LEXINGTON — News Journal readers first saw Philip Etzel show up in the newspaper with a tennis racket in his hand when he was 2, playing at the park with his mother, Elisabeth, and brother, Karl.
And he’s been winning titles in the News Journal Tennis Tournament since he was 9.
But just because he’s now the ripe ol’ age of 14 doesn’t mean that navigating his way through the tourney has gotten any easier for Etzel.
Sometimes he has to dig extra deep, like Thursday, when he mounted impressive comebacks in both sets to beat Tony Palmer 7-5, 7-5 for the boys 14-and-under title at Lakewood Racquet Club.
The match featured some terrific shotmaking by both players and easily could have gone Palmer’s way.
If not for a no-deuce format, they might still be going.
“Every year we have good matches,” said Etzel, who has now beaten Palmer three straight years in age-group finals, “but this year was the closest one.”
And, he added, the hardest of his six News Journal title victories.
But that’s probably little consolation to Palmer. He served for the first set at 5-2 and for the second set at 5-4, and couldn’t seal the deal either time.
“I think he got more consistent and I got unlucky,” Palmer said. “I don’t think I changed too much in my game, really.”
At one point in the first set it appeared that Etzel had come completely unglued. He lost back-to-back games at love and won only point in a three-game stretch.
But they don’t call him The Tsunami for nothing.
That 2-5 deficit was just the calm before the storm. When Etzel struck, he struck with tremendous force, smoking the ball deep and painting the lines.
The second set went the same way, with Etzel playing his best with his back against the wall. Palmer had more success coming to the net, but in the end Etzel won more points from the baseline.
“I’m getting closer each time, for sure,” Palmer said. “I’m going to get one.”
Etzel credited improvement in his forehand for his latest title.
“Consistency with it used to be a big problem, so I’ve been working on that and it’s gotten a lot better,” he said.
“I got super stressed in the first set and had a lot of unforced errors, but I just told myself to calm down. I started hitting more consistently and waiting for him to make mistakes, and I was able to come back.
“I won a lot of clutch points.”
The biggest winner in that match was tourney director and Lakewood pro Ron Schaub, who also serves as the boys coach at Lexington High School. He’s lost All-Ohioan Jake Chilcote to graduation, but is adding those two to a team that returns six veteran players and finished the spring ranked as the No. 2 Division II squad in the state.
“We’re going to be knocking on that door (that leads to a state title),” Schaub said, looking ahead to 2024. “We’re going to get to state again and then see what happens. Those are two really good freshmen coming in. The future looks good.”
Etzel gets one year to play on the Lex varsity with his brother. Karl Etzel is the reigning DII singles and doubles champion and a three-time OHSAA state qualifier.
“I’m so excited,” the younger Etzel said.
Schaub expects Etzel and Palmer to quickly become fixtures in Lex’s lineup.
“It’s really exciting,” Palmer said. “I’ve been playing since I was 8, but I took some years off. I started playing again four years ago. I had been playing other sports (soccer, baseball, football and basketball), but now I’m probably just playing tennis.
“I just think it’s really fun and I think there’s probably more opportunity to go farther.”Thursday’s title match in girls 14-and-under singles was a rematch of Wednesday’s girls 12 final, with Emma Secrist beating Sirar Ghamrawy both times.
This week in the 90th News Journal has seen three Galbraith siblings win championships. It started on Sunday with Tessa Galbraith winning girls 8 and Miles Galbraith winning the boys 10 on Wednesday. In Thursday’s boys 12 finale, Dean Galbraith kept Miles from a second crown with a 6-2, 6-4 victory.
Dean, a southpaw, fell behind his younger brother, a righty, 4-0 in the second set, but never lost another game.
“I just focused on his serve and getting winners off of it,” Dean said. “He’s doing a lot better this year. Last year I beat him 6-2, 6-0, but he moves around the court a lot faster.”
Asked if being a lefthander gives him an advantage, Dean said, “I don’t know, but I have very good ball placement. I like my forehand. It’s probably the best in the little kids’ group.”
The only thing cooling Dean off after he got on his comeback roll in the second set was a broken shoelace. It led to about a 10-minute delay, with his dad eventually sacrificing one of his shoelaces.
“While I was worrying about my shoe, Miles had a good break there and was able to rest (after hurting his wrist),” Dean said. “So that scared me a little bit.”
Not to worry. Once the problem was resolved, Dean picked up where he left off and closed out the match.
“I usually tell (Dean), man, you hit so big!” Schaub said. “He’s down here (at Lakewood) every day. He doesn’t hit with much topspin yet. Everything’s flat. He’s got loose wrists, but he’ll take the ball and slap it into the corner. He’s pretty good.
“Last year we called him the MVP because he won three titles. The year before it was Emma Secrist. It’s just a fun little thing we do.”
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Sweatin’ it out: Philip Etzel’s latest News Journal tennis title also the hardest