After attending the Sidwell Friends tennis camp as a youngster for five years and playing occasionally another five, Taro Alexander won the Interhigh boys championship yesterday in his first season of high school competition.
He gave the Duke Ellington School for the Arts its first singles champion since its coach can remember and posted a 6-1, 6-1, victory over Ballou's DeJuan McIlwaine at Carter Barron's Fitzgerald Tennis Center.
Alexander, a junior and an honorable mention All-Met, believed early in the season he could win the tournament, at least according to Duke Ellington Coach James Bennett. But Bennett "reserved" his opinion, "because I didn't know what the other schools had."
Bennett added: "But he seemed to think he was going to take it all, anyway. I said 'Yeah, right' and he did. He was able to do that in very good fashion. His matches were very one-sided in his favor. All of his matches were impressive. Taro has been playing for a long time and he brings with him skills and fundamentals and a tenaciousness . . . plus he's so quick. He loves the game and he loves playing and he has a good time."
All of those qualities were evident yesterday as Alexander (9-0) used an array of shots, an uncanny ability to anticipate and the quickness to reach the ball and counter.
"I guess it was the pressure of the finals that got me pumped up," he said. "Everyone was here cheering me on, and I guess I lucked out today and played well. I had a good time."
His skills hardly seemed to be happenstance as he won the first three games before McIlwaine broke to close to 3-1.
McIlwaine played erratically and succeeded only when he played serve-and-volley. But Alexander countered with passing shots and deep lobs.
"I had never really seen him play before," said Alexander. "So when he came to the net, I tried to put it past him, and a couple of times I did."
"I just couldn't hit the ball," McIlwaine said. "I was overhitting everything. And then when I laid back and waited for him to hit the ball somehow or another I was still overhitting and everything was long."