and couldn’t find my rhythm. I remember relaxing at that point and playing loose tennis, which led to my comeback and eventually the securing of the first set. My opponent had an opportunity to clinch the first set in the middle of the tiebreaker, but I went on to win the second set [6-0].
Q: What was working particularly well for you in the Central League singles tournament? What part of your game are you currently working on the most?
A: One of the major keys to pulling out the matches was the communication between Lower Merion coach De-Sean Fennell and myself. Tennis is an extraordinary, mentally enduring, and focused sport at all levels and especially at the professional level. Having a coach for the match made all the difference even when all I had to make was one minor adjustment in order to get back on track with the match. There is an element of the match that the player can not comprehend from their perspective whereas the spectator can. Currently, one of my major focuses for improvement is integrating more variety into my game in order to be more aggressive and finish the point at the net. I imposed this game style quite effectively throughout the tournament.
Q: Who are your favorite tennis players? Do you try to pattern your game after any of them?
A: Two of my favorite professional tennis players are Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori both of whom I attempt to emulate in my tennis style and my character. From Federer, I imitate his regulated ambition to close in and be aggressive whenever the opportunity approaches. From Nishikori, I attempt to echo his discipline in keeping in control of the point consistently.
Q: You mentioned that the Central League semifinal against Radnor’s Max Safanov was your best match of the season so far. What was particularly working well for you in that match?
A: I felt genuinely confident in my game, especially in the conceivably pressured points. My reliability to change the direction of the shot was working extremely well and I was able to open up the court when I needed to get on the upper hand. Additionally, my mental and emotional games were well in check and I was showing an abundance of positive body language and reactions.
Q: Who have been your top tennis mentors, and what was the most important thing you learned from them?
A: My current and past coaches have all been beneficial in the development of my game. The most important concept that I learned from my coaches is that everything is part of a process. All of the little things here and there are simply pieces of a larger picture which is being developed through my training and hard work. Although winning and losing may seem important, what’s more important is utilizing the match and training as an opportunity to improve.
Q: Tell us a little about your pre-match preparation the day of a match.
A: About a half an hour prior to the match, I began my warm-up with some dynamic stretches and exercises to get my body moving after the car ride. Afterward, I hit with another competitor, Upper Darby’s Brandon Caban, for about 45 minutes in order to loosen up my body and find some rhythm on the courts. We did a conventional warm-up containing ground strokes, volleys and serves covering a wide span of shots within each category in order to prepare each other for the matches to come.
Q: What is your favorite tennis venue, and why?
A: My favorite tennis venue to play at is the USTA national training center in Florida because of the expanse and variety of courts they have. Additionally, the court conditions are especially superior compared to any venue that I have been to.
Q: What is your favorite academic subject at Lower Merion?
A: My favorite academic subjects at Lower Merion are math and Biology. In math, I enjoy problem solving and applying procedures in order get an answer. In science, I like to learn about the actual concepts and facts especially on the molecular level.
Fun facts – Justin Minerva
Favorite author: Suzanne Collins.
Favorite movie: The Matrix.
Favorite athlete: Roger Federer.
Favorite team: Sixers.
Favorite place to visit: Tucson, Ariz.
Favorite pre-match meal: Beef fried rice.
Family members: parents Pierre and Joanne, sisters Siobhan and Claire.
(To be selected as Main Line Boys Athlete of the Week, a student-athlete must first be nominated by his coach.)
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