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Tigers’ Alexander falls in tennis final RHS star beaten by FCIAC rival for State Open title

By Lenn Zonder

CHESHIRE — If Ben Alexander had his druthers, he would have skipped school Monday, or at least requested early dismissal. Instead, the top seed in the CIAC State Open tennis tournament fulfilled his student obligation and remained in school until 2 p.m., taking a final exam.

The delay, combined with a one-hour cross-state drive on I-84, caused the Ridgefield High senior to arrive at Cheshire Academy 20 minutes late for the state tennis championship against the second seed, Scott Denenberg of Trumbull, and to take the court somewhat cold.

Denenberg, the FCIAC’s 2002 Most Valuable Player, defeated Alexander, 6-0, 6-4, to win the Open.

Denenberg and Alexander are no strangers to one another, nor is Monday’s match going to be the last between the two FCIAC stars.

"Over the years, we’ve probably played 20 matches against each other,” Denenberg said, "and we belong to the same tennis clinic during the year. We’re friendly rivals.”

After a brief warm-up filled with talk back and forth over the net, the two got serious and began play.

It was obvious from the start that Denenberg, who had warmed up against a Fairfield Prep doubles player while he waited for Alexander, was dominating. His forehand shots came off his racquet like major-league fastballs, while Alexander struggled to return service or to get his first serves in.

"My serves were not on today,” Alexander said. "That’s the bottom line. If I held serve like normal, I’m confident I would have taken him to three sets.”

Serving from the north end of the court was a challenge for both players. The sun was high and directly in their line of sight every time they tossed the ball up. But it seemed tougher for Alexander than Denenberg. Alexander’s first-serve efficiency hovered around 25 percent.

Meanwhile, everything was going Denenberg’s way. Nothing was more evident of which side of the net luck was on, then when Denenberg, beaten on a lob shot, raced back across the baseline and blindly hit a ground shot while running away from the net. He never saw where the ball went. It cleared the net and remained in play.

Moments later he went for one of Alexander’s better-placed balls in his left corner. As he ran, the racquet flew out of his hand. It hit the ball illegally, and he still caught the racquet before it fell to the ground.

Alexander smiled and quipped cross-net to Denenberg, "You can’t do that.”

Denenberg said his recovery on that shot and the backhand shot was nothing more than on-the-spot improvisation.

"I do that a lot,” Denenberg said. "I usually make that shot maybe one out of three times.”

Alexander’s goal from his freshman year was to be in the state tournament and be the state champion.

"It’s a reward to be here, and a great way to leave high school,” he said.

Alexander, ranked 651st in the United States Tennis Association rankings, and 27th in New England, will graduate Ridgefield High this month and attend Tufts University in the fall.

Denenberg, a junior, has another year of high school — sure to be bad news for the rest of the FCIAC. But the two friendly competitors are sure to meet in USTA competition, and depending on where Denenberg goes to school, in college.

Denenberg is ranked 412th nationally and 11th in New England.

NOTES: In the doubles final, Cheshire High’s Brian Matthews and Scott Matthews defeated August Vorvis and Tom Curran of Fairfield Prep, 6-4, 6-2.

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