Fight for everything, train hard, and off the tennis court have fun and enjoy life.
Those beliefs have carried newly crowned USTA New England Junior Sectional champion Andrew Ilie from Trumbull well.
The No. 3 seeded Ilie defeated Jack Truwit, 5-7, 7-5, 5-3 in a 3-hour-55-minute classic to claim his first Sectionals title at Wesleyan University from June 21-26. Both players had been part of three-hour matches in previous rounds, and Truwit (St. Luke’s), a four-hour plus marathon in the quarterfinals. It didn’t stop either player from putting it all on the line in the final.
“To lose the first set doesn’t feel good,” the 16-year-old Ilie said of winning the Boys’ USTA 18 title. “It is a big mental game. In tennis it is good to have a bad memory. If you are thinking at what is at stake going into a match that brings extra pressure and takes away from the game. You play every point and every match at an even keel.”
Down a set and locked at 5-5 in the second, Ilie broke Truwit and then held serve to claim the second set and shift the momentum in his favor. Like he did against Walker Oberg in the quarterfinals, in which he dropped the first set and bounced back, Ilie took the third set 6-3 and embraced Truwit at the net.
Playing tennis since age 4, Ilie also has a passion for soccer and had to choose between the two.
“As I got older, I felt that tennis would give me the most opportunity to play in college,” he said, admitting he loved the individual responsibility that comes with taking the court. “You take all the glory, and all the pain that comes with defeat. It’s just you. That’s what I like. It’s your hard work.”
Ilie pointed to four professional athletes that inspire him.
“For soccer it is (Lionel) Messi with Barcelona,” Ilie said of the Argentinian. “He is so technically perfect. I follow Russell Westbrook with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is all business on the court. He never takes a play off. Roger Federer, I feel is the best tennis player of all time. I also like Nick Kyrgio. That may surprise. He is fun to watch. I wouldn’t copy him, but he is entertaining.”
Closer to home, Ilie credit his mom Claudia and his dad Lawrence.
“They are both from Europe, so that is where my love of soccer and tennis comes from,” he said. “They have taken me to so many tournaments and supported me since I was little,” he said. “I started hitting the ball with my dad when I was four or so. I think the first time I beat him was when I was nine and I was so proud. Now we hit for fun, or when he sees something in a match that needs work and we go over it.”
Brian Barker and Matt Daly with the Tennis Club of Trumbull have helped Ilie reach his goals.
“They instruct me on everything from the right grip, my stroke, to the mental side of the game,” the 6-foot-1, 165-pound Ilie said. “I’m not super tall, I’d say average for the sport. But that is good. If you are too short, your serve isn’t as good. If you are too tall, you don’t move around the court is well.”
A rising senior at Trumbull High, Ilie is a two-time Class LL singles champion and a first-time State Open singles title-holder.
“I love playing during the high school season,” he said. “it is great being with my teammates and cheering them on. That might be the biggest difference in playing during the summer and in high school. In the summer, you have your parents and a few others at a match. At states, it is loud and sometimes rowdy with your teammates cheering and your opponent’s teammates getting on you. It is unique and refreshing.”
Academics will power his choice of college.
“I’ll commit to a school based on academics first, and then tennis,” he said. “The Ivy League’s Yale or Columbia would be great schools to attend.”
Ilie plans to compete this summer at the USTA Boys’ National Championships in Kalamazoo, along with National Clay Courts and a variety of men’s open tournaments.
“That’s the big one,” Ilie said of the National Championships. “You win there, and you get a bid to the U.S. Open. Wouldn’t that be something?”