PHS boys’ tennis in deep against Ocean

Little Tigers’ Wu looks for big upset

By: Justin Feil
   For the third year in a row, the Princeton High boys’ tennis team will take on Ocean in a match that comes with plenty of pressure. On the line is the Central Jersey Group III title. But Greg Wu isn’t going to feel any of it.
   "Against Ocean, the pressure is off me," said the Little Tiger junior, who faces highly regarded Mike Keller at second singles. "He’s expected to crush me. But I’m ready to play."
   If Wu believed every newspaper and on-line forum that he read, he wouldn’t be so ready to go. Keller is one of the state’s top players. Gal Horovits, Ocean’s first singles player, is another. Doug Friedman gives them a third solid singles player, which makes things all the more difficult for Princeton. So how do the Little Tigers win?
   "We’ve been trying to figure out how to beat them since the beginning of the year," said PHS head coach David Black, whose squad improved to 23-1 with a 5-0 win over West Windsor-Plainsboro High North on Friday that further sewed up another Colonial Valley Conference Valley title. "Our doubles have to play strong. We have to sweep the doubles and one of the singles has to go our way."
   Wu would love for it to come in his match. His biggest win of the season came in topping WW-P South’s Eugene Vaynberg for the Mercer County Tournament title, but a win today would dwarf that win. He comes in having tuned up with three challenging matches.
   Wu, who was to move up to No. 1 for Monday’s scheduled match with Hightstown, won in three sets in the Little Tigers’ 5-0 win over Red Bank Regional in the CJ III semifinals Thursday, then topped North’s Brian Wong in straight sets after Wong held a 5-1 advantage in the second set.
   "He played well," Wu said. "I’ve definitely had some tough ones. I had a tough player (Thursday). He didn’t want to give up. He was one of those guys with three T-shirts in his bag, a big bottle of Gatorade, sunscreen. He’s ready to go all day."
   It’s how Wu used to be. But after his most dedicated off-season yet, he made the move from third to second singles this year, and only lost a three-set challenge match to PHS’ Ilia Shatashvili for the top spot. His improved groundstrokes and volleys have made Wu a different player.
   "Now that I have a power game, I don’t feel like staying on the court a while," said Wu, who had a 15-7 record going into Monday’s scheduled match. "Right now, I’m still a little like the grind-it-out guy, but not as much as I used to be. I’m better and I expect to play better. When I play some guys that are weaker, I expect I should be able to put them away."
   "I’m glad it’s worked out this way," Black added. "He has more experience than (PHS third singles player) Chris Hoeland. Chris can play third and work on his consistency. Greg plays such an intelligent game. He finds his opponent’s weakness and works to his own strengths."
   As a second singles player, Wu sees that he can’t rely on an opponent’s unforced errors. There just aren’t as many as at the third singles position. He’s has been earning his points this year rather than hoping his opponents give them away.
   "He’s done really well," Black said. "He played really well at the Delbarton Tournament. He won two key matches for us. His confidence was sky-high after that. That was right before the county tournament.
   "His volleys have improved a lot. He’s much more consistent. He just needs to work on his serve in the off-season. If his serve improves as much as his groundstrokes and volleys have, he’ll be quite the player. That’s what got a lot better last year. And he plays smart. He comes to the net now and closes points."
   Wu will need all his skill and intelligence to take out Keller, though the Ocean standout has been on the mend lately. He did not play in their 5-0 win over Lawrence in the CJ III semifinals Thursday. Wu is relying on his past experience to stop the serve-and-volley player.
   "I’m played a good serve and volleyer vs. Moorestown," Wu said of Brian Riley. "The first time, I faired a little better. The second time, he adjusted well. He beat me pretty badly. Hopefully I’ll do better."
   Keller brings a 130 mile per hour serve. Wu brings a can’t-die attitude and is pressure-free.
   "He faces a great player on Tuesday," Black said. "But Greg will battle. He’ll definitely make Keller work. If you can return his serve, his groundstrokes aren’t anything impressive."
   And Wu is a tougher player mentally. Friday’s match at North was a prime example of how much more mature he is this season.
   "I was down, 5-1," Wu said. "Last year, I wouldn’t have tanked it, but I would have been really down and might have lost. I have to adapt to a lot of different types of players. That’s something I also do better this year. I’m finding their weaknesses and telling myself ‘don’t let yourself lose.’ I have to make the person beat me.
   "Keller will have to beat me. If he comes up with the big shots, the shots to win, kudos to him. If he want to beat me, he’ll have to play smart."
   Wu also realizes just how important he could become if he pulls off the upset. And after a season in which the Little Tigers haven’t always had to rely on their singles players, he’d like to contribute to this win.
   "It’s just another team to us," he said. "Ilia and I aren’t the strongest ones and twos, but we’re better than average. Sometimes it’s frustrating to not help the team. But if I can win my match, we know, it’s a gimme. That’s the attitude I’m taking — ‘I’ll pick up my win and you do yours.’ Hopefully it works out."