Tenafly rolls into sectional final by Bob Shwalb special to The Record
TENAFLY – While most tennis players hold their racket with an eastern or semi-western grip, Tenafly’s Marc Balderacci uses a western grip.
What it all means is the Tiger senior has a unusual-looking swing.
“It’s pretty unorthodox,” Balderacci said. “With a western grip, you get lots of topspin but you have to swing the racket really fast.
“I’ve done it for a while now and after a certain amount of time, the coaches said, ‘Don’t change it. Just play with it’.”
In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
On Friday, Balderacci showed his method is as effective as it is unusual as he helped second-seeded Tenafly beat No. 3 River Dell in the North 1, Group 2 semifinals 5-0. The Tigers’ third-singles player topped rival Kevin Zhang 6-2 and 6-0, and will lead his squad against top-seeded NV/Demarest in the Monday’s finals.
Tenafly beat NV/Demarest in the last two sectional finals, but the Norsemen won both of this year’s head-to-head meetings. All their matches seem to go down to the wire.
“I definitely think we can pull it off,” Balderacci said. “I feel like we have the players to get it done.”
One of those players is freshman first-singles ace Alex Merson, whose addition allowed Tenafly to shift senior Daniel Kantor from first to second singles.
“I was really glad when Alex joined the team,” Kantor said. “He’s a great player and he really strengthened our lineup. I was down with whatever position I ended up at. I just wanted to do whatever I could do to help the team.”
On Friday, Kantor smoked Golden Hawk second Matt Doran 6-0 and 6-1, while Merson, who reached last month’s Bergen County Tournament first-singles semifinals, battled tooth and nail to beat a game Christian Kim 6-4 and 6-3.
“I knew [Kim] was a good player,” Merson said. “I saw him play [Ridgewood’s first-singles champion] Kobe Ellenbogen at counties and he hit some really nice shots.
“He made me run around a lot today but I made him run, too. I think I just overpowered him in the end.”
Speaking of endings, Tenafly’s first doubles pair of senior Nic L’Heureux and junior Kevin Kim might’ve saved their best point for last. In the featured match of the day, the duo topped Golden Hawks Teddy Canfield and John McDermott in a super-tiebreaker (10-8), played in lieu of a third set.
On the final point, Kim made a seemingly-impossible return of a River Dell lob at the baseline. L’Heureux then pounced on the opponent’s subsequent return, drilling a winning volley into the side netting to end the day’s festivities.
“Honestly, I didn’t think their lob was going in,” L’Heureux said. “But I saw Kevin hustle back for it and it was just a great effort. When I saw that I was like, ‘OK … we can’t let that go to waste. We’ve got to win this point’.”
On the second-doubles court, Tenafly’s junior pair of David Topchishvili and Yohan Shin knocked off rivals Ryan Kim and Tyler Yum 6-2 and 6-3.