David Liu and Naman Sarda were hoping they would have the chance to play together during their last year on the High School South boys’ tennis team.
“I played together with him last year,” Sarda said. “Last year we weren’t on the starting team. This year we both wanted to play. We both played varsity for three years and wanted to start this year. As seniors, it’s our last chance to do so. It worked out.”
Liu and Sarda have been one of the best second doubles teams in the state in their first year in the Pirates varsity lineup. They qualified for the state doubles tournament, a special reward for their play this year. They lost just once—to Delbarton in the Newark Academy Invitational—over the season.
“It’s a great team dynamic,” Liu said. “I like playing with Naman a lot. We’ve had our ups and downs. We didn’t play as well as we wanted at Newark Academy, but we came back to win in the NJSIAA matches.”
Liu and Sarda were the only flight to win in a 4-1 loss to defending state champion Montgomery High in the Central Jersey Group IV championship May 20. They took a 6-0, 6-4 win for the only point for the Pirates, who fell to 18-3 overall after the sectional final.
The team fared better in the Mercer County Tennis Tournament, winning the team title May 1 with 28.5 points and defeating crosstown rival High School Noarh along the way.
South’s Alex Yang was the county first singles champion after persevering in a 4 hour, 37 minute final against North’s Nolan Shah.
The team found its way in new slots and helped the Pirates to another memorable season while staving off a number of injuries, said South head coach Richard Arnold.
“We worked our way through the injuries, and I commend them for that,” Arnold said.
So many injuries that the Pirates’ first doubles team didn’t have enough matches together to qualify for the state doubles. That left just Liu and Sarda to represent South in the tournament, which takes place at the beginning of June.
“It’s definitely something we’re looking forward to,” Liu said. “We’re working out some things. I’m not 100 percent sure we’ll be able to play. If we are, I’m really looking forward to being able to represent our school. You’re still representing the school, but it’s more individual focused. And I’m excited to be playing the best teams in the state.”
Liu may have to juggle a busy time to make the state doubles tournament work. It coincides with the Science Olympiad National Tournament being hosted by Cornell University. Liu is an active member of the WW-P South team with his first opportunity to compete at the national level.
Doing well in the doubles tournament would further add to their enjoyment of their season. Sarda, who is going to Georgia Tech to study aerospace engineering, is hopeful it’s one final opportunity to impress.
“We’re seniors,” he said. “We’re not going to keep playing D1 in college. It’s our last chance to play doubles in high school. We want to make it as far as we can. It’ll be tough. A lot of first doubles team will be there. We want to see how far we make it.”
The duo has relied on solid communication and complementary styles to forge a strong record. Liu and Sarda are two of the loudest players in the WW-P South lineup.
“He’s definitely the most vocal guy on the team,” Liu said. “He’s always the person cheering the loudest. When we were playing at MCTs, he was saying, ‘Go Pirates,’ from court 18 and Alex could hear him on center court. He’s never down. I’m definitely not quiet, but Naman is louder than me than an order of magnitude.”
Sarda tries to be vocally supportive and share his passion as a way of keeping his Pirates teammates upbeat wherever they are in the midst of games. And it helps him and Liu in doubles play as well.
“One thing about tennis, it’s a really mental sport,” Sarda said. “It’s really easy for people to get down after missing a shot or two. To be passionate and express some emotion, it lets your partner know you’ve got something good going and it dampens your opponent’s spirit.”
Liu and Sarda made it a habit to assess their play and talk strategy before each point. It was a way to focus each other and ensure that they would work together at all times.
“We might have some bad days but we know the other guy is going to pull through,” Sarda said. “We can depend on each other.”
On the court, they also had the games to back up their strategy. They used a good balance of strengths.
“One thing that really works out well is David is really consistent from the baseline,” Sarda said. “When an opponent hits a hard ball he can get it back well. That’s important. If you can’t get it back well, the other team can just put it away. I’m generally better at the net hitting volleys. He’d hit the ball deep and I’d close it out. That tactic worked out well for us.”
Against Montgomery in the sectional final, they jumped out quickly in the first set by handling the windy conditions better than their opponents. When Montgomery played better in the second set, Liu and Sarda kept the pressure on through some mistakes to eventually close them out and give WW-P South one highlight to the day.
“I know the end result wasn’t as great as it could be,” Sarda said. “Going into the season, we knew it was going to be tough, especially Montgomery and Newark Academy. After losing both Rob and Matt last year, we knew it’d be tough. We thought it would be a little more competitive.”
Competition for each spot in the Pirates lineup was robust, and WW-P South put together another strong season despite almost broad changes. They just ran into another great team at the wrong time.
“This has happened three of the last five years,” Arnold said. “We’ve lost to Montgomery and we can beat 95 percent of the rest of the teams in the state.”