Evan Bechtel’s high school tennis career ended with a best-case scenario. The St. John’s Jesuit senior won the Division I singles championship May 28, outlasting Liberty Township Lakota East’s Zach Mueck, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 in the final. A day later, Bechtel won his matches to help the Titans win a title in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament. Bechtel is the first local player to win a Division I title since Perrysburg’s Bob Wellstein in 1997 and is the first St. John’s player to do it since Erick Iskersky won titles in 1976-77. Bechtel (29-1) battled mononucleosis and pneumonia most of the season. He began his career at Ottawa Hills, making the Division II state singles tournament his freshman and sophomore seasons. As a junior at St. John’s, Bechtel and Ryan Jorgensen finished third at the state doubles tournament. Bechtel, who has a 4.0 grade point average, has turned down numerous college scholarship offers and will attend the prestigious Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
How is life different now than before you won a state title?
“I have a lot more confidence in terms of my ability to grow as a player. I’d say I have a different outlook on the state tournament. It really makes you realize the kind of work it takes to get a state title. It gives you a lot of respect for other people who’ve done it.”
After dropping the second set of your finals match, 6-1, did doubt begin to creep into your mind?
“I knew I’d have to wait for my opportunity to win. I knew that I played a couple of loose games that lost me that set. I knew that the way I had to beat him is I had to wait for him to make loose games, which he did in the third set.”
Were you afraid your illness was going to obstruct your path to a state title?
“I was a little afraid. I kept thinking, I don’t want this to mess me up for sectionals or districts, or ruin my confidence, or eliminate my ability to practice as effectively as I needed to catch the players I had to catch. But once I got past sectionals and districts I felt like if I could fight through it a little bit longer I’d be able to do it.”
You had to wake up early the next morning for the team tournament. Did you get a chance to celebrate at all Saturday?
“I celebrated a little bit with the team. We went out to dinner. It’s tough because everybody’s happy, but they’re zeroed in on their own thing at that point and time, and I understood that. Therefore, I couldn’t really celebrate very much, but I was still on a high. I couldn’t get to sleep that night — I got maybe six hours.”
You played 14 sets over three days in the heat. Did you do it using only three shirts?
“I had to change quite a bit. I would keep [my shirt] in the car, on the fan of the car, and dry it off in between matches because it was my only lightweight team uniform. The other ones are kind of heavy. I just kept drying it off and washing it every night. It was kind of tough. It got a little smelly.”
You mentioned after your championship match that your father [Rick, a Mid-American Conference runner-up at No. 1 singles for Bowling Green] helped prepare you to win a state title. What are some of the things he said to you and did for you?
“My entire career has been a result of the practices we’ve done. [St. John’s coach] Jim Davis has helped me out, of course, but in the long run it’s my dad and I that have put the bulk of the hours in. He did everything in the long run, and he did everything in the immediate time frame to help me win.”
In the team tournament final, both St. John’s doubles teams won three-set matches to clinch the title. Was it nerve racking to watch?
“It was nerve racking to watch. I got off of the court quick, so therefore, I had more time to put the match in their hands. I was really worried about them because throughout the season they’ve had some trouble coming together and meshing. I knew our singles players at second and third were going to have tough matches, so the doubles guys would have to come up big — and they really did.”
If Evan Bechtel of 2011 played Evan Bechtel of 2010, who wins and what’s the score?
“[In 2010] I had the physical tools to play well, but I didn’t have the mental fortitude to make it through the match. I think Evan Bechtel 2011 definitely has more power, so therefore, I have more physical ability as well as the mental. I’d say it would be a 6-2, 6-2 match.”
What do you hope to do after attending Bollettieri?
“I hope to go to college and focus as much as I can [at Bollettieri] into improving my game even more, becoming a college All-American, and beyond that seeing how much better I get. My outlook continues to change every time I get a big win, every time I do something like win the state tournament. If it continues to change like this, who knows, maybe I can be playing some professional tennis after college.”
If you could play a doubles match with a partner of your choice, who would it be?
“John McEnroe, to see those incredible hands around the net. But if I was able to play with anyone for a fun experience it would definitely be my dad. To combine ourselves on the court for everything we’ve put in would just be a really neat experience.”
— Ryan Autullo