Lee hopes best tennis days are ahead

Montgomery senior is playing No. 1 singles

By: Bob Nuse
   As a first singles player, Justin Lee knows there is no such thing as a day off.
   "I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing the top players," said the Montgomery High senior, who has moved from his third singles spot of a year ago into the No. 1 singles spot for the Cougars this spring. "I just hope I don’t have many off days. At third singles there were times when I might not be playing my best, but I could still win. That doesn’t happen when you’re playing first singles."
   Lee found that out on Wednesday when he dropped a 6-0, 6-1 decision to Somerville freshman Roland Liang. Despite his loss at No. 1, the Cougars won the third singles match and both doubles matches to come away with a 3-2 win, improving to 2-0 on the season.
   "We graduated our No. 1 and our No. 2, so it was a move that he had to make this year," said Montgomery coach John Arnold, whose team was scheduled to play at Voorhees on Thursday and will host Warren Hills on Monday. "He seems to be adjusting fairly well. He had a tough match against the freshman from Somerville, who is a real strong player. It was the first time Justin was really pushed, but I also don’t think he was playing his best."
   A year ago, Lee went 16-6 while playing primarily at third singles. This year he knows he’s going to be facing a stiff test every time he takes to the court. Because of that, he can’t have too many days when he’s not playing at his best.
   "I wasn’t playing my best (Wednesday)," Lee said. "He’s a good player, but I felt like I could have played better. A singles match is a singles match. The thing about playing No. 1 is that you’re going to face a good player just about every time out. But I’m looking forward to that challenge. You improve your game by playing against the better players."
   Arnold feels that Lee will be able to step in and give Montgomery the same kind of solid play at first singles it received a year ago from John Zazzu.
   "It’s a big step going from No. 3 to No. 1," Arnold said. "No matter what kind of team you’re playing there is a good chance you’ll be facing a pretty strong player. This is the same type of team this year that we’ve had in the past.
   "I think our depth is going to help us quite a bit. We’re going to win a lot of matches the way we won today, which was with our doubles and picking up a win at singles."
   With Lee, Chris Oey and Mikhail Gorbounov, the Cougars have a solid trio at singles. The doubles teams of Mike McManus and Eli Katz at No. 1 and Garrett Blitz and Frank Lin at No. 2 both picked up wins against Somerville.
   Lee hopes that he has a chance to help the Cougars throughout the season as well. He was a winner on Monday when the Cougars opened the season with a 5-0 victory over Warren Hills.
   "I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old," Lee said. "I guess I really got started the first five years by just playing with my dad. Recently I’ve been taking some private lessons. But before that it would just be me playing with my dad. He’s my prime hitting partner.
   "I know I’m going to face some tough players this year. But I just have to keep working on my game and getting better."
   And that should help the Cougars continue to get better and better as a team.