Boys tennis: Naperville North, Wheaton North split

By Patrick Z. McGavin
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 4/17/2019 10:43 PM

Sam Liu was looking for a bit of a changeup. Opportunity knocked.

The normal first singles player at Naperville North, he was a bit worn out from a recent string of heavy matches and learned during the day he was being pressed into service as the first doubles partner of Preston Chao.

Chao's typical partner, senior Tarun Vallanki, was making a college visit to Purdue.

"We played doubles with different partners the last couple of years," Liu said. "We know what the doubles feel is, and we have that experience and we just went out there with what we are comfortable with."

Chao and Liu played relaxed and interchangeably in beating Wheaton North's precocious freshmen duo of Niku Cowart and Devon Jones 6-2, 6-3 in the marquee match of the nonconference dual boys meet Wednesday in Naperville.

The teams played to a 4-4 draw, breaking up the standard of three singles and four doubles matches by throwing in a fifth doubles match to give additional players a chance to see action given the former DuPage Valley Conference rivals are now in separate leagues.

Chao, a lefty, worked through some occasionally difficulties with his serve, to work the baseline and showcase his strong backhand and Liu proved the perfect complement with his commanding play at the net.

"We were just playing loose, hitting good returns and getting the ball in and letting them make mistakes," Chao said.

Cowart and Jones showed terrific presence and athletic abilities. Both are lanky and agile. The only thing they lack at the moment is seasoning. The savvy, industrious seniors from Naperville North exploited their most telling advantage.

"They are probably new partners, and they did not really have that experience and time together, but they were a really solid team," Chao said. "Their net game could use some work, but overall they played really well."

Vallanki played first singles last year, the role now inhabited by Liu. The one-day experiment worked out.

The Falcons' first singles, Kevin Li, made short work of Liu's replacement, freshman Zachary Slade. Li showcased a terrific baseline and the ability to outwork his younger rival, especially handling the often tricky wind that shifted in velocity throughout the match.

A three-time state qualifier, Li said he is over his early season struggles.

"I think at the beginning of the year I was a little rusty because I did not play much during the off-season," he said. "Now I am playing much better."

At 6-feet-1, he has good size and range and moves well. He simply overpowered the promising though youthful Slade.

"I think my serve was working well, especially my second serve," he said. "My groundstrokes were working really well. With my game I definitely prefer the baseline, where I can work long rallies and just outlast my opponent. That is usually my game."

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