Entering the 2017 OFSAA Tennis Champiosnhips as a grade nine champion both at the SDSSAA and NOSSA tournaments, Andrew Varghese of Lo-Ellen Park looked forward to the all-Ontario event, not holding much in the way of expectations.
Those days are quite likely now behind him.
Unseeded, as one might expect for his first appearance at provincials, Varghese essentially breezed his way to the men's singles final of the high school division (players who compete on the Ontario Tennis Association circuit are generally slotted into the tougher "Open" division), settling for silver against an opponent four years his elder.
The local multi sport athlete, who also suits up with a Sudbury competitive soccer team, disposed of Raphael Spaeth (St Brother André - Markham) 8-2, Jared Thomas (Holy Cross - Peterborough) 8-1, Vlad Kotov (Upper Canada College - Toronto) 8-5 and Luka Miokovic (Sandwich Secondary - Windsor) 8-1, before dropping an 8-3 decision in the final to number one seed Keenan Conlon, also representing Upper Canada College.
"It was quite a big step up in competition," acknowledged Varghese of his OFSAA experience. "There were a couple of not so good players at OFSAA, but most of the competition was very good."
Thankfully, he was able to follow much of the same game plan that he had in capturing titles in back to back weeks in Sudbury last month. "With my play, I try and focus a lot on consistency," said Varghese. "Most of the high school players can hit very good shots, but they haven't quite developed their consistency yet, so if I can manage to keep knocking my shots back and let them make mistakes, then I could win."
And win he would, right through the quarter-finals and into the final four, when he opted to try a slightly different strategy, having already surprised himself with his level of competitiveness. "I was already extremely happy with my placement, so I was not as careful as before," he said. "I was going for my shots."
While that might sound like a bad idea, it was exactly the approach that was needed in the case of Varghese. "In the semi-final, I feel that if I had done my consistent play approach, I might not have done as well," he said. "I started going after my shots a lot more, and that's what it was such a dominant win."
"I usually picked on their backhand, and they would hit a weak return, and then I could hit the winner." Though he does not yet see himself at the level of the good to very good open players, many of whom he had a chance to check out at OFSAA, Varghese does have a greater appreciation as to where he now fits into the mix.
"I realized that I am a player that can do damage at a provincial level and I have to start taking tennis more seriously, to start developing faster as a player. I would like to play high school division one more year to see if I can win it, but then I would probably play Open, to challenge myself and play better players."
For as much as his silver medal performance was a confidence builder, there was always the experience of tennis camp last summer to keep him grounded. "I had gone the year before and the players were much better than me," said Varghese. "There were 11 year old girls that were beating me."
None of the remaining Sudbury entries would move beyond round three, as Bronwyn Mantle and Ben Ashley of Lo-Ellen, and Alyssa Fleury and Alex Frappier of Horizon posted records of 1-2 in mixed doubles play, as did Jeff Dodds and Will McCormick of Lo-Ellen in boys doubles.
Finally, Connie Zeng of Lo-Ellen (girls singles) and Kaitlyn Falvo/Mireille Kingsley of Collège Notre-Dame (girls doubles) went winless in a pair of matches in Toronto.