ALLENTOWN – Henry Paiste's run to a second straight District 11 Class AA tennis championship has been far more sprint than it has been marathon.
Needing to win four matches in a little over 24 hours just to reach the final might seem like a test of endurance. But the way Paiste blazed past his opposition would have made Usain Bolt proud.
Paiste captured his first three matches in dominant fashion, winning 36 of the 37 games he played. Included in that run was a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Allentown Central Catholic's Phat Le in the quarterfinal round early Saturday afternoon at the Westend Racquet Swim and Fitness Club.
Later Saturday, Paiste got his first real test of the tournament but even that didn't last long. Tied 3-3 with Moravian Academy's Madhav Valla in the first set, Paiste proceeded to win nine straight games for a 6-3, 6-0 victory.
Paiste, a home-schooled sophomore in the Northwestern Lehigh School District, said that appearances to the contrary, he was tested by the opposition during the first two days of the tournament.
"I know it might not seem like it if you just look at the scores, but in all four of my matches I was pushed hard," said Paiste. "I might have only lost four games, but I had some tough points and some long rallies, especially today."
Paiste opened Saturday's play by blanking Le.
"I wanted to get off to a good start in the quarterfinals," said Paiste. "Phat (Le) is a tough player so I wanted to make a statement early and I was able to do that by breaking his serve in the first game. I then built on that the rest of the match."
After a short break, Paiste, the tourney's No. 2 seed, faced Valla, the No. 3 seed, in the semifinals. Friends and rivals from United States Tennis Association (USTA) Tournaments, they were extremely familiar with each other.
"I've probably played Madhav six or seven times over the last couple of years," said Paiste. "We're kind of like mirror images of each other on the court. We have very similar games."
According to Paiste, the rivalry has been fairly equal in recent years.
"I've beaten him a few times and he's beaten me," Paiste said. "Almost all of the matches have been close too, except for the last time we met a few weeks ago at a tournament in Reading. I beat him in that match 6-3, 6-1.
"Today, I wanted to build on the confidence I gained against him in that match."
The match started with several outstanding rallies and with both players holding serve through seven games. Leading 4-3 in the first set, Paiste got the match's first service break thanks to a couple of nice overheads at the net.
He didn't lose another game the rest of the match, finishing out the first set with four consecutive winners on his serve and then reeling off six straight games in the second set.
"The service break in that first set was huge," said Paiste. "It gave me the momentum after things had gone back and forth pretty evenly at the start of the match.
"Once I got that momentum, I was able to keep building on it and that forced Madhav into some mistakes that he wasn't making early on."
Paiste will now face Allentown Central Catholic's Libario Obeid in today's District 11 championship match at 4 p.m. It's an intriguing matchup as Paiste is the 2011 D-11 AA champ while Obeid is the 2010 D-11 AA champion. Obeid didn't compete in the tourney last season because his family moved to the Pittsburgh area. They returned this year, however, and it has set up a showdown of district champs.
"I really haven't thought about playing Libario until now because I wanted to make sure I was taking it one match at a time and not looking ahead," said Paiste. "We had a pretty good rivalry in USTA matches when we were in [the] 12s [age group], but we haven't played lately.
"He's a great player and I'm really looking forward to getting a chance to go against him."