Cincinnati.com journalists discuss this week in high school sports.
The Enquirer/Phil Didion
Matt Allare’s credentials as one of Ohio’s most accomplished boys high school tennis players are impeccable.
Helping win two doubles state championships before winning two singles titles on his own make him one of only two players in Ohio history to have four to his credit and the only boy with one championship in each of his four years of competing.
While the 2007 Kings High School graduate is proud of those achievements, he doesn’t consider them to be his greatest. He derives more satisfaction from having helped the Knights capture the 2005 Ohio Tennis Coaches Association team tournament championship.
He and three seniors – his older brother John, Doug Matthews and Ra’ees Ismail – combined to help pull off a rare accomplishment. John Allare and Matthews met in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division boys’ singles finals, with Allare coming from behind to pull out a 4-6, 7-6 (3) 6-3 win in a match delayed and then pushed indoors by rain at Ohio State University.
Matt Allare and Ismail had an easier time, rolling over Sycamore’s Sandy Berry and Carl Bernstein, 6-1, 6-3, to capture the Division I doubles championship.
Reunited are former Kings tennis players Mario Contardi, John Allare, Ra’ees Ismail, Matt Allare, Doug Matthews and Steve Contardi (Photo: Provided)
The next day, May 29, Kings didn’t even need to finish all five matches while romping to a 3-0 win over Toledo St. John’s that clinched the state team title. John Allare and Ismail won their singles matches before Matt Allare and senior Tim Hershner clinched the title with a 6-1, 6-1 doubles win. The third singles and second doubles matche didn’t even need to be finished.
The Knights, coached by The Club at Harpers Point mainstays Steve and Mario Contardi, also beat Upper Arlington 3-0 in the semifinals earlier that day, feeding off the emotional edge they carried through the entire season. Part of it drew from being upset the year before by Centerville in the team tournament district finals, Matt Allare said,
“I think, after the previous year, we had a chip on our shoulders,” Matt, who won the 2004 OHSAA Division I doubles championship with Matthews, said on his way from his job at GE Aviation, where he’s a senior manager in commercial risk, to his master’s classes at Xavier. “I think we were all pretty aware that this was the year to win the title. There were no halfway measures. We weren’t going to embarrass anybody, but we had a no-nonsense attitude on the court. We didn’t want anything bad to happen. We might’ve underestimated Centerville the year before.
“I think we all remember 2005 more than 2004. I’m sure Doug is more thankful for the 2005 team than he is for any individual honors.”
Even before losing to Centerville in 2004, the Knights had a team title in their sights, Allare said.
“Myself and John and Ra’ees, growing up together, those were the expectations we hoped for,” Matt said. “Even growing up, before high school, we thought about the team title more than the individual.”
Allare, who went on to play at Ohio State, lives in Hyde Park and is planning a November wedding with former Lakota East tennis star Courtney Ulrich. A back issue currently keeps him off the court, but he hopes to be playing again by the spring or summer.
Though they’re from different high schools and different parts of the state and country, high school tennis players know each other from competing in United States Tennis Association events, and the Kings crew knew going into the 2005 season that they had a good shot at making their dream come true, but it turned out to be even better than expected. No set of brothers had won OHSAA singles and doubles championships in the same season
“I don’t think we thought it’d be as sweet as it was with John playing Doug in the finals, but it wasn’t unexpected,” Matt said.
Pairing Matt and Ismail in doubles also paid off.
“He and I complemented each other very well,” Matt recalled. “I was kind of more powerful. I had a big serve and forehand and presence at the net. Ra’ees was more consistent and had a great return of serve. When I’d blow a shot, he’d be there with a little chippy play.”
The graduation of its deep Class of 2005 cost Kings a chance at repeating as the OTCA state champion, but Matt Allare went on to beat Berry in the 2006 OHSAA singles final and St. Xavier junior Patrick Bandy in the 2007 state final, completing an unprecedented boys tennis run. Only one other player, Toledo Scott’s Conant Ohl, has won four boys titles, but he did it by winning singles and doubles in 1920 and 1921. Rules changes since then prohibit any player from competing in singles and doubles in the same season.
“Twenty oh-seven was a great year,” Matt said. “I had pretty successful high school career. Had I played singles as a freshman and sophomore, I’m not sure we’d be saying the same things. It’s a compliment to my teammates and the Contardis and my parents (John and Bunnie).
Indian Hill’s Andrea Farley is the only boys or girls player to win four singles championships. She completed her sweep in 1988.
Winning a second state singles championship isn’t the only thing that makes 2007 memorable for Matt. He also experienced the thrill of helping Roger Federer warm up for a Western and Southern Open match. Federer just pushed his record number of Grand Slam championships to 20 by winning the Australian Open.
“I got to do that in 2007 and 2009,” Matt said. “It was a pretty unique experience. I think more people watched me warm up with him than had ever watched me play before. It was a very memorable experience.
“To see him succeed so late in his career is unbelievable. He’s like the Tom Brady of tennis. He’s solidified himself as the best player ever.”
Allare agrees with the suggestion that Federer is as classy as he is talented and accomplished.
“That’s why he’s my favorite player,” Matt said. “It doesn’t hurt that, two years later, he remembered my name. I don’t know if somebody told him, but I choose to believe he remembered.”