COLUMBUS - Entering his Division I state semifinal match against Kings Mills Kings' Doug Matthews yesterday at Ohio State University's Stickney Tennis Center, a major part of St. Francis de Sales senior Mike O'Connell's strategy was to play aggressively while keeping his mistakes at a minimum.
His inability to hold his first serve was a sign of things to come, however, and his hopes for an individual championship ended with a 6-4, 6-2 loss.
Although O'Connell won nearly every point he played at the net, Matthews broke O'Connell's serve twice in each set.
Matthews went on to lose 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 to Kings Mills Kings teammate John Allare in the championship while O'Connell fell 7-5, 6-3 to Parma's Phil Oernoe in the consolation final to finish fourth.
O'Connell (30-2) entered the semifinals unbeaten.
"I didn't have my serve, and the rest of my game fell apart because of it," O'Connell said. "[Matthews] played well and I just didn't execute."
Both O'Connell and Matthews failed to hold their first serves, but Matthews again broke O'Connell to take a 5-3 lead on the way to winning the first set.
In the second set, O'Connell served first but failed to hold serve again, and Matthews broke O'Connell for the fourth time while taking a 5-2 lead before closing out in the second set.
It was the disappointing end to a prep career that included first and third-place doubles finishes for O'Connell.
"I had to keep attacking, but I never was able to," O'Connell said. "I just didn't play very well."
While the second day of state competition was pushed back more than one hour because of rain the night before, the match between O'Connell and Matthews was postponed for nearly an hour longer than every other because of their court's wet spots. The semifinal matches were eventually moved.
"You're always going to have some nerves, and they both ended up [not holding] their first serves," Knights coach Mark Faber said. "Doug didn't serve well either to start out, but Doug picked it up a little and Mike just struggled.
"Any time you make it to the final four, it's an accomplishment. But he was not just trying to make it to the final four.
"Every year is its own year. Doug Matthews just played the big points well. I think we went out with a game plan and I think Mike tried to execute it. We wanted to attack, and he only ended up missing four points at the net in the match, but when you let a player like Doug Matthews get a second opportunity ...
"He just didn't serve well for whatever reason, and for Mike to be successful, he has to serve well."
In the consolation, O'Connell lost his serve again early in the second set.
"He played better in [the consolation] match," Faber said. "Today he was pretty disappointed. It's hard sometimes to understand that a career is not determined by one match or one day."39.96196 -83.00298