As one might expect of a top high school tennis player, Chris Kuhnle brings many weapons with him onto the court. For one thing, there is his impressive shot-making ability. And his knack for returning shots like a machine can sap the spirit out of an opponent.
Perhaps just as importantly, the Shoreham-Wading River senior can do something else: He can adjust his game.
An adjustment was required Friday when Shoreham took on Mattituck in a Suffolk County League VII match. The new windscreens at Mattituck High School’s courts were given a workout, as were the players, who had to deal with unpredictable cross-court wind gusts and the cold.
That meant Kuhnle had to play a little more conservatively, relying more on finesse than power at times.
“It’s just learning to adapt,” said Kuhnle, whose first choice for college is Penn State. “I think that’s the best thing you can pick up from this game and use it in life.”
Kuhnle has done well adapting. Last year his adaptation skills helped him win his first county championship and go further than a Shoreham boy had ever gone before with a fourth-place finish in the state tournament. His record was 27-2.
Not surprisingly, Kuhnle is off to a strong start to his sixth varsity season, winning his first six matches in convincing fashion.
Mattituck senior Garrett Malave was the first player to take a set from Kuhnle on Friday, but Kuhnle prevailed in the end, 6-0, 4-6, 6-1. The Tuckers (1-2, 1-2) won the other matches for a 6-1 team win. Shoreham dropped to 1-5, 1-3.
“I love good tennis and that was good tennis,” Mattituck coach Mike Huey said of the first single match. “Garrett took it up a notch.”
Kuhnle started strong, wrapping up the first set in a tidy 16 minutes with the aid of seven service aces and 13 winners.
The tricky wind presented challenges, though. An example of that came late in the second set when Malave (1-2) swung at a high lob and missed before recovering and sending the ball back.
Malave had to laugh himself when he took the game point in the first game of the set on a flubber, of sorts, mishitting the ball with the top of his racket. It produced a wild backspin and the ball landed close to the net, leaving Kuhnle with no chance.
It was a rematch of a Division IV semifinal last year in which Kuhnle won, 6-0, 6-2, in 47 minutes.
Malave, who two weeks ago committed to NCAA Division III Salisbury University in Maryland, made it more interesting this time, forcing a third set. He said he used more spin on his shots in the second set so the ball would drop.
“Even if you just tap it, the wind will carry it all the way to the fence,” he said. “It’s just ridiculous.”
Playing in these sort of conditions is part of being a tennis player in the northeast. Asked if he has become accustomed to playing in the cold and the wind, Kuhnle answered: “No. Never. I’ve been playing varsity since seventh grade. The only thing I’ve done is I’ve gotten better at adjusting.”
In Kuhnle’s previous matches this season, he took two-set wins over Ward Melville’s Dan Meinster, Sachem’s Chris Wang, Eastport-South Manor’s Alex Reiley, William Floyd’s Kevin Jiang and East Hampton/Bridgehampton/Pierson’s Julian MacGurn.
“He has so many weapons and styles of play,” Shoreham coach Debbie Lutjen said. “He can change and adapt his game.”
Plus, the improved version of Kuhnle is bigger and stronger from time in the weight room and agility training.
“It’s my last year,” he said, “the last time I’ll be playing high school, so I’m really just trying to enjoy myself, play good matches.”
Notes: Mattituck took the other three singles matches with wins by Parker Tuthill (6-0, 6-3 over Doug DeMaio), Luke Kosmynka (6-1, 6-4 over Nick Lange) and Tucker Johanson (6-0, 6-2 over Rohin McIntosh).
Mattituck’s third doubles team of Liam Finnegan and Mike Goodale prevailed in a super tiebreaker, 10-6, over Ryan Field and Andrew Hubner. The two Tuckers won the first set, 7-5, before dropping the second, 6-3.
Helping Mattituck sweep the doubles matches was the first doubles team of Ty Bugdin and Chris Waggoner, 6-2, 6-0 winners over Jack DelDuca and Cameron Weber. Austin Gao and Matt Wells triumphed at second doubles, 6-3, 6-0, over Alex Bakos and Kelvin Ma.
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River senior Chris Kuhnle, who was fourth in the state last year, has won his first six matches this season. (Credit: Garret Meade)