JFK?senior finishes fourth in state tourney

COLUMBUS – Jad Abdul-Aal’s dream run in the Division II boys tennis state tournament didn’t end in the way he desired it to on Saturday, but he won’t let that keep him from enjoying the moment.

John F. Kennedy High School’s first individual tennis player to make it to the state semifinals since Barry and Jack Conlan in 1978 finished his career at the Ohio State University Varsity Tennis Courts with a fourth-place finish.

The Eagle senior lost both his semifinal match to Cincinnati Country Day School’s Patrick Wildman, 6-2, 6-7 (9-11), 6-1, and the third-place match to Cincinnati Seven Hills’ John Larkin, 6-1, 5-7, 6-1.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Abdul-Aal said. “Even though I didn’t get the No. 1 spot, which is what I was ultimately aiming for, I still feel great about myself. I couldn’t have ended (my career) any better than I did.

“I’m definitely going to keep my head up.”

Although Abdul-Aal wasn’t able to make it close in the final set, he did manage to prolong the matches by coming back and winning the second sets in both.

In the semifinal, Abdul-Aal and Wildman went to a tiebreaker in the second set. The Kennedy singles player took a 5-1 lead to start, but Wildman came charging back and eventually had two match points. Abdul-Aal staved off those points and won the tiebreaker, 11-9.

Then, in the third-place match, Abdul-Aal trailed Larkin, 5-4, but the Kennedy singles player rattled off three games to finish the set with a 7-5 win.

“He’s tournament tough,” Kennedy coach Joe Marino said. “We were just discussing that for next year – ‘How do you get kids tournament tough?’ You got to just play a lot of good people.

“You can tell in the years with Mike (Fredericka) and the years with Jad, they work.”

These back-to-back three-set matches took a lot out of Abdul-Aal, as he had played three matches of such length in two days. He had only a one-hour break between his matches on Saturday.

It showed especially during the final set against Larkin, who beat Poland’s Garrett Gardner on Friday in three sets. After the first game, Abdul-Aal called a medical timeout because he was cramping.

“I can’t even feel my legs right now,” Abdul-Aal said. “That last match, I had to take a little break because I was cramping up. Any time you have two 3-setters in a row and three in two days, it’s going to take a toll on your body. I’m definitely going to test up these next couple of days.”

Abdul-Aal’s run in the state tournament capped off one of the most successful seasons in recent history for Kennedy tennis.

The Eagles were one step away from qualifying for the state Final Four in the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament, the farthest-ever in the program’s history. Also, the team had a doubles team one step away from qualifying to state and a second singles player from qualifying to districts.

For Marino, though, it’s Abdul-Aal’s accomplishment that makes this season the most successful one he’s had as a coach.

“I’m proud of him,” Marino said. “Up until (Saturday), he had lost three matches – all to Garrett (Gardner). This is probably the best season I’ve ever had (as a coach). I’m very pleased.”