As a high school tennis player in a public school throughout New York State, the ultimate goal is to make the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) State Championships. It’s played at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.
Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the same place where Bianca Andreescu and Rafael Nadal captured US Open titles last weekend. To be in high school and play on the courts of this internationally acclaimed tournament—this is the dream.
To make it to this grand stage requires perseverance from the very beginning for the long road ahead. Keep in mind that players from every public school in New York are competing for this opportunity. This past year as a junior I was fortunate to compete in these Championships in the doubles draw, as it was one of the best experiences of my tennis playing career. Now how did I get there?
There are really three stages with States being the third and final stage. Every player starts at the Conference level and can later move on to Sectionals, and then ultimately States. Unlike the regular high school season, this is not a team competition. Both singles and doubles players from each school will be selected to compete in their own respective events. I personally decided to play doubles as it favored my game in addition to having a very strong partner to compete with—Kenta Togo. Together we had the vision of stepping onto those blue and green hard courts that we’ve seen our tennis idols compete on.
During the conference tournament, we played close and nerve-racking matches. However, we were motivated to push through. After the three day-long tournament, we had won our single elimination bracket to advance to Sectionals, where the stakes would become a bit higher. We were now competing against the best doubles teams in our section, some of whom also won their respective conference tournaments. If we could place in the top three in Sectionals we would achieve our goal and make the State Championships.
We made it through the first couple rounds fairly comfortably, playing some of our best tennis as a duo, but what followed was the real test. We were in the semifinals, meaning a win would guarantee us a top three finish. However, after a long and close match, we were defeated. While this was discouraging, staying positive was essential as third place was still obtainable. Our next match was going to be against the other losing semifinal team with the winner of that claiming third-place, and the final spot at states.
In the hour-and-a half we had to prepare for this match, it was terrifying. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this could be the most important match of my life thus far. We were determined to win this final match, and after about two hours of come-from-behind tennis, that’s exactly what we did.
It was an amazing feeling just to know that we made it to the State Championships. Between getting to play on the US Open courts, getting to miss three days of school, and competing against the best doubles teams in the state, it all seemed perfect, and it definitely lived up to the hype.
That first travel day to Flushing Meadows was when I got my first exposure to the courts for a brief practice. Playing on the courts for the first time was an incredible experience. The court itself was just a regular hard court, much like I was used to, but the surroundings were entirely different. All around me were rows of seats alongside other courts, all being overlooked by the great Arthur Ashe Stadium. That was one practice I surely will not forget.
The following day was the beginning of the tournament itself. I had to wake up bright and early as match play began at 8:00 a.m., and rather than be nervous, I was just purely excited. My goal was to get to this point so I may as well enjoy the time that I had there. At the same time though, I was there to bring it. My partner and I won our first two matches allowing us to move onto day two of the tournament. To us, it just meant we could spend another day competing. This next match would be a quarterfinal match against the top-seeds.
The next morning, I saw our opponents at breakfast and we all waved to one another. From there we hit the courts to warm-up. We played our match on Court 12, a popular side court where I personally have seen several US Open matches. It was inspirational getting to play on such a court. The match began and our opponents were a bit too strong, as we went down in a straight sets defeat. However it was all smiles after the match, as we appreciated the run we had this year as a doubles team and getting to play at the National Tennis Center, and we were fairly satisfied with our result at States.
All in all, the NYSPHSAA State Championships was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, both on and off the court. I played great tennis, ate great dinners and got to make new friends with the other players in my section. I really could understand why so many players throughout New York strive to get to this point in their high school tennis career.
Hopefully I can make it back for my senior year!
Zach Wallis is a senior in high school and is the Captain of the Horace Greeley Varsity Tennis team in Chappaqua, NY. He competes in USTA tournaments and has been training at various tennis academies over the past ten years.