Nick Bradley had a lot of goals going into his second season on a high school tennis court. One was to put Waldwick’s team on the map.
The junior took on the mantle of best player in North Jersey and carried it in dominant fashion all the way to the third set of the state final before falling just short of an unbeaten season.
And along the way, The Record Boys Tennis Player of the Year made tennis relevant at the Group 1 school.
“I know for a fact that kids have come out for the program because of the success he’s had,” Waldwick coach Ted Opderbeck said. “He created a buzz.”
“A lot of people were really interested in the match,” Bradley said. “They were telling me ‘Nice job.’ It was great.”
Using a big serve and powerful forehand, Bradley went 30-1 on the way to his second straight Bergen County small-schools singles title. He lost in the state final to Highland Park’s Maverick Lin in three sets.
He had only two other three-setters this season, both against rival Daniel Wright of Saddle River Day, setting up a tremendous battle between the incoming seniors next season.
“The season was definitely a success, but I’m never going to forget that match,” Bradley said of the loss to Lin, in which he won the first set and was tied 4-all in the second. “I’m always going to use that match as motivation. I have to learn to bear down, to keep on the throttle, to keep attacking.”
That served him well for most of the season as he downed Wright twice, defeated Bergen County large-schools champion Aidan McNulty of Don Bosco, and rolled into the state final giving up just 18 games in five matches, nine in his first four.
“After last year, I wondered how this kid could improve,” Opderbeck said of Bradley, who reached the state quarterfinals last season.
“But he worked hard in the winter. He added shots. And he learned how to stay in points longer.”
That served Bradley well against players like Lin, Wright and state semifinal opponent Ryan Dickerson of Moorestown. They are players Bradley calls “grinders,” who can keep a point going until their opponent makes a mistake.
“I picked it up this year physically,” said Bradley, who has greatly improved his backhand during the four hours a day he practices with his private coaches. “I have to work on the mentality. I can’t relax against these kids. I have to have the fire in my belly the whole match.”