Abhinav Bhamidipati played No. 1 singles for East Brunswick High School in his sophomore and junior seasons.
Then, as a senior this spring, Bhamidipati lost a challenge match to freshman Jack Wong.
The Bears’ season hadn’t even started yet, but it had already reached an inflection point. In high school tennis, a senior losing his top singles spot to a freshman can lead to resentment, poor chemistry and even a defection by the upperclassman.
But Bhamidipati didn’t let his disappointment fester. He showed up at practice the following afternoon ready to play No. 2 singles and take on his captain role.
The senior’s mature approach to his crushing defeat sealed East Brunswick’s chemistry for 2019. If Bhamidipati was going to show up, work hard and commit to this team, who else could possibly have an excuse?
The rest of the Bears embraced whatever roles they earned during tryouts. And as it turned out, it really helped having a lineup with two top singles players.
It also didn’t hurt to have another precocious freshman, Siddharth Srinivasan, at No. 3 singles, and the third best doubles team in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament last year, Kameron Wang and Kennan Guan, back at first doubles.
East Brunswick is off to an 8-0 start in 2019. It has beaten half of those opponents by a 5-0 margin.
Wong and Bhamidipati are a combined 13-2 in the top two singles spots.
“Abhinav has a lot of experience playing other ones, so he helps Jack by telling him about the kids he’s played,” said East Brunswick coach Cory Widmaier. “And for the most part, he’s beating No. 2s pretty easily.”
“I think I have that confidence (from playing at one),” Bhamidipati said. “I know if I maintain my level of play, I should be ok.”
After Bhamidipati finishes his matches, he walks over to court one to cheer on Wong.
“Abhinav has handled this so well,” Widmaier said. “He’s a captain.”
“If teammates saw that I wasn’t in a good mood, it would take away from them seeing me as a composed and charismatic leader,” Bhamidipati added.
Last spring, the Bears went 15-2 and reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament quarterfinals, falling to South Brunswick High School, 3-2. But four of that team’s seven starters were seniors.
Widmaier expected 2019 to be a rebuilding year. He knew he would have his top singles player and doubles team back, but he wasn’t sure about the rest of his lineup.
Then he showed up at tryouts and saw three talented freshmen, Wong, Srinivasan and Carson He, whipping groundstrokes across the court like seasoned United States Tennis Association players, which they are.
The coach was stunned, and pumped.
“I wasn’t even sure if Jack would come here,” Widmaier said. “But his name was on the roster for tryouts.”
“It was a good surprise,” the coach added.
He is starting at second doubles with sophomore Erik Wei, another new starter. Srinivasan and He/Wei have a combined record of 13-1.
There is not a weak spot in this lineup. There is also peace and positivity across the courts on Cranbury Road.
East Brunswick has its captain and second singles player to thank for both.
“Our lineup is the strongest it’s been in a few years,” Bhamidipati said.