Top Dutch tennis stars bested by Albany Academy, but team remains undefeated

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

With hope in his face, Max Chao serves the tennis ball for Guilderland on Monday during his doubles’ match with teammate Nate Backus. Chao and Backus beat J. Hachshaw and E. Yang of Albany Academy, 6-2, 6-4, as the Dutchmen won all three doubles matches on the day.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Power serve: Sophomore Alex Fedorov, Guilderland’s top tennis player, hits a serve during the first set of Monday’s match against Michael Haelen of Albany Academy. Fedorov was undefeated coming into the match, but he struggled to find his groove, and Haelen won, 6-2, 6-2. However, the Dutchmen won six of nine matches against Albany Academy to stay undefeated as a team.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Broken arm? Michael Zhu, Guilderland’s number-two singles player, contorts his arm before hitting a forehand shot over the net during Monday’s match against Albany Academy’s Max Benson. Zhu lost the match, 6-3, 6-0, but, overall, the Dutch took care of the Cadets, six matches to three.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Racket slap: The Guilderland tennis team remained undefeated after a 6-to-3 victory over Albany Academy at home on Monday. Here, Michael Zhu hits a forehand shot during his match against Max Benson; Zhu lost in two sets.

The Enterprise — Jordan J. Michael

Floater: Max Chao hits a serve for Guilderland during his doubles’ match against Albany Academy on Monday. The Dutchmen are undefeated so far this season as the team looks to defend its Class AA championship.

GUILDERLAND — Before Alex Fedorov, Guilderland’s best player, and Michael Haelen, the best player for Albany Academy, took to the tennis court on Monday, some Dutchmen players mentioned that people were about to witness the biggest singles match of the year in Section 2.

Based off the sheer velocity of hits and serves, and the intense atmosphere surrounding the court, this may have been true. However, the 6-2, 6-2 final score may have left more to be desired.

After losing the first set, and now down in the second set, Fedorov missed a shot wide, as he had done plenty of times already during the match, and said to himself, “Why am I so bad?”

Fedorov, a sophomore at Guilderland, had already expressed his frustrations before going down, 5 to 0, in the first set when Haelen made an impressive passing shot down the line. At that point, Fedorov changed rackets, only to win two straight games, but, overall, he could not find his groove on Monday.

“I was missing every shot by a little bit, and my racket was starting to break; you can’t do much when you’ve already started playing,” said Fedorov after his first loss of the season. “I should have started with a tighter racket today, but I did get more control after I switched.”

Haelen was composed, and in control of his tennis game. Fedorov, on the other hand, was letting his displeasure be known to whoever was watching.

“I don’t think it really helps; it probably makes things worse, but it’s difficult to hide,” Fedorov said of his emotions during the match. “I just don’t like to lose, and maybe I show it more than other players.”

Guilderland Head Coach Curtis Snyder told The Enterprise that Fedorov has been beating his opponents rather easily this season, so Monday’s match against Haelen was his first real test. The match turned out to be a nice learning experience, Snyder added.

“He hasn’t had to get all ramped up until now, and, sometimes, it’s tougher when you’re at home; the crowd is right there,” said Snyder. “Alex puts a lot of pressure on himself; he really studies the game and knows what to do, so, when it’s not happening for him, he gets frustrated.”

Before Monday, Fedorov had played Haelen a few times. Fedorov remembers beating Haelen on a clay court during a tournament in Binghamton, but then Haelen beat him indoors over the winter.

Does Haelen have the upper hand?

“I don’t think so; I played poorly today,” Fedorov said. “He had some good rallies, and I had my chances, but I didn’t do well when I had them. On some key points, I wasn’t solid.”

Snyder said that Fedorov had to come into Monday’s match with a different type of focus. Like Fedorov, Haelen is one of the best players in Section 2.

“Well, they’re both heavy hitters, that’s for sure,” said Snyder. “It’s a game of inches sometimes, and Alex kept hitting the tape and hitting the tape; he couldn’t find his groove until the fifth game.”

Fedorov and Snyder both agree that the chance of Haelen and Fedorov meeting again in individual sectional play is highly likely. Looking ahead, Fedorov predicted getting the third overall seed with Haelen at two, and Lars Olsen of Doane Stuart School getting the first seed.

Haelen and Olsen haven’t played, Fedorov said, and he hasn’t played Olsen, but was confident that he could beat him.

“Actually, that’s a little sketchy,” said Fedorov of his prediction. “Michael should get the one seed. I’ve seen Lars play in tournaments, but Michael is better.”

Like any other sport, tennis is relative from one match-up to the next.

“Yeah, it’ll be exciting to see how that plays out,” Snyder added.

Defending a championship

Over the last 11 seasons, Guilderland has reached the Class AA finals 10 times. After winning the title for the fourth time in 2013, and graduating just one starting player, the Dutch seem to be heading down a similar path this year.

“We’re very strong this year,” Fedorov said. “I think everyone has gotten more athletic, but we’re still getting into the flow of things.”

Even though some of Guilderland’s top seeds lost their matches on Monday, the Dutch still won six of nine matches against Albany Academy to stay undefeated on the season (8-0). Guilderland swept all three doubles’ matches.

“This team has a lot of expectations,” Snyder said. “I don’t think we’ve hit our stride yet, but, we have better tennis to play, and the guys know that, so they’ll continue to work at it. We have a good shot at making it back [to the finals].”

Over the next two weeks, the Guilderland players might be playing five matches per week. A majority of the matches won’t be close, said Fedorov, save for Niskayuna and Shenendehowa.

“It could be pretty bad; some of these teams aren’t deep enough,” Fedorov said. “But, it should be difficult because the schedule is so condensed.”

Bethlehem, which has made the finals for the last 10 years, graduated 14 seniors from 2013, including its entire singles’ line-up.

For Guilderland, Snyder said that most of his players spent the winter playing indoors, and he’s noticed the effects; players’ serves have more velocity and variation. Also, he says the Dutch have really grasped the importance of winning doubles’ matches.

“When you taste the victory, you don’t want to give it up,” said Snyder. “Some of these guys have really kicked it up.”

Here are the scores from Guilderland’s tennis match against Albany Academy on Monday:

— Michael Haelen (AA) defeated Alex Fedorov (G’land), 6-2, 6-2;

— Max Benson (AA) defeated Michael Zhu (G’land), 6-3, 6-0;

— Bill Dong (G’land) defeated Peter Campito (AA), 7-5, 1-6, 6-1;

— Matt Benton (AA) defeated Salil Chaudry (G’land), 1-6, 6-2, 7-5;

— Connor O’Brien (G’land) defeated Alex Silver (AA), 6-1, 6-2;

— Will Wang (G’land) defeated Jeffery Shen (AA), 6-4, 6-3;

— Nate Backus and Max Chao (G’land) defeated J. Hachshaw and E. Yang (AA), 6-2, 6-4;

— Eric Kauffman and Andrew Kempf (G’alnd) defeated A. Demaly and Pukhraj Singh Mann (AA), 6-3, 6-0; and

— Faiz Mandozai and Reza Sayeed (G’land) defeated Tyler Lyons and Michael Zhang (AA), 6-0, 6-0.