By Warren Rappleyea
Spurred in part by the return of Justin Chong at first singles, Old Bridge High School’s boys’ tennis team has posted six wins across its first eight matches.
Chong, a senior, who injured his knee last spring in a match against Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen, has won all six of his matches. Although he stands just 5 feet 9 inches tall, the powerfully built Chong went through two surgeries and a lengthy recovery period and was only cleared to return to the courts in February.
“Justin has been absolutely incredible,” Knights coach Craig Wood said. “He wears a brace, but that’s the only sign of the injury. Justin only had a few weeks to get ready for the season, and it looks like he never left. He moves with such quickness, and he’s about 15-20 pounds heavier, so he’s hitting the ball even harder.”
That’s not good news for opponents who already had their hands full dealing with Chong’s heavy, top-spin forehand blasts. Chong also serves well and gets to balls on his backhand with relative ease. He plans to continue his career next season at New York University.
Rahul Pemmaraju, a three-year starter at doubles, is playing second doubles this spring. The steady senior finds ways to keep the ball in play and is willing to play a baseline game until his opponent makes a mistake. He is 4-2 overall, including a pair of matches at first doubles, where he went 1-1.
Joey Potts is 5-2, primarily at third singles. The hard-working junior is known for his ability to out-hustle the opposition. He is a patient player when necessary, but Wood said he hits everything back and wears opponents down. Potts stepped up to second singles for an April 18 match against Sayreville War Memorial High School and scored a big victory in helping the Knights to a 3-2 win.
Cousins Vandan and Jainish Patel play first doubles. The duo spent the past two years as the second pairing. Jainish Patel, a senior, has the ability to lob consistently, which sets up Vandan Patel, a junior, to put points away. The pair also gets a high percentage of their first serves in to set themselves up for volleys.
Senior Nick Mesa and junior Ajitesh Bhadouriya, who both moved up from the junior varsity team, are the second doubles pair. They combined to reach the quarterfinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament in second doubles and were the only unseeded players to get far this season. At 6 feet tall, Bhadouriya is a presence at the net and his agility makes it hard to get passing shots in, while Mesa keeps the ball in play from the baseline.
Seniors Viren Vakani and Aarth Seth have also seen action at second doubles, and Wood expects them to continue to press for playing time.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, so we’re fortunate that everyone has been playing well,” the coach said. “It was tough at the beginning with all the bad weather, but the guys are rounding into form.”
Old Bridge was facing a busy week. The Knights had home matches set for April 24 and 25 against John P. Stevens High School and Manalapan High School, respectively. On April 27, Wood’s team was scheduled to visit East Brunswick High School and will head to South Brunswick High School April 28.