The state tournament has been something of a tennis education for Eric Marbach of Waubonsie Valley.
The Warriors senior, who skipped high school tennis his sophomore and junior years and came back as a senior with the expressed purpose of winning the state title, overcame new challenges Friday in winning his fourth- and fifth-round matches to make it to Saturday's semifinals at state.
His victims on Friday were Ben Van DixHorn of Libertyville, whom he defeated 7-6 (5), 6-0, and then Alex Galoustian of New Trier 7-5, 6-4.
Both opponents were lefties, and both took the lead in one set of the match, forcing Marbach to battle back from behind.
In the Van DixHorn match, Marbach rolled his ankle and was forced to play through the discomfort. And then he hurt the ankle again early in the second match, and after having it taped, he played through the pain the rest of the way.
"The pain went to the Achilles' tendon," Marbach said. "I had to get used to the discomfort and to the tape, but once I did, I forgot about it."
Facing two lefthanders also didn't seem like much of a problem.
"They had similar styles," he said. "But I did a good job of directing my forehand to their backhand corners, and on the short shots I was able to get to the net."
In the first match Marbach fought back from a 4-2 deficit in the first-set tiebreaker, and he trailed the second set against Galoustian 3-1 before rallying for the victory.
"When you're trailing 3-1, you just have to collect yourself," Marbach said. "You can't get ahead of yourself and start pressing. You have to stay calm and keep working the point and playing the wind right."
"Eric's mentality of hitting through the ball harder and finishing points quicker helped him when he was injured," said Waubonsie Valley coach Phil Galow. ""It took him a little time to get used to it, but he put the injury out of his mind and his pace took care of it."
"Now, I've been in all situations, ahead, behind," Marbach said. "I have to keep playing the way I play consistently in order to be successful."
He said Galoustian's speed presented another challenge.
"He did a good job of scrambling on both sides," Marbach said. "He hit a ton of running, passing shots on me. I had to contain him and not let him run all over the court."
Galow was impressed by how Marbach is improving over the past few weeks and even during the two days of the tournament.
"He's just getting better and better playing in this tournament," Galow said. "Playing multiple matches against this caliber of competition just makes him move the caliber of his play up the ladder. He wants to win it all."
Marbach will face Hinsdale Central's Michael Lorenzini, who won the state title at doubles last year, in Saturday's semifinal match.
Defending state champion Hinsdale Central has this year's title wrapped up again with 48 points, well ahead of Lake Forest and Deerfield, who are tied at 31. Both Red Devils doubles and both singles are still going in the semi-finals of the championship draw.