WATERFORD — It seemed like a foregone conclusion that St. Bernard High boys’ tennis players Alex and Nicholas Zuczek would meet in the ECC finals.
The two brothers, both Westerly residents, cruised to undefeated regular seasons before winning all eight (four each) of their ECC tournament matches in straight sets.
Unfortunately for the Saints’ dynamic duo, their championship match was cut short by an elbow injury which has plagued older brother Nicholas all season.
“For me (the injury) is slightly chronic,” Nicholas Zuczek said. “I’ve had it since the sixth grade but it hasn’t been a problem for a while. It came back this season so I wasn’t too happy about that.”
Alex Zuczek, a freshman, was winning Thursday’s match 5-4 but was behind 30-15 when the elder Zuczek forfeited.
“I definitely saw his serve getting weaker,” Alex said. “Before he forfeited, he was just spinning it rather than popping it like he was doing at the beginning of the match.
“All he had to do for the whole high school season (to win) was to spin it in, he didn’t have to pop it like he did today.”
Despite winning each of his four previous ECC tournament matches in straight sets, Nicholas Zuczek said he didn’t have to push himself until the match with his younger brother.
“It hurts to lose the (ECC) finals two years in a row,” the St. Bernard junior said. “I had to take it easy the first couple of rounds but I was forced to come out of my comfort zone today. If I hadn’t I would have had no chance against him.”
A strong serve was of particular importance in Thursday’s match as both Zuczeks held serve in all nine games played.
“I think they both take great pride in their serves,” St. Bernard coach Tim Kolnaski said. “In tennis, a serve can make or break a match and today both of them, with their serves, dictated the points.
“Xander toned down his serve as the first set went on and was able to get more serves in.”
While the two brothers’ serves did stand out, Kolnaski said that both players have strong all-around games as well.
“They have very different game styles but both are still all about power,” Kolnaski said. “Xander is a bit more about controlling that power. He moves his feet well, has incredible touch at the net and has that great serve.
“Even if Nick might not hit quite as hard — I think he has a better understanding of the strategy of the game just through experience. He moves the other player well, uses a variety of shots and his arsenal a little more effectively.”
Nicholas and Alex were one-two on the Saints’ singles ladder all season.
In the Zuczeks’ previous match against each other, Alex got the better of his big brother.
“There was one (match) recently, back in the fall in Guilford,” the freshman Zuczek said.
“We were in the finals of a (United States Tennis Association) tournament and I won 6-1, 6-4. It was a pretty competitive match and dad had to warn us before the match no swearing and no throwing rackets.”
When asked if the swearing and racket throwing just occurred when he played his older brother, Alex Zuczek responded in the negative.
“It’s just the way I play basically.”
Thursday’s ECC finals match was the first time two local tennis players have played for an ECC title since Emilie Burgess (Stonington High) defeated her younger sister Annika in the ECC finals in 2011.
The state tournament begins for both Zuczeks Saturday but the outlook is appreciably different for each player.
“It’s definitely going to be harder than anything I’ve been through in the high school season,” Alex said. “I’ve played in the USTA sectionals which had the best players in New England. I think states will turn out well and I’ll get pretty far.”
With his injury the outlook doesn’t seem as good for Nicholas.
“Last year in states I got into the third round and I was expecting to get higher because a lot of the top players went to college. Now I might not be able to participate in states, but we’ll see.”