While it technically was a semifinal clash, Handley’s Nick Mueller and Blacksburg’s Frank Thompson knew that their second matchup in three days would likely decide this year’s state boys’ singles champion in Class 4.
And like the first battle between the two on Tuesday in the team semifinals, it would take three sets to decide a winner.
Unlike the first meeting, Thompson, the defending state champion, was able to outlast Mueller, winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 at Roanoke College’s courts in Salem. Thompson went on to whip Jamestown’s Jordan Deberry 6-1, 6-1 in the title match. Deberry had defeated Hanover’s Ross Violi 7-6, 7-6 in the semifinals.
“We both kind of knew that the winner of this was going to have a routine kind of final just because of how we both have been playing recently,” Mueller said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.
The state semifinal matchup came just two days after Mueller and Thompson had battled for nearly three hours as the Handley senior prevailed 7-6, 2-6, 7-6 at the Slaughter Tennis Pavilion. That victory fueled Handley’s 5-2 win that advanced the Judges to the team championship match against Hanover on Saturday.
This time, it was the Blacksburg sophomore who got on top early, parlaying two service breaks into a 6-2 victory in the first set.
“We started off pretty even and then I got unlucky because I had a couple of net chords go wide that gave him the breaks in the first set,” Mueller said.
The Handley senior fought back in the second set to square the match.
“In the second set, I came out pretty strong and got a break and was able to hold,” Mueller said of his 6-3 win.
Thompson turned it up a notch in the third set and rolled 6-1.
“In the third, I had some break chances early, but I was not able to capitalize,” Mueller said. “I double-faulted to give him the break and then I did it again. By that point, his lead was too big. He played great in the third. He barely made any mistakes.
“A lot of the shots that he was hitting in the third set, he was hitting everything like an inch away from the line. ... He was playing some amazing tennis. It was tough to beat.”
Mueller said he gave it his best shot.
“I played alright, not my best,” he said. “It was certainly not my worst, either. He played a great match and he definitely earned it.”
When asked if he’d like to get one more shot in singles against Thompson to break the tie between them, Mueller chose to point to the team results.
“That would definitely be cool, but I’m happy that I got the one with the team because that’s the one that really counts,” Mueller said. “He did get the one today, but if I were to take one of the two I would definitely take the one that I won.”
Mueller is unbeaten in singles for his three-year career in team play. His only two singles losses have come against eventual state champions — Trent Daly (E.C. Glass) in 2017 and Thompson on Thursday. Mueller owns victories over each of those players in team singles.
“I’ve only lost twice and this year my only loss was to a five-star player [Thompson] in the third set and it wasn’t in a team match,” Mueller said. “I am definitely pleased with how the season has gone so far.”
Mueller will get another shot at Thompson today in the state doubles semifinals in another match that could pit the best players in Class 4 against each other. Mueller and Jack Volinsky will battle Thompson and Ruhan Prasad, the defending state champions.
In Tuesday’s team play, Mueller and Volinsky won the opening set 6-3 against the Blacksburg duo, but had played just one game in the second set when the Judges clinched the team win that halted all other matches in progress.
Mueller said he won’t be focusing on Thursday’s singles result when the two tandems square off this morning.
“I will be able to put it behind me and hopefully Jack and I will be able to do a little better,” Mueller said. “We are pretty confident going into this match based on the set we played the other day.”
The match, originally scheduled in Salem, has been moved to the Sun Tennis Center in Roanoke at 11 a.m. The championship match is slated at 1 p.m.
Saturday’s team match has a new site and time as well. Thanks to a poor weather forecast, the Judges will now face Hanover at Virginia Tech’s Burrow-Burleson Tennis Center in Blacksburg at 4 p.m.