Between a couple of exchanges during Tuesday’s Virginia AAA Northern Region tennis singles and doubles finals, McLean’s Nik Padmanabhan would examine his racket closely — running his fingers across the strings, looking for cracks. It wasn’t hard to notice why. He was hitting the ball with such force and velocity at times against his opponent, Kevin Shen of Langley.
But it was also the touch of Padmanabhan that made the difference, including on a series of crucial points at the net early on, which helped the senior standout win, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, to claim the Northern Region boys’ singles title on a balmy afternoon in Fairfax.
“I think mostly just tried to play my game, not let him affect me, not let him change up my usual style of play. Just played how I have played all tournament,” said Padmanabhan, an honorable mention All-Met pick last spring.
Padmanabhan cruised to Tuesday’s title matchup with impressive showings in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the tournament — but the freshman Shen pushed the veteran in the first set. With the score tied, 6-6, Padmanabhan imposed his athleticism, winning several key points. His serve took over in the second set, where he jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead — and Shen looked gassed, trying to defend against the length of the rangy Padmanabhan.
“As soon as I won that first set, I believed that I could do better. I think that was the turning point,” Padmanabhan said.
In the boys’ doubles championship, Jefferson’s Chris Vrabel and Kevin Wan defeated Lake Braddock’s Alex Nesterovich and Long Huynh, 6-1, 6-0.
Oakton junior Lizzie Stewart, who entered Tuesday’s girls’ singles championship match unbeaten this season, beat McLean’s Anna Pelak, 6-1, 6-3, to take the region championship. Langley’s Sydney Goodson and Melissa Parks defeated Stewart and Oakton teammate Alekhya Nanduri, 6-3, 6-3, to win the girls’ doubles title.
Stewart, who transferred from St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes before her junior year, already was familiar with Pelak prior to her win Tuesday. She met Pelak in a team match last Thursday, and said she “kind of knew her game going in.” Stewart took advantage of all the elements in her convincing victory, trying to move Pelak around in the 85-degree heat and force mistakes. She controlled her first serves, which ultimately made Pelak play from behind the entire afternoon.
In the DCIAA championships at Takoma Recreation Center, Wilson’s Francis Dragulet defeated teammate Ryan Shea, 6-2, 5-7, 10-3, to secure the boys’ singles title, while School Without Walls’s Deja Stewart beat Wilson’s Jamie Elliott, 6-2, 6-1, to claim the girls’ singles crown.
In the doubles championship, Wilson’s Henry Shuldiner and Will Bass defeated Bell’s Gilmar Alonzo and Marina Nunez, 6-4, 6-1.