MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL tennis player Nick Mathieu, right, poses with Eagles coach Don Foley and the 2017 MPA Schoolboys trophy at the Racket & Fitness Center in Portland on Monday. Mathieu won his second consecutive singles tennis title, downing Falmouth’s Nick Forester.

MT. ARARAT HIGH SCHOOL tennis player Nick Mathieu, right, poses with Eagles coach Don Foley and the 2017 MPA Schoolboys trophy at the Racket & Fitness Center in Portland on Monday. Mathieu won his second consecutive singles tennis title, downing Falmouth’s Nick Forester.

PORTLAND

Nick Mathieu had been there before. In fact, he’d been there three times before.

The Mt. Ararat High School tennis player used everything at his disposal in Monday’s Maine Principal Association Singles Championship, including his three previous trips to the final match. But not even those could prepare him for round four. This one was a different animal.

Mathieu went down a break and then a set to Falmouth’s Nick Forester before navigating his way back through cramps, breaks and a rowdy crowd to force a third set. Once there, it took 12 grueling games and almost two-and-a-half hours for him to capture his second MPA Schoolboys singles title, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.

The experience paid off and the second trophy might be a little sweeter.

“I think it definitely helps,” said Mathieu, who won last year’s title as a junior. “Because you’re not as nervous on the big points. Like at the end, when he had a couple of those double faults and I was able to put my serves in for the last game. The experience definitely helps.”

Down a set, Mathieu let two break-point opportunities slip away in the first game of the second and went down 1-0. Forester held twice more, but Mathieu’s serve was flying into the box and he was holding with ease. The pressure was on.

After missing out on four break-point opportunities in the first set, Mathieu desperately needed one in the seventh game of the second, and three quick points on Forester’s serve was just how to start. He held on after an unforced error and made it 4-3.

“It was huge,” Mathieu said of the break. “And then to consolidate later and hold the set out. I was serving well all of the second. When I was able to start having routinely easy holds on my serve, then I’m putting pressure on him and eventually he’s going to crack.

“When I got the break, I was excited, because I knew I was starting to turn the match around.”

Down 5-3, Forester held comfortably to make it 5-4 and then shockingly went up 40-0 in the next game. It took a winner from Mathieu and a pair of unforced errors to bring it back to deuce, which eventually led to the deciding third set.

“It was gutsy all the way,” Mt. Ararat coach Don Foley said. “I think he had it in the first set, but then he just lost it. It just went back and forth.”

After getting close in the first game, Mathieu broke Forester’s serve and silenced the entire Portland Racket and Fitness Center. He then held to make it 3-1 and looked to be on his way to the title.

But Forester promptly held and broke right back to even the match. Mathieu had three break points erased before he came through to break again and go up 4-3. He was all pumped up and quickly bounced over to his side to serve, but Forester held things up. He chatted with his coach and requested a five-minute break for cramping.

Stopping was about the last thing Mathieu wanted to do.

“I wasn’t feeling too great either,” he said. “He was cramping, my hand was cramping. My legs felt fine, but it’s sort of hard when I have to sit there and cool down — try to jump up and down, keep the feet going.”

The time off only seemed to help Forester, as he came back from love-30 down to make the score 4-4 with the fourth break in a row. The crowd was on his side and when he held and was one game away from the title, it got loud.

“You’ve just got to pump yourself up,” Mathieu said. “I wasn’t even listening half the time, to be honest. I was focusing on myself, my game. If I let (the crowd) get to my head, I’m never going to win. Because then it would be 80 people against one.”

“I checked on Nick and he said it didn’t bother him at all,” Foley said. “He kind of blocked it out. I think the maturity here played a huge part.”

Mathieu held and then came up with the biggest break of the match. Forester went down love-30, then brought it back to 30-30. Then he went up 40-30, then back to deuce. Then he double faulted on advantage-in and double-faulted again to give Mathieu the break. He converted to go up 6-5.

“When you get that far into a physical match, where you’re running and hitting 20-ball rallies, the legs start to go,” Mathieu said. “You aren’t getting the same hip rotation on the serve, same drop. It’s more about having heart, going and getting it.”

He did just that in four points to close out the match. His last shot of the day was a sharp forehand winner up the line.

“It’s incredible,” Mathieu said. “I’ve been working so hard this last year. Every night in the gym, every night running, playing 20-30 hours a week. All the work paid off. That’s why I was so exciting when I won. Hard work does pay off.”

Semifinals

Mathieu made quick work of the semifinal round earlier in the day, besting Waynflete’s Brandon Ameglio 6-0, 6-0, in just over 30 minutes.

An early break in the first set kick-started two quick games before Mathieu broke again to go up 3-0. He then finished off the fourth game with a huge ace and held comfortably to make it 6-0. As smooth as can be, he closed the first set with a slicing drop shot.

It was much of the same in the second, with Mathieu breaking Ameglio early and going strong from there. Big forehands made for another break and a 3-0 lead and in a snap, it was on to the final.

It’s not often Foley gets to coach such a player.

“We’ve been here four times, it’s just great,” Foley said. “You talk about maturity and that’s the whole thing. It’s been a great ride, a fantastic ride. He’s a great kid. I wish him all the best in the world.”

Mathieu will be graduating next month and heading off to Colby-Swayer College in New Hampshire, where he hopes to “help the team to some NCAA wins.”

For now, he hopes to help the Eagles in the team tennis players. Mt. Ararat is slated to visit Mt. Blue for a Class A North quarterfinal later this week.

Yarmouth’s Lana Mavor captured the MPA Schoolgirls title, with the top seed rolling to a 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 2 Rosemary Campenella of Kennebunk/Wells.


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