By Brian Eller - email@example.com
NOKESVILLE -- As the sun beat down on the court, baking the concrete and leaving a dry heat lingering in the air, it became clear this match wouldn't be won with just the skills of a tennis racket.
Sherando's Kaleb Nguyen was just one win from reaching the Region II individual tournament singles championship, another notch on his way to achieving his final goal, but first he had to overcome a tough opponent in Kettle Run's Daniel Schlenker.
"The heat got to both of them," Sherando coach Steve Jennings noted as he watched the two players hustle and sweat for each point. "I was watching, thinking, 'This is going to be full of heart here. Who wants it more?'"
The heat may have been sweltering, but Nguyen answered his coach's question on Tuesday, earning a 6-4, 6-1 win over Schlenker and moving into the finals match slated for today.
"You don't really notice [the heat] when you're playing," Nguyen said. "But afterwards you're noticing, so I just had to push through it. I really want to get to states this year, so I have to try and play my best every time I'm on the court."
It's that dedication and passion for the sport that Nguyen says forces him to play at the level he does. With every superb shot or scorching serve, Nguyen still isn't satisfied. And if he makes a mistake? His racket takes the verbal whipping then.
"I think that he doesn't think he should make a mistake," Jennings said. "I think that's where his head is at, thinking he's not supposed to make these mistakes. But I tell him, 'You're human, everybody's going to make these mistakes,' but he doesn't expect to."
Surely no athlete or person is free from mistakes, and Tuesday even Nguyen ran into trouble. In the first set, Nguyen fell behind early, dropping two of the first three games to Schlenker. After splitting Games 4 and 5, however, Nguyen cleaned up his act, winning the final three games to earn the first-set win.
"[It's the] stupid mistakes I shouldn't make," Nguyen said of his performance. "I shouldn't make them, but I think at the same time it motivates me a little more to play better."
With that motivation, Nguyen focused even harder and despite the continued heat, sailed to a 6-1 second-set win to take the match.
The win for Nguyen wasn't his only of the day, however. Earlier, the Sherando junior and his doubles partner, Trevor Scott, took home a straight-set victory in the doubles quarterfinals match, upending the Freedom duo of Wesley Wong and Alex Cragg, 6-0, 6-4.
"The first set went pretty well, but the second set they struggled with," Jennings said. "I thought that they were losing focus; they thought that it was becoming easier out there. They started hitting out-of-the-world drop shots and I said, 'What's up with that? Stop playing around out there. Stop trying to hit those sports shots,' so then they finished that match pretty well."
But while Sherando's doubles team moved on Tuesday, Handley's duo of Kyle Stickley and Daniel Park ran into trouble in their match against a tough Broad Run team of Kevin Chang and Max Kadrykaev. The Judges battled tough in the first set, even taking a 5-4 lead with a chance to steal the opening set. The Spartans answered, however, rallying to win the first set, 7-5, and jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second set. That hole was too big for Handley to dig out of, as the Judges fell 6-3.
"Broad Run played a good match," Handley coach Jimmy Robertson said. "We missed the opportunities, missed some of the basic shots that we needed to make, but they played well."
For the Warriors, the doubles team will move on to the semifinals today, while Nguyen will face the winner between Western Albemarle's Cam Scott and Freedom's Wong. Nguyen has faced both opponents before, but beat Scott in three sets just a week ago in the team's Region II championship match.
"Whoever I play will be a good match," Nguyen said. "I would like to play Cam again. It was a pretty close match and it's fun to play in those close ones."