The Northwest 1A Conference tennis championships always seem to come down to Bishop McGuinness vs. Mount Airy, and the 2018 NW1A tennis tournament will be no exception.
The tournament got under way a day late on Wednesday afternoon, and when the day was done, the brackets in both the singles and the doubles played out to where the Bears and the Villains will be fighting for both championships today at 4 p.m.
In the singles portion of the tournament, top-seeded Emory Bray dropped a set for only the third time all season, and for the first time against a 1A opponent, when Bishop McGuinness’ Alex Chinnasami, the Villains’ No. 3 singles player, defeated him in the opening set of their semifinal match. Bray, who came into the day undefeated at 14-0 as opposed to Chinnasami’s perfect 11-0 slate, had to rally to win the second set in a tiebreaker and force a tiebreaker set. Bray was winning the tiebreaker when Chinnasami was forced to default the match due to an injury, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 1-0 (4-2).
Chinnasami had beaten East Surry’s Ryan Presnell in straight sets to advance to the semifinals against Bray.
He will face another Villain in the finals, that being Bishop’s No. 2 singles player, Sam McDonald. McDonald improved to 10-0 on the season when he beat the Bears’ No. 6 singles player, Ryan Graham. Graham, who had improved to 7-0 on the season himself when he downed East Surry’s AJ Key 6-4, 6-0 in the opening round, fell 6-0, 6-2 to McDonald in the semifinals.
Bray and McDonald will meet today on one court, while the doubles final will be contested on another.
The Villains’ Henry Kirby and Jimmy Dasher came into the doubles tournament as the favorites. The tandem is Bishop’s regular No. 1 doubles team, and their only loss in the regular season came to a Mount Airy doubles pair that included Bray. With Bray competing in the singles tournament, Mount Airy paired Harrison Morris and Hunter Eaton as a team for the first time in the regular-season finale at Galax and then entered them in the doubles tournament, where they were seeded second.
Both semifinals were Mount Airy vs. Bishop showdowns. Kirby and Dasher beat Kaleb Morrison and Owen Perkins 6-3, 6-3 in one semifinal, after Morrison and Perkins had blanked East Surry’s Eli Gray and Lee Knight in the opening round. In the other semi, Morris and Eaton downed the Villains’ No. 3 doubles team of Michael Angino and Daniel Bercaw 6-2, 6-1. Angino and Bercaw, who had been seeded sixth in the bracket, beat East Surry’s Ryan Sigmon and Nathan Cox 6-2, 6-1 in the opening round.
The singles semifinal between Bray and Chinnasami produced some of the highest drama seen in an NW1A match this season. Bray actually lost the first three games of set one to his Villain opponent, and then could do no more than hold serve from there. In set two, each player broke the other on back-to-back games early on, but each one held after that. Chinnasami nearly broke Bray a second time up 5-4 in set two, and had four match points in the game before Bray finally fought back and won the game. From there, they played to a 6-6 tie before Bray took the tiebreaker. Bray lost the first point of the tiebreaker set, but had won two in a row to lead 4-2 when Chinnasami had to retire due to severe cramping.
Graham, who has been a revelation for the Bears since earning a spot in the starting lineup at midseason, reached the semifinals despite losing his first service game against Key in the opening round. He broke back to lead 2-1, held serve the rest of the way in the opening set and then dominated set two. Against McDonald, he opened the second set with a break but the Villains’ No. 2 was too much for him.
Morrison and Perkins actually acquitted themselves well against the Villains’ top doubles team, whom Bishop chose to keep together even if it meant Kirby couldn’t play for the singles title. After easily winning their first-round match, they held their own until losing serve at 3-4 in the opening set. Kirby and Dasher appeared to have all of the momentum after that, and ripped off six straight wins to lead the second set 3-0. After an exchange of wins, Morrison and Perkins won two straight games to get back to 3-4, but couldn’t get any closer than that.
Morris and Eaton lost their first service game of each set in their semifinal with Angino and Bercaw, but came back strong in each set to win easily.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.