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Challenges of the bottom bracket brings out the best in tennis champs
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More than half of the 2022 SDSSAA tennis champions were not going to make it easy on themselves.

As is the case with most if not all double knockout events, a finalist advancing through the bottom of the bracket, with one loss already on their record, must knock off their undefeated opponent in back to back matches in order to claim gold.

That was exactly what Olivier de la Riva and Madison Hollohan would do, with the boys’ doubles team of Connor and Ryan Di Salle deviating only slightly from this script as the entire quartet eventually joined the mixed pairing of Clara Dissanayake and Tyler Smith and the girls’ tandem of Kianna Trottier and Kianna D’Attilio in the winners’ circle.

Needless to say, the ability to adjust on the fly would be critical for the participants who had dropped their first encounter with their worthy adversaries, standing directly in their path as they attempted to make the climb to the top of the podium.

“My opponent (Jordan Willmott of St Charles) played very, very well, so I adjusted my serve and played more of a defensive style,” suggested de la Riva, a 16 year old student at Collège Notre-Dame and one of the few high-school players who also frequent the Sudbury Indoor Tennis Centre with a degree of regularity.

“I noticed that he was running very well so I had to make him move a lot in order to hit the winner. You have to tire him out first, go corner to corner and hope that he makes a mistake.”

De la Riva was one of the very few participants who could score off a first serve with pace, though even then, he would take a slightly different tack after falling behind 6-1 in the ultimate final game after beating Willmott 10-6 to force a third head to head encounter.

“My first serve is a lot stronger but my second serve has a slice on it,” stated de la Riva, who completed the comeback with a 10-7 triumph. “I noticed though that people were returning more easily my harder serves than my serves with the slice – so I started to serve only slices since it was working a lot better.”

And where jumping all over his opponent's second serve might seem like an obvious tactic, it's not quite as fail proof as one might think.

"The second sevre usually doesn't have a lot of pace so you have to create all the pace, which can be a bit risky," de la Riva explained. "If you don't put enough topspin, it might go out. Usually, I would want to hit a nice hard shot and hope to hit a winner a little later."

For girls’ singles champion Madison Hollohan, by contrast, tennis is played at least as much from the shoulders up as it is via the ability to serve and stroke and return with ease. “The game is honestly all about your mindset,” noted the grade 10 student at St Charles College who defeated Lauren Pineau of Lockerby Composite 10-3 and 10-8, avenging an earlier loss to the accomplished nordic ski and cross-country star.

“You have to have a good mindset. During this game, I kept telling myself: you’ve got this, keep going. Don’t worry about the point that just happened.”

A member of the Sudbury U18 AA Lady Wolves team and SDSSAA banner winning girls hockey team at SCC, Hollohan owes most of her development in tennis to her parents and uncles, regular partners on a whole variety of the outdoor courts in Sudbury. As such, her first city high-school championships presented something of a journey into the unknown.

“I wasn’t really sure what my competition would look like; I’ve never played against any of these girls before,” she said. “But I know that I am a good player and was confident that my hard work would show in the tournament.”

Given her propensity for a thinking athlete’s approach to her sports, it was no surprise here that Hollohan entered play on Wednesday with a game plan in place. “I think she knew that my forehand is not the strongest, so she would usually put it to that said,” she said. “I tried to position myself on that side, play further back and let her make mistakes.”

The Di Salle siblings, for their part, needed a tie-breaker to upend the Collège Notre-Dame duo of Ryan Lacasse and Mathieu Boucher, first thing in the morning, but then lost to the Alouettes 10-8 in what was effectively game one of the final, taking the last meeting 10-5. As we have seen in the past, doubles play can be that much more interesting when a family relationship is thrown into the mix.

“We were kind of excited to finally get a chance to play a tournament together,” suggested Connor, the elder of the two, currently in grade twelve at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, with Ryan still in his freshman year as a Knight. “For this tournament specifically, I think it was an advantage to be brothers.”

“We can flat out say things to each other and not take it personally, just because we have a good relationship. Being brothers, it’s easy to be honest and blunt with each other, at the same time.”

Down 8-2 in the first game of the finals, the Di Salle’s rallied to knot the contest at eight, providing the multi-sport talents (both Connor and Ryan are gifted golfers as well) with a pathway to success in the rematch. “We kind of felt we had the advantage on the ground strokes, whereas they were a bit stronger on the serve,” said Connor.

“I was having trouble getting my serve in which was giving them free points. In the second final, we figured let’s just get out serves in, even if they’re not hard, and get a rally going and then the advantage would be more towards us.”

Tyler Smith and Clara Dissanayake might not be siblings – but given that the Lo-Ellen seniors who teamed up to captured the mixed doubles title have been dating for more than three years, the on-court dynamics could be equally as intriguing.

“We’ve both played a lot of sports in our time and have both dealt with a lot of competitive situations, but we’re really out there just trying to have fun,” suggested Smith, after partnering with his girlfriend to beat fellow Knights Madison Huntington and Shea Mihell in the final.

“We know each other so well that we can calm each other down if we need to; but we try not to get too stressed out about it.”

While Smith and Dissanayake are no strangers to a variety of different sports, there is something to be said for enjoying those that are not at the top of the pecking order. “Tennis is not our primary sport,” explained Smith. “The last couple of times that we played before the city championships, we practiced a couple of things, but we didn’t put too much thought into it.”

It’s been quite the month for Smith, who recently earned the prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarship ($100,000) to study engineering at McMaster University. “Taking time to compete in athletics has always been helpful for me,” he said.

“It definitely helps me take my mind off my academic pursuits, to take that break that allows me to be at my sharpest when I am committed to academics.”

Yet another single school final as the Horizon Aigles team of Kianna Trottier and Kianna D’Attilio get the better of schoolmates Danika Lalonde and Alexie Olivier in the girls doubles final. The gold medal winners actually captured silver as a grade nine pairing back in 2019 and, by all accounts, were committed to giving themselves as good a chance as possible at winning it all this second time around.

“We usually practice at the Elmview courts (in Hanmer), but they didn’t have the nets set up for a while, so Kianna used to bring her badminton net and we would set that up on the poles so that we actually had a net for practice,” said Trottier.

And their previous experience served them well, if only from having a solid understanding as to how they wanted to approach positioning in the doubles game. “Kianna plays at the back and I’m at the front,” noted Trottier. “Because I’m a (hockey) goaltender, we found that my reflexes were faster than her – and I wasn’t scared of getting hit by the ball.”

“She was naturally better at hitting it far and I was better at smashes.”

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