BOB LIEPA PHOTO
All-division junior Erica Bundrick enters her fourth varsity season and second as Mattituck’s top singles player.
The secret to Erica Bundrick’s development as a tennis player really isn’t a great surprise. “She plays all the time,” said Jenny Smith, Bundrick’s best friend and teammate on the Mattituck High School girls’ tennis team.
That has helped make Bundrick the Tuckers’ top singles player. Who the junior plays in matches outside of team practices, though, could determine how far she goes in the sport. Living on the North Fork, where tennis isn’t as popular as it in the Hamptons, for example, presents challenges for a player such as Bundrick.
“What it comes down to here on the North Fork is trying to find competition,” said Mattituck Coach Jim Christy, whose team started preseason practice on Monday. “If she can get into a surrounding where there are good players, she is going to make a quantum leap.”
As it is, Bundrick has made considerable strides. She was a latecomer to tennis as an 11-year-old, an age when better players are already nationally ranked. A former soccer player, Bundrick didn’t have an interest in tennis until she joined a friend for a tennis lesson and found that she enjoyed it.
Ever since joining the varsity team as an eighth-grader, Bundrick has been a presence in the singles lineup, starting out as a fourth and third singles player. Last year she beat out Jackie Maloney for the first singles spot. Although Bundrick didn’t have a winning record in 2009, she was competitive, earned all-division status, and the competition she faced from the best players in League VII, which Christy considers to be the best league in Suffolk County, helped her. She played players from established tennis powers such as Westhampton Beach, Southampton and East Hampton.
“She’s playing against the top 20 percent in the county, all of the time,” Christy said. “She was able to play with them, but they were winning the big points.”
Evidence of Bundrick’s progress was seen over the summer when she won the women’s singles title in the Bob Wall Memorial Tennis Tournament, upsetting Amy Malave, 6-0, 6-0. Malave had ousted Bundrick in the first round of last year’s tournament. In addition, Bundrick and Smith teamed up to take the tournament’s women’s doubles crown.
So, what has changed in Bundrick’s game? She has apparently learned the value of placement shots and picking her spots for when to go for winners.
“I think just a lot more experience has helped,” she said, “knowing when to hit the right shots and when not to.”
Christy said Bundrick is developing into more than just a player who hits balls over the net. Her swings have purpose, he said.
“Anybody can hit balls, but the idea when you’re playing a better opponent is you have got to start to move the player around the court and wait for your opportunities to take advantage,” the coach said. “I see more consistency. I see a little more pop, but I see an even better shot selection.”
Bundrick has added patience to the arsenal of weapons she brings to the court. A player who feels comfortable on the baseline, she will attack the net from time to time.
“Her serve is probably close to 100 miles per hour, and she’s really consistent,” Smith said. “She’s really quick and she gets to every ball. She hits with a lot of power.”
Christy said one area where Bundrick could stand improvement would be in her footwork. “She’s a little slow in terms of transitioning from one shot to the next,” he said.
That is easily correctable, Christy said, if Bundrick can find better competition to play. Christy sees a big upside to Bundrick, who he believes could play at the college level. “I think she has a tremendous amount of potential,” he said.
Smith is expecting big things from her friend this season.
“She was just younger last year and there were a lot of great seniors from other schools that could challenge her and overcome her, more experienced players,” Smith said. “But this year I think she’s really going to step up and win a lot of matches for us.”
“She’s going to be the star,” Smith added. “She already is.”