Okinawa tennis aces know each other pretty well

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Kubasaki senior Brenden Neu and Kadena junior Nicholas Lay play an average of 4 1/2 hours of tennis every time the two teams have met this season, Dragons coach Stephanie Davis said. Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes
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Kubasaki senior Brenden Neu and Kadena junior Nicholas Lay play an average of 4 1/2 hours of tennis every time the two teams have met this season, Dragons coach Stephanie Davis said. Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes

Okinawa tennis aces know each other pretty well

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: October 24, 2013

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Brenden Neu and Nicholas Lay could easily be labeled Okinawa high school tennis’ “Marathon Men.”

The Kubasaki senior and Kadena junior have played each other 12 times, six each in singles and doubles, and 10 of them have gone three sets.

They spend on average 4½ hours during their once-a-week Okinawa Activities Council ties, Neu’s coach Stephanie Davis says.

Neu and Lay play an average of 55.8 games per tie. In years past, Kadena-Kubasaki duals would begin at 3:15 p.m. and end around 6; this season, twice they’ve played past 8 p.m. and the Panthers and Dragons have never finished before 7.

They’re playing so much, one could be forgiven if they’re asked if so many games and matches affect their health on the court, or if it’s cutting into their homework time and chores at home.

How much is too much?

“Tell that to Nic,” said Neu following his 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 singles win over Lay last Thursday at Kubasaki. “He’s good competition. It makes it more fun. Since it’s more fun, I don’t think about getting tired.”

“I don’t think there can be too much,” Lay said after that same match. “I enjoy playing tennis. I like (matches) going that long. It tests my ability, strength and endurance.”

Their coaches, Davis and Kadena’s Amie Woo, say as long as Neu and Lay are making good choices on and off the court, they’re OK with the lengthy matches and the late play.

“As long as they don’t dehydrate, stay healthy and do what they need to do, we feel confident in allowing them to keep going,” Davis said.

“They realize they’re students first, that they have to allocate their time appropriately, ensuring they get their work done to succeed academically. That hasn’t been a question. They’re doing a great job of managing their time.”

“We emphasize those things with everybody,” not just Lay, Woo said, adding that Lay is “holding up well,” managing his time between schoolwork and playing.

Neu, who also plays soccer, is the more hard-hitting player of the two, a serve-and-volley guy unafraid to approach the net as he is going all out on his first service. “I’m working on trying to get my first serves in more, placement instead of power,” Neu said.

“He hits it really hard back at you, he can get the ball on the court really quickly,” Lay said.

Lay’s game is more conservative, tending to linger along the baseline and making use of groundstrokes. “His serves are consistent and his groundstrokes are consistent,” Neu said. “Every time, I have to work to win every point.”

They’ve each had to work hard, especially during the teams’ two ties at Kadena on Oct. 3 and 10. Neu and Lay played 64 games on the first date, including three tie-breaker games. Their season high came a week later, 71 games, including a 14-12 singles third set.

During an average singles match, the two might consume a couple of bottles of water or sports drinks, maybe a bit less during their doubles matches, Lay said.

Despite their rivalry on court, the two get along well and are “supportive of one another,” Davis said.

“They’re good students. They get along fine. Especially in their doubles, you’ll see them talk to each other when they switch over. Their relationship is good. I’ve seen nothing to indicate it’s not.”

Lay, who sports a 3.2 grade-point average, says following a tennis dual, chores, homework and dinner keep him up until “about 11 or 11:30 p.m.” with school just eight hours later. Neu says he takes care of his schoolwork prior to the start of play on a tennis day.

The only other opposition the two see during the season are their counterparts at Okinawa Christian School International and they haven’t lost to any Crusaders players this season. So Neu and Lay remain each other’s chief competition.

“It gets old playing the same person,” Lay said, “but it raises my ability. It’s a lot of fun. A lot of good exercise and endurance.”

All the better with the Okinawa season-ending tournaments and the Far East tournament upcoming later this month and next. The district doubles got rained out Wednesday; the singles are slated for Monday and Far East follows Nov. 4-7 at Kadena’s Risner Tennis Complex.

“It’s a good thing to prepare for Far East,” Neu said.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com