One is fire. The other is ice. One is talkative. The other is introspective.
Together, Zack AhYat and Luyang Gai are the quintessential doubles duo. They’re tough, talented, and certainly successful.
Oh, and one more thing:
They’re tired of being No. 2.
This weekend, the two Kentridge High seniors want to do something about that last item. After a pair of runner-up finishes in boys doubles, they’re poised to claim the crown in the Class 4A state tournament at the Vancouver Tennis Center.
“There’s going to be more pressure, but that’s what’s expected if you want to win a state championship,” said Gai, the soft-spoken, steady one while AhYat provides the tandem’s spark and isn’t hesitant about going for winners. “You have to handle that pressure.”
The first two rounds were played Friday (results unavailable). If AhYat and Gai are on target, they’ll play in the semifinals this morning at 8, with the title match to follow at 10:15.
“We have a lot more confidence,” AhYat said of the tandem’s growth over the past four years. “We’ve learned how to play doubles the right way.”
While AhYat and Gai have garnered multiple titles at the South Puget Sound League level, they earned their first one outside of league play last weekend in the West Central District tournament. The Chargers downed Bellarmine Prep’s Zach Hamilton and Joey Hoolihan, 6-1, 6-4. They raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set before the Lions came back and made a match out of it in the second.
AhYat and Gai finished second at district as sophomores, then settled for third last year after losing in the semifinals.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time (for this),“ Gai said. “The first set, we came out firing. We didn’t want to let them feel like they had a chance against us.”
Added AhYat, “We just wanted to keep their confidence to a minimum. But in the second set, we let up a bit”
A Kentridge-Bellarmine final is possible today, which would make it the third straight year for such a match-up. But this time, it’ll be two different Lions on the other side of the net. The past two years, Bellarmine’s team of Brian McPhee and Simon Meske beat AhYat and Gai in the finals, 6-3, 6-4 in 2006, then 6-1, 6-4 last spring.
Although both would have been seniors this year, Meske isn’t playing, and McPhee switched to singles.
“A lot of people look at us as the favorites. We’re not the underdog like we were the last two years,” Gai said.
Not all doubles teams last that long. Human nature being what it is, people sometimes just need a change. In fact, Kentridge coach Bob Armstrong said AhYat and Gai did ponder playing singles this year.
“I kind of left it up to them,” he said. “When kids are freshmen and sophomores, I make the decisions. But when they’re juniors and seniors, I let them choose.”
Armstrong definitely wasn’t disappointed when they chose doubles again.
“They’re able to push each other’s buttons and get the very best out of each other,” he said. “They enjoy playing together, and they really want to go all the way.
“They have the will to do it,” Armstrong added. “They have a kind of second gear, and they can suck it up (and go).”
Ultimately, the secret to success for AhYat and Gai is no secret at all.
“After you play together for so long, you know the other person’s comfort zone,” AhYat said.
No secret to getting it done this weekend, either.
“We just have to go out and play,” AhYat said. “There’s motivation, because you want to get that state championship. But you have to go out and play.”