CARPINTERIA — The last player standing in the CIF-Southern Section Boys Tennis Individual Championships from the Foothill League, Hart sophomore Luke Papayoanou traveled to Cate School on Friday for his first taste of the CIF-SS playoffs in his young career.
Papayoanou’s first match of the morning against senior Gillis Linde of Flintridge Prep started off tight with the players going game-for-game in the first set. Papayoanou was able to push Linde around the court with accurate shots and well-executed backhand slices, but Linde used his footwork to return difficult balls.
The back-and-forth battle led to a tiebreaker in the first set, and Papayoanou fell behind 1-3 early. He regained the lead at 5-3 and went on to win the set 7-6 (8-6).
The second set was a completely different story. Papayoanou won the first two games then won the third game after a fourth deuce. He won the last three games handily, taking the second set 6-0 to advance to the second round.
“I felt pretty good, I was a little nervous in the beginning, a little tight in my forehand and backhand,” Papayoanou said. “I had more unforced errors than I should have but I still got it.”
In the next match, Papayoanou found himself playing the No. 2 seed senior Wally Thayne of Newbury Park, who had a first-round bye.
Papayoanou took a 2-1 lead in the first set, but Thayne’s powerful serve and ability to play aggressive at the net made things difficult.
The Hart sophomore did his best to return Thayne’s lightning-quick serves, but the two games he won early were the only ones Papayoanou won in the match, falling to Thayne 2-6, 0-6.
“You lose your serve the set is over, so a lot of pressure on your serve and it’s impossible to get his serves back,” Papayoanou said.
“The score doesn’t reflect the second round match. He was getting a lot of returns back, this kid was serving 120 miles an hour and hitting his spots and Luke was getting them back,” Hart head coach Allan Hardbarger said. “That’s an experience that most people would shy away from, but he really stepped up his game today and I think it will be a great experience for him going into the future.”
With two more years remaining in Papayoanou’s high school tennis career, his first experience at the CIF-SS Individual Championships provided a great learning experience.
He’ll carry that lesson into ensuing competitions, starting right away with a tournament in Northridge on Saturday and future endeavors at the CIF-SS playoffs.
“It’s good because next year I won’t be as nervous and maybe I’ll be a higher seed too so I won’t have to play a really good kid in the second round,” Papayoanou said. “It was a really fun year. We made it to CIF as a team, I made it to CIF as an individual and won a round, so it’s great.”
“This is a great experience for Luke and for me to see so many high-level players out here. Luke played a couple of great matches today,” Hardbarger said. “He fought really hard in the first one and the second one ran into a player with an amazing all-around game. Luke played well, just ran into a really good player.”