ORONO – Make way for the new blood on the state’s elite schoolboy singles tennis scene.
Of the four boys who successfully fought their way through the Maine Principals’ Association State Singles Tournament Round of 38 at the University of Maine on a bright and breezy Monday, only two – Brewer’s Ian Robinson and York’s Dustin Freeman – had come anywhere near a semifinal berth before.
The other two, Ellsworth’s Noah John and Deering of Portland’s Pat Conway, were eliminated in the second and first rounds, respectively, last year.
Top seed Robinson, No. 5 John and No. 2 Conway – all sophomores – now find themselves the standard-bearers for a hardcourt youth movement. The trio, plus No. 6 seed and senior Freeman, will battle for state supremacy Thursday at the Waynflete School in Portland.
Both the boys and girls semifinals will begin at 12:30 p.m. In the event of rain, the matches will be played at The Racket and Fitness Center in Portland. John will take on Robinson while Freeman squares off with Conway.
Although three of the four semifinalists managed to get through all three of their matches without losing a single set, it was anything but a cakewalk.
John had the toughest day. After breezing through his first two matches, his irresistible force met up with a fairly immovable object in Brunswick’s Dan Cohen, who won three straight points in a first set tiebreaker to take it 7-6 (8-6).
John, who was serving at set point before Cohen’s turnaround, used the five-minute break between sets to compose himself and refocus his concentration.
“I think most of that is just, I don’t know, I’ve been in situations like that before and you’ve just gotta put it behind you and go for it in the next set,” said John, who was also suffering from leg cramps at the end of the first set.
John was able to shake off the set and the pain, winning the first two games before posting a 6-2 win in the second set.
“At the end of the second set, I knew I could win it, as opposed to the first set when I said, ‘Just give it your best shot and see what happens,'” John explained.
Cohen stuck with him in the first four games of the third set before John won the last four and took the match.
“The way my legs were, I was given one option and that was going for winners a lot more,” John said. “It actually kind of helped me because if I kept playing the way I was, he probably would have beaten me.”
Things were a bit easier for Robinson, but he was pushed with 6-3, 6-4 wins in his last two matches. It must have seemed a lot easier a year after a mysterious flu knocked him out of action for much of last season.
“He had some kind of viral illness that affected his heart,” said Brewer coach Phil Burns. “It was a little scary there for awhile.”
“I think I just had tonsilitis and some other yucky stuff. I’d just gotten over it and hadn’t played much before the tournament, but it didn’t hurt me too much,” Robinson said. “I got to the quarterfinals and lost to the eventual champ.”
A year later, the 16-year-old who is an accomplished member of Bangor’s Robinson Ballet Company may be the eventual champ.
“I guess it’s really good for my footwork and timing,” Robinson said of his extensive ballet training. “It’s definitely an advantage.”
And when you stand 5-foot-9 and weigh 120 pounds, every little bit helps.
“I get my power from my racket speed, plus I lean in and use all the weight I’ve got, which isn’t much,” Robinson said with a chuckle.