Komatineni rallies Comets in search of state championship
Freddie Wilhelm | Staff Writer
Since 2012, Mason Men’s Tennis has not had a state champion, but Junior Niraj Komatineni, currently ranked as the second best player in Ohio, – and two time GMC player of the year – is hoping to change that.
Since his freshman year, Komatineni was destined to be a great player in the Mason Tennis program, as he quickly rose to the first singles spot and the best player on the team.
The five-star tennis recruit has a record of eight wins and just a single loss this season, which has him ranked as the best player in Southwest Ohio, and the 60th best high school player in the nation. Komatineni said that his high rankings and first singles spot adds pressure on him to perform and lead his team to play at a high level every match.
”There’s always a lot of pressure playing on court 9, where first singles plays,” Komatineni said. “We can win most doubles games against any team, but at the first position there are a lot of strong players and sometimes it comes down to my court. There’s a lot of responsibility, I try to pump up my team by saying ‘Go Comets’ or something to help them out any way I can as captain.”
As a player who has an 80 percent win record in high school, Komatineni has become a dominant factor for Mason Men’s Tennis with a responsibility to win his team the first singles point on a consistent basis, as head coach Mike Reid said he offers a huge advantage against any team the Comets have a match against.
“(When Komatineni plays), I think we have a good chance of winning 1st singles every time, and since there are only 5 points out there, you just figure out a way to win 2 more points,” Reid said. “It gives you a big advantage. It can move some singles players to doubles to beef them up so if you get he doubles points which we can do, it’s a win.”
Part of Komatineni’s role on his team is his work ethic – which inspires others on the team, and Reid said that he is a role model for the other players on the team.
Junior tennis stand-out Niraj Komatineni is among the top players in the state. Currently Komatineni earned ‘Player of the Year.’
“Everytime you’ve got a guy who works as hard as him and fights hard for every point when he plays it makes a big impact, you want your best guy to be talented but you also want the other guys to aspire to be like him because of his work ethic, “ Reid said. “Generally you see the best player has the best work ethic, and he is no exception. He always works to improve and he’s really good already – it inspires others to be like him. He’s a hard working kid and he’s a good role model for everyone.”
Komatineni said that keeping his spot at first singles is not always easy due to the fierce competition from other singles players, which he believes can propel the team to victory in tough matches.
“I know that Shashank Reddy wants my spot so he is fighting everyday in practice to beat me and all the other guys know I pull my weight, put in my hours and I know they feel like they owe it to the team to work hard,” Komatineni said. “If they know I can win at first singles and if I can beat the best players, they can push themselves to beat guys who may be a bit better than them, because they know they can go toe to toe with me sometimes in practice and sometimes they can even beat me, and if they can beat me in practice it gives them confidence to win against anyone.”
Reid said a major reason Komatineni has become so dominant in matches is his strong teammates who put up a strong fight against him in practice everyday.
“I think that everyone wants to compete hard against him,” Reid said. “No one wants to let him win, we have really good practice matches and he has to compete in practice everyday. He’s got a good environment and a lot of depth, a lot of different styles and they all try hard on the court when they are against him.”
With Mason Tennis currently being ranked as the top team in the state, there is a lot of pressure for the team to perform. Being in the Southwest Ohio region adds a lot of competition for Komatineni as well, with rivals such as Turpin, Sycamore and St. Xavier who all boast talented teams. Komatineni said they will prove to be tough competition for their team and for himself as they hope to make a deep postseason run.
“Obviously we are ranked number one. a lot of people think we are going to win state, but since we are in Southwest Ohio, the hardest region, we have to beat Sycamore and St. X to get out of here, and it’s about keeping focused,” Komatineni said. “Knowing that we are the deepest team in the state and making sure we secure our double’s points and pushing Vishnu, Shashank and Aneesh to make sure we get over the hump at 2nd and 3rd singles, since New Albany from up North have strong singles, and St. Xavier has very strong singles as well.”
Although being part of the toughest region to play tennis in Ohio may lead to some lost matches, Komatineni said that he enjoys being part of the region in order to understand the possible weaknesses in the team and to go up against some of the best players in the state.
“Southwest Ohio is great,” Komatineni said. “I’m ranked two in the state, there’s Andrew Pregel from Indian Hill who is ranked 4, Turpin has the 5th and St. X has the 6th so out of the top 6 kids in the state 4 are from Southwest Ohio. At the Coaches Classic the top 8 teams from Cincinnati all play each other, we always play good competition, we always play the better teams and when that happens we lose more matches than in other regions, but when you lose matches you get the opportunity to learn and know what we need to work on.”
Last year, although the Comets we ranked among the best in the state of Ohio, they fell just shy of the final four with their 4th consecutive elite eight exit to Sycamore. Komatineni said that with a larger focus and making the most of their court time, he believes that the team can finally reach the Final Four.
“Last year we really thought we had a chance to win state, but we fell short against Sycamore in the elite eight,” Komatineni said. “So this year I’ve been working with Aneesh and Shashank to makes sure our practices are focused. When we’re on the bench at practice I don’t want phones out, or us chit chatting about school. We need to focus on practice, since we have 3 high school teams and 2 middle school teams we need to maximize our court time on tennis. We need to step on the court with a purpose, for example if we practice we need to work on serves, we can’t be double faulting to give them two or three extra points, we need to make first serves, make them play the extra ball.”
With the post season just around the corner, Reid said that he is excited to see how Komatineni can compete with the best players in Ohio, and believes that if everything goes to plan, his team could win their first state title, and Komatineni could win a state title individually.
“(Komatineni is) good,” Reid said. “We’ve had two state champions in Miguel Cepeda and Luke Tsai who went on to play college tennis, and he is certainly in those class of players, he could certainly win state this year and be one of the top players. When he plays well and puts everything together, I don’t think anyone can beat him. If everything comes together, if (Komatineni) is playing well, he’s got a lot of good players backing him up and we can certainly compete for a state title.”
Photo by Tanner Pearson.