State championships: Zhang holds off Bogdanovic for singles title

State championships: Zhang holds off Bogdanovic for singles title

Which Barrington boys tennis standout would it be?

Eric Zhang ultimately provided the answer against James Bogdanovic in Sunday afternoon’s Interscholastic League singles final at Slater Park.

This matchup of senior Eagles went to Zhang in straight sets. His superior serving ultimately won out in a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Bogdanovic, a result that gave Barrington its second champion since 1998.

The doubles final was something of a coronation for a pair of best friends from Moses Brown. Arthur Coia and Sebastian Dobron finished out their respective careers with an impressive 6-0, 6-1 sweep of La Salle’s Trevor Kessler and Nolan O’Brien.

Rain last weekend forced an eight-day wait and heightened the tension between Zhang and Bogdanovic. They played a ladder match early in the season and Zhang secured his spot as No. 1 for the Eagles. Bogdanovic, the state runner-up in 2019 to Classical’s Max Schmidhauser, was perfect at No. 2 and ultimately earned the second overall seed in the state tournament draw.

“It was tough,” Zhang said. “James is a very good player. When you’re in the match, you’ve got to be focused, and it was hard.”

Bogdanovic staved off three match points in the second set, forcing a Zhang forehand long after an extended rally to 5-3 and holding serve to make it 5-4. The two players switched sides on the odd game and Zhang took a moment to gather himself during the changeover. The match and the title were still at his fingertips.

“I just tried to refocus,” Zhang said. “It was still my serve. I could still serve it out. I was just trying to make my first serves and dictate the points.

Zhang earned two more match points at 40-15 and needed just one chance. He ripped a serve up the middle and Bogdanovic could only connect with the frame of his racket. Zhang celebrated in somewhat muted fashion out of respect for his teammate and came to the net for a hug.

“It was very intense,” Zhang said. “Especially with the crowd. I was very nervous out there. We both were, I’m sure.

Zhang elected to receive first at the coin toss and hoped to apply immediate pressure as the returner. His plan worked nicely, as neither Barrington player held serve until the match’s sixth game. Zhang did the honors to take a 4-2 lead and sent a two-handed backhand up the line while breaking to grab a 5-2 cushion.

“I was going to try to receive first so I could try to break in the first game and hold serve to get an advantage,” Zhang said. “It worked in the end.”

James Robles (1989-91) and Jamie Gresh (1996-98) were both three-time singles champions for the Eagles. Jason Scanlon ended an 18-year wait for the next one, taking home the 2016 crown. Providence schools had captured the last three, with Central’s Nick Fontecha preceding Schmidhauser in 2017.

Coia and Dobron didn’t allow for any doubt on the adjacent court. They played aggressively from the opening point, dominating the action with Coia on the baseline and Dobron at the net. Dobron’s overhead smash closed out a flawless opening set.

“No silly points,” Coia said. “Just getting everything in and being aggressive when we needed to be. It was kind of picture-perfect for us.

It was more of the same in the second, as Coia and Dobron overcame their lone wobble after an early service break. They cruised through the final five games, with Coia slapping a forehand down the line on match point.

The Quakers fell to the Rams in Saturday’s Division I team final, and this was a much more satisfactory conclusion.

“We’re best friends,” Dobron said. “We have been since freshman year. It’s great that it kind of all came full circle today.”

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