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Leahy, Vemuri clinch state tennis bids

There, on Saturday afternoon underneath the fluorescent lights of the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center bubble laid Connor Leahy on the battlefield he’d just conquered minutes ago, a content but cramping warrior who emptied his tank courageously and victoriously.

The Jesuit senior had just knocked off Westview’s Avi Vemuri in comeback style, winning the second set, 6-1, and the third set, 6-2, after dropping the first, 6-2. The Metro League boys’ singles semi-final match was a classic grueling, exacting bout with a large crowd watching from above the court and momentum fluctuating between the two rivals.

Leahy accomplished what he had set out to do, clinching a berth in the 6A state tournament and beating Vemuri, who he had lost to twice during the regular season. Yet, Leahy’s triumph took every ounce of energy and stamina he had in his reservoir. As the Crusader sat on the bench accepting congratulations from friends and family, his sporty frame revolted and cramps began shackling his lithe limbs.

The pangs forced Leahy to the green court’s surface, unable to move freely without sharp pains shooting up and down his quads and hamstrings. As he propped himself on a stack of multi-colored cloaks, pouring ice water on his face and trying to cool off under an artificial breeze concocted by his teammates’ white towels, Leahy knew there was no way he could play Lincoln’s Goutham Sundaram in the district final.

So, after consulting with his coach Jeff Wood and Jesuit’s team trainers, Leahy who was a state doubles’ champion twice eariler in his career conceded the Metro singles’ championship match to Sundaram simply because his body betrayed him. However, there were no tears or despondency on Leahy’s behalf. If ever there was a time for finding solace, it was there on the deck after Leahy shook hands with Sundaram, with a proverbial ticket to the state tournament in his pocket.

Nothing was going to take away the glory of pushing himself to the brink and avenging his previous defeats to Vemuri. Pain is temporary. Glory is forever.

“It was definitely one of the toughest matches of my life,” Leahy said. “I’ve played Avi twice this year, and he got me both times, so I knew coming out I was going to have to give literally everything I have on the court. “I had to work incredibly hard. He’s a great player and definitely made me earn this. I’m just happy I was able to compete and pull out the victory.”

Leahy said he started feeling the cramps when he was up 2-1 in the third set, but they never prohibited his play. He could feel them coming quickly, yet Leahy was able to fight them off with a yeoman’s will.

“I can’t say that I didn’t give it my all, which is definitely a nice personal accomplishment. I’m bummed that I can’t play the final, but that’s what state is for next weekend. Hopefully, I can see Goutham again on Saturday,” Leahy said.

One of the things Leahy loves about tennis is a competitor can get killed the first set but come back in the second and have a whole new ball game.

He wasn’t completely out of it after Vemuri jumped him early, but Leahy said he had to be more patient and judicious in his attacks.

“I had to start dictating play, and I felt like I did that better in the second and third sets and was able to come up with some big shots,” he said.

Vemuri’s backhand shots were solid, and he smashed away points at the net, particularly in the first set. His serve was vicious and helped obtain a few free points without having to rally and volley. Vemuri was fast, quick and explosive, but Leahy was cagey and accurate. Wherever the Crusader wanted to go with the ball, be it a cross-court shot or a deep attempt along the line, he was able to go there and score.

“Overall he played better on the big points,” said Vemuri. “It came down a couple points, and he bounced back really well after the first set. I was pretty solid the first set, but he kept his head up and played really well. He earned it.”

In the long run, the Wildcat sophomore said his forehand broke down a tiny bit as the contest wore on into the third set, but going to state for the second time was rewarding in itself. Vemuri returned in the consolation match and beat Lincoln’s Kieran McTague for third place in Metro.

“That was one of my biggest goals coming into this year,” Vemuri said. “There were some really good freshmen from Jesuit and other schools, so I knew it was going to be just as hard if not harder to make it. I would’ve liked to have won this match, but I’m happy to be going back.”

Leahy’s never been to state as a singles’ player, and he plans on taking it one match, one lofty opponent at a time.

“Every guy that’s going to be at the state tournament is going to be trying to play on Saturday. I think anyone has a shot at it,” said Leahy. “On any given day, anyone can win it all and that’s going to be my plan.”



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