Tang Tops Teen At HTP
Defending Champion Overcomes Slow Start
HARRISONBURG – Jeff Tang’s body had betrayed him for the better part of two sets Monday night at the Harrisonburg Tennis Patrons tournament.
But the 41-year-old reigning HTP champion ultimately proved to be the last man standing in his quarterfinal match at Harrisonburg High School when his youthful opponent – Riverheads High School senior Freddie Roberts – succumbed to a physical hindrance of his own.
Battling tennis elbow for the past six months, the always cerebral Tang switched to an unfamiliar two-handed backhand and capitalized on Williams’ cramping late in the second set to survive a war of attrition and rally back for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory.
With a nearly three-hour match behind him, Tang moved on to Wednesday’s semifinals, where he’ll face the winner of today’s quarterfinal match between Riverheads High School standout Simon Willard and former Bridgewater College player Sam Churchill.
“I like to play teenagers, because generally they’re not used to the way I play,” said Tang, the No. 2 overall seed in this year’s 16-player field. “And I’m so used to the way they play, because I’ve played lots of ‘em. So I generally do well against teenagers, but [Williams is] much savvier. He plays a lot more like me, actually.
“He gets a lot of the balls in play, he’s got good touch around the net. So he’s not your typical teenager. He plays a different style of game and I knew going in that it would be a little bit trickier.”
Sporting a bulky purple sleeve on his right arm along with an elbow band, Tang fell behind two service breaks at 0-4 in the first and after dropping that set, trailed 3-4 in the second with Williams serving.
That’s when Roberts – one half of this year’s 1A high school state boys’ doubles championship team, along with Willard – began to experience cramps. By then, the sun had started to set and temperatures had dropped into the low 70s. Roberts lost the final three games of the third set and was never as mobile for the remainder of the match. He said he’d never cramped before on a tennis court and blamed poor hydration for his ailment. But once that happened, Roberts was forced to abandon his initial strategy of extending points to exploit Tang’s sluggish elbow.
Tang, meanwhile, deployed an array of safe ground strokes, drop shots and lobs in the third set.
“When the legs started hurting, I knew that long rallies were probably not the best thing, so I definitely went for more,” Roberts said. “And there were some points, some games, where it worked. But I’m not that type of guy, so I’m not used to trying to hit 1-2 punches. So yeah, that was kind of new. And maybe that helped me because now I’ll be able to work on more attacking tennis and save my energy throughout a match now. So it’s a learning experience.”
For the past two months, Tang – a professor in the Department of Integrated Science and Technology at James Madison University – has been attending rehabilitation sessions for his right elbow at Advantage Physical Therapy and Sports Performance in Harrisonburg.
The longtime fixture at the HTP Open had considered skipping this year’s tournament as recently as last month – Tang said he quit playing for four months in an attempt to allow his elbow to recover.
But Tang eventually came to the conclusion he was fit enough to play and as tournament director Linda Landes put it, “He loves tennis. … Wild horses couldn’t keep him away.”
“What’s frustrating is when you have a shot that you know you can hit well and your body doesn’t let you hit that shot,” Tang said in reference to his backhand, of which he lamented hating his new two-handed variance at several junctures of Monday’s match. “So, that’s just the way it is. I tried not to get too frustrated and just say, ‘Hey. If I lose, I lose.’ There wasn’t much I could do but try and just keep him out there.”
In Monday’s other quarterfinal matches, former James Madison No. 1 singles player Mike Hendricksen – the 2008 men’s singles champion and this year’s top overall seed – defeated Derek Vondrak 6-0, 6-4. Hendricksen’s opponent in Wednesday’s semifinals will be No. 3 seed Craig Westwood, who defeated Caleb Shrock-Hurst 6-4, 6-2 on Monday to advance.
In the women’s singles draw, top-seeded Stacie Bailey – a recent East Rockingham High School graduate – beat Whitney Cash 6-0, 6-0 to advance to Thursday’s final.
At Harrisonburg High School
Men’s Open Singles
Simon Willard d. Bruce Bontz 6-2, 6-1
M. Hendricksen d. D. Vondrak 6-0, 6-4
Jeff Tang d. Freddie Roberts 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
Craig Westwood d. Caleb Schrock-Hurst 6-4, 6-2
Women’s Open Singles
S. Bailey d. Whitney Cash 6-0, 6-0
Men’s 55 and Over Singles
Steve Nelson d. Sam Measell 6-4, 6-0
Men’s 55 and over Singles
G. Deputy d. Peter Adolph 6-1, 7-6 (8-6)
Women’s Open Doubles
Alissa Beam/Sarah Cameron d. Cindy Ferek/Heidi Derstine 2-6, 6-3, 6-4
Mixed 35 and Over Doubles
I. Pigrau/C. Alegre d. L. Holland/C. Brock 6-2, 3-6, 6-2
Men’s 45 and Over Singles
Mike Muan d. Stephen Horn 7-5, 6-0
Andrew MacKenzie d. Andy Jackson 6-2, 6-3
Men’s 65 and Over Singles
Ron Sutherland d. John Mauzy 4-6, 6-1, 6-3
Men’s Open Doubles
Rick Etchells/Logan Bricker d. Isaac Hill/Mike Lovelace 6-2, 6-2
Dave Smucker/Paul Cline d. Ryan Aud/Canon Secord 6-1, 6-1
L. Schrock-Hurst/C. Schrock-Hurst d. T. Carnahan/L. Bare 7-6 (8-6), 6-4
Women’s 35 and Over Singles
Lena Steines d. Marina Muan 6-0, 6-0