MIDDLETOWN — Archmere junior Andy Zhu had been here before, the top seed in boys first singles in the DIAA tennis tournament, facing friend and longtime practice partner Charlie Sternberg of Sanford on the campus of St. Andrew’s School in Middletown.
But his circumstances were very different than the previous two years, when Zhu had won the state championship. In February, Zhu’s father, Kevin, his coach and biggest supporter, died unexpectedly at the age of 58. Zhu, with his father there in spirit, fought back from a 4-3 deficit in both sets as he swept Sternberg, 6-4, 6-4, for his third consecutive title at first singles.
“I would not be here without him,” Zhu said after the match. “I think I’ve played about 5,000 hours of tennis in my life now, and my dad’s been there for around 5,000 hours. It’s really tough that he’s not here now, but I’ll keep going on without him, continuing what he wanted me to do.”
In the normally genteel world of high school tennis, Zhu and Sternberg drew perhaps the largest gallery of the five boys matches going on, and it was intense. It was close throughout, with many of the games needing extra points to be decided.
“I just kind of stayed with my strategy from the last round, the semifinals, of using my forehand and running around every single ball, and attacking every single ball. I really didn’t go to net that much. I kind of wanted to go to net more, but, I don’t know, I kind of just finished it on the ground strokes,” Zhu said.
Zhu and Sternberg are friends and frequent practice partners, with a practice session lined up for the day after the final. Zhu’s respect for Sternberg is clear.
“He’s really good with sportsmanship,” he said. “There was one ball, he tipped it with his racket. I didn’t see it, but he caught it and said it was my point.”
Zhu will spend part of his summer at a tennis academy in Maryland and hopes to be back at St. Andrew’s next May attempting to conclude his high school career with four individual titles.
All photos by Jason Winchell.