After spending just one season watching Lily Muir play first singles, Robbinsville coach Shari Schleifman paid Muir one of the highest compliments one can give in high school tennis.
“She’s a true number one,” Schleifman said. “If you’re gonna ask for a number one player, Lily is a true number one player.”
What makes that such high praise is that a true number one is often hard to find in high school. Many of the first singles players are the ones who won their stepladder challenge matches, and they spend the season taking the hit against superstars so other teammates have a chance to win some matches.
“Not Lily,” Schleifman said. “She went out and beat every team we needed her to beat for us. Usually at number one, you hope you get something of quality from them. But she literally gave us a point nearly every match. She won 16 matches and only lost three or four times last year, and it was usually against really tough opponents. But she played everyone hard. Even against tougher opponents she went three sets.”
It was Muir’s first season at the top of the lineup after she spent her freshman and sophomore years at second singles.
“I felt like I played some really good matches at first singles,” the senior said. “It was a lot more challenging than second. There are some people this year I want to work on beating who beat me last year.”
Muir is a lifelong tennis player, starting at age 6 after exploring several other sports. No one in her family plays, but “I guess tennis really stuck.”
She began to play tournaments and got involved with junior team tennis. After taking a break, Muir began playing again recently. Her ratings dropped due to inactivity, but at one time she was No. 1 in her district’s age group. She is currently No. 130 in Middle States rankings.
Last year, Muir made the NJSIAA state singles tournament and helped Robbinsville to the first Colonial Valley Conference Valley Division title in program history. She also won her match against Cinnaminson in the state team tournament.
One of Lily’s big attributes is setting the tone of a match.
“I’m usually the one to set the pace,” Muir said. “Once the pace changes, it sometimes throws me off, but I try to adjust.”
According to her coach, Muir has few weaknesses and little problem adjusting.
“Lily has a great all-around game,” Schleifman said. “She has a really good serve. She can definitely take you out on a serve. She’s got really good ground strokes and she’s got good volleys. She really is an all-around player, an all-court player.
“She’s hard to play. She’s a hard hitter and she has great movement with slice, she can hit a topspin, she can hit a one-handed backhand, she can hit a two-handed backhand. Her game is all-around. She can compete with anybody. I never watched her not be able to compete with a serve-and-volleyer, I’ve never watched her not be able to compete with a baseliner. She really can maneuver her game to play whatever. That’s probably her strength.”
There is another part of Muir’s game at which she is underrates herself, but that is just part of an attitude that keeps her always striving to do better.
“I need to get more consistent with the mental toughness,” she said.
Not according to Schleifman.
“She knows how to win,” the coach said. “I’ve seen her down love-four, one-five. She can take that deep breath and if you go over to talk to her and explain, just help her through it, she really does know how to fix her game to adapt to her opponent’s game if she needs to, or how to maintain something. That is her strength. She’s capable of figuring that out. She’s very mentally tough.”
Muir acknowledges that sometimes it takes her a while to warm up, which could lead to an 0-6 loss in her first set, but that “I’ll finally start getting into a rhythm and be able to come back.”
Muir said her two biggest goals when it comes to performance this year, is sharpening a new backhand shot, and having the ability to finish off matches instead of letting her opponent get back in it. She is also looking for a return trip to states and hopes to go beyond the second round, where she lost last year.
And she especially wants to have a good showing at the Mercer County Tournament.
“I never really did well in counties,” said Muir, who is considering playing college tennis at Stockton University. “I’ve always had an injury or I’m not feeling good. I really want to work on getting further in counties this year. My freshman year I played the second seed (at second singles) in the second round. It was a really close match but I started getting cramps in my hamstring. It was close, it was a really good match. My sophomore year it was the second or third round and I got cramps in my calf. I tried to work through it but my coach at the time said I had to withdraw. It stunk because I was coming back after losing the first set 0-6.”
Last year, the stakes were raised at first singles, and she fell to the top seed in the first round.
“She was in the battle for fourth or fifth seed, so she was at least the fourth or fifth best player in the county last year,” Schleifman said.
“We’re in a very tough county, and I would say she’s in the top five in the county hands down again this year. When she’s on and playing well and the way she’s capable, she’s definitely a top five player.”
Her efforts will be needed as Muir and Vindhya Pasala, the team’s Most Valuable Player after winning 16 matches last year, are the Ravens’ lone seniors.
“The combination of those two is very important,” the coach said. “We have a strong sophomore core, but we are definitely a young team that’s building to competition. We have young talent. Our future is very bright. This year it could go either way. We’re in that situation where if our young talent flourishes early, we’re good.”
One thing is certain: they have a true No. 1 to set the tone.