by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview junior Avi Vemuri came back from a one-set deficit to beat Sunsets Jared Lin in three sets on Tuesday, 6-7 (7-5), 6-4, 6-3.

This wasn’t Avi Vemuri’s first rodeo.

At this point in his star-studded career, the Westview boys’ tennis player has seen and experienced the arduous pressure cooker of the Metro League regular season action, district play, and the state stage.

As a junior who was tested and challenged at an early age, Vemuri’s basically seen it all and done it all.

So, when Vemuri dropped a 6-7 (7-5) tiebreaker first set to Sunset’s Jared Lin, the seasoned Wildcat stoically walked to the sideline, sipped some Strawberry flavored Gatorade, readjusted his red, white and blue bandana and formulated a plan of attack.

Familiar with Lin’s propensity to last long into matches, Vemuri said he utilized his forehand shots more often, and tried to move Lin around the court in order to turn the marathon back-and-forth rallies in his favor. Racing along the baseline and hacking shots to wherever Lin wasn’t, Vemuri rumbled back in the second and third sets to clinch a 6-7 (7-5), 6-3, 6-4 win on Tuesday.

“You don’t get an easy match playing in the Metro League, especially at one (the top position),” said Vemuri. “Every match you have to go out and give your best. It felt good because it was a tough match. You start to feel in your legs, but you just have to put that to the side and fight through it.”

“You have to play every point like it’s match point,” said Lin. “You feel like you have to win every point to stay with him and hold serve.

Vemuri alleged he knew coming in it was going to be a grueling match because the two long-time rivals had played each other 15 times in USTA with only one or two of the matches ending in straight sets. It was an aggressive, offensive-minded clash of lefty versus righty, power against force.

“It’s always a physical battle that comes down to a couple points and that’s what happened here,” said Vemuri. “I had to pick on his weaknesses. The first set, I wasn’t hitting the ball too badly, but I wasn’t really playing that strategically. I focused on what I needed to do in the next two sets, and my forehand started working a lot better. That made a huge difference because that’s the basis of my game.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset's Jared Lin won the first set with a tiebreaker against Westviews Avi Vemuri on Tuesday.

“When’s it’s two offensive players like that, it comes down to who can control the point better,” said Lin. “The first set I was able to do a little bit more, calm down and play my game. But, in the second and third set (Vemuri) was able to take charge and play really well.”

Lin said there were a couple of key points he couldn’t close off in the second and third sets, but was content with how kept up with last year’s 2013 state third placer.

“The first two matches of the season I was too tentative to hit my shots,” said Lin. “But today, we were trading shots and going at it. We train together and we’re pretty close, so I kind of know his game. I was able to play more of my game as opposed to being too tentative.”

With Lin— Chin’s district and state tournament doubles’ partner— playing singles for the regular season and Ethan Woo out on Tuesday, Rahul Bilakanti was pressed into action with junior Ryan Chin in order to ensure Sunset could come out on top as a team. After after dropping an up-and-down first set to Westview’s Jimmy Preston and Rushil Patel that saw Chin and Bilakanti forge a quick cohesion on the fly, Sunset’s doubles’ squad cruised in the second and third sets, 6-0, 6-2. Chin gave Bilakanti a couple pointers like moving closer to the net to keep the ball inside the court, because missed balls equals missed points in doubles.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset junior Ryan Chin and Rahul Bilakanti dropped their first set of doubles action to Westview, but won the second and third sets, 6-0, 6-2.

“I was just trying to play aggressive,” said Chin. “(Bilakanti) is a good player so I know he can hit his shots. I just tried extra hard.”

Bilakanti said in doubles you have to serve wider and be more careful about where shots are placed. There isn’t as much running as there is in singles, but the pace is quicker and requires fast TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior Rahul Bilakanti filled in nicely with Ryan Chin after both of Chins doubles partners couldnt go against Westview on Tuesday.

“You have to use a lot more strategy, get to the net more and close the ball,” said Bilakanti. “The points are over in a split second, where singles you go for longer rallies. You have to think on your feet a lot more and communicate with your partner. It’s something I think I can do. I just have to get in a couple more practice matches in there and get better at doubles’ strategy.”

Jimmy Preston said despite breaking the strings on his racket in the first set and cramping up in the third, he and Putil played better together than they had all season. Westview’s top doubles’ team exploited some of Chin and Bilakanti’s return errors and misplays in the first set, which helped the Wildcat duo take 7-5 decision.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Westview senior Jimmy Preston and Rushil Patel won the first set of their doubles match on Tuesday at Sunset, 7-5, before dropping the second and third.

“We were very motivated,” said Preston. “Against a team like Jesuit or Lincoln we might’ve had a little more nervousness. But, we know these guys. We know how they play. We practice with them sometimes. I think we were more relaxed and that allowed us to be more aggressive. It allowed us to hit more high percentage shots.”

Patel said the biggest difference in the first set was he and Preston could sense Sunset wasn’t at full strength with Bilakanti being so used playing solo as the Apollos’ fourth singles’ contributor. Preston and Putil had never played together before, but each was pleasantly surprised

“We were little more pumped up than we would’ve been because (Chin) was playing with a new partner,” said Putil. “We were just sharper than we were in the other two sets. We were making returns, which dropped off in the second and third set. They missed some shots that they wouldn’t normally miss, and we capitalized.”

Chin said he and Lin need more practice matches together once districts are looming, but thinks the Apollo combo can create the chemistry quick enough to go deep at the state championship. The Sunset combo said its motivated to duplicate last year’s success in the doubles’ state title when Brian McKitrrick and Ian Paik took down Jesuit’s Andrew Newell and Tommy Mulfur in the 6A finals.

“This year we need to carry on a legacy and win it for us again,” said Chin. “I feel like it’s on us now to keep it going. I think we have a good chance to win it, so we just have to play hard and practice. I think we can take it home.”

Lin is a better vollier this year than he was a year ago when Chin and Lin lost to Newell and Mulfur in the 6A state semifinals, which will help the lefty close points at the net instead of staying back. Chin is more of a net player who likes playing touch, while Lin mans the backline and brings the heat from the outside.

“I don’t have to hit the ball hard, I just put it where they’re not,” said Chin. “I like closing the net and poaching. Everything at the net is good for me. (Lin’s) great on the baseline. He sets me up at the net well. If he can get those shots in, I get easy shots at the net and it’s more free points.”

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