Sunday, April 29, 2001

Walnut Hills soph wins tennis coaches classic

By Dave Schutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Walnut Hills' Eric Thomas had to overcome both mental and physical obstacles Saturday.

        Thomas, a 16-year-old sophomore, was the surprise winner of the Greater Cincinnati Tennis Coaches Association Classic Flight A at Princeton, defeating Sycamore's James Tyler 6-1, 6-3.

        Mentally, Thomas had to overcome the fact he lost to Tyler 6-4, 7-5 in a dual meet Friday. The players also have been friends and doubles partners for years.

        Physically, Thomas was struggling with his backhand and a sprained ankle. He also was coming off a two-week layoff. All this added up to a tough task for Thomas, a Westwood resident.

        “Everybody told me before the match that I could win,” Thomas said. “I really wanted another opportunity to play James. My backhand was off (Friday), and he abused me. (Saturday) morning, I hit with my coach (Roland Lutz) 90 minutes to correct it.”

        Time after time, Thomas came up with passing shots that seemed to surprise Tyler, a 17-year-old junior.

        The first set was no contest, with Thomas taking a 4-0 lead before Tyler held service, his only game in the set.

        But Tyler took advantage of Thomas' racket problems to take a 3-1 lead in the second set before Thomas regrouped and won the next five games to close it out.

        “I broke the strings in three rackets during the first set and was down to my last one,” Thomas said.

        “Some friends offered me their rackets, but I decided to play with my racket that was loosely strung. You get more power when the strings are loose but less control. After I fell behind, I told myself to return the serve and see what happens. Most of the time, I got an easier second shot.”

        Also an accomplished violist, Thomas missed nearly two weeks of the season over spring break to accompany the Walnut Hills Symphony Orchestra to London.

        “Last year we went to Carnegie Hall. This year we performed at St. Martin in the Fields (London),” Thomas said. “It's a big cathedral. It was another great experience.”

        As a freshman, Thomas was Cincinnati's highest finisher at the Division I state tournament, taking the fourth spot.

        “Naturally I'd like to win it this year,” Thomas said. “If I had lost today, my confidence would have been gone. I wouldn't be talking about state.”

        ZIMMERMAN WINS: Jason Zimmermann, the defending Flight A GCTCA champion from Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, easily won the Group D championship.

        “Jason's playing well right now,” CHCA coach Lynn Nabors said. “We'll have to wait and see if he wins the (Division II) state championship.”

        Zimmerman has committed to Duke University for next year.

        TEAM TOTALS: Princeton scored 250 points to edge St.Xavier and Sycamore, which each scored 245 points in Flight A.


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