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Boys Tennis: Wingers' Toivonen stays alive in 2A tournament

Red Wing's Isaac Toivonen reaches out for a backhand during his Class 2A state boys tennis first-round match against Eagan's Zach Ekstein at the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS - Isaac Toivonen stood up to some of the state's best.

Playing in his first Class 2A state boys tennis tournament match Thursday at the University of Minnesota's Baseline Tennis Center, the Red Wing junior fought through a marathon first set with No. 2-ranked and fourth-seeded Zach Ekstein of Eagan.

And even after falling 6-4, 6-2 to Ekstein, Toivonen showed resilience in his second match, beating Mahtomedi's Ryan Meger 6-4, 7-6 (7-0) to stay in the consolation bracket.

"I'm really excited to play another day," Toivonen said.

Facing a tall order in the first round, Toivonen fell in the first game and looked to be heading into a 2-0 deficit down 40-love.

"I was really nervous early on; I think everyone could tell," Toivonen said. "I just put some volleys in the net that were super easy."

But after shaking off the nerves, the Wingers' junior battled back to force a deuce, eventually taking his first game of the match, 2-1.

Tied at 2-2, Toivonen and Ekstein played another marathon game, with Toivonen winning another deuce to take a 3-2 advantage, eventually looking in control with a 4-3 lead.

"He lost his head a little bit at times, but (Toivonen) showed himself and he showed me he's capable of playing with the No. 4 seed," said Red Wing head coach Matt Kavanagh.

But the calm, steady play of Ekstein, plus some unforced errors at the net by Toivonen helped the Eagan junior win the final three games to take the first set. Prior to Thursday's match, part of Toivonen's plan was to control play at the net. However, getting the ball over the net became a problem the closer he got.

"I struggled all day long with the net game; that was probably my low point for the day," Toivonen said. "Luckily I hit some good ground strokes at the end of the day or else I wouldn't be playing tomorrow."

Ekstrom's momentum carried into the second set as he took a 2-0 lead before coming away with the two-set victory.

"The first match, he was very capable of winning that match," Kavanagh said. "He certainly could have pulled one out there. He was up 4-3, then he dropped five games straight."

Dropping to the consolation bracket against Meger, Toivonen used a powerful kick serve and his major length advantage to take a 4-1 lead. But the Mahtomedi sophomore adjusted, taking away Toivonen's advantage on the serve to cut the first-set lead to 5-4.

"The first two or three games, my kick serve was at its finest, I guess you'd say," Toivonen said. "He was struggling with it, but he figured it out game four or five. He started getting it back and that was frustrating for me; usually I'm just able to kick-serve, maybe one shot, hit a winner, but he was getting it back."

But Toivonen wanted to keep Meger moving, so he sliced more and kept the Mahtomedi sophomore chasing across the court to win the first set. Toivonen continued to try and move the ball, but the second set became a dog fight as both players swapped the lead.

"Isaac's just so used to getting free points on his serve," Kavanagh said. "He's conditioned to getting two free points a game off his serve, and when that doesn't happen, the frustration can sometimes build on him and he has to grind out the points."

Meger held a 5-4 second-set led before Toivonen tied it, eventually taking a 6-5 lead. As Meger tied the second set at 6-6, frustration continued to mount for Toivonen, but he turned it into something positive, dominating the tiebreaker to come away with the victory.

"It was good to win that tiebreaker so conclusively," Kavanagh said.

Toivonen added, "Meger was a pretty good player, solid all-around. I thought I was going to roll over him and he came back. So I have a lot of respect for him for that."

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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