OAKLAND — Jai Aslam has no secret formula, no arcane tennis knowledge, to explain his improvement this season. Unless you consider hard work and practice mysterious.

“I put a lot of time and hours in my game. I played a couple tournaments over the winter, and now I have a lot more confidence,” Aslam, a junior at Messalonskee High School, said.

With wins over Chase Whittier of Cony and Sam Predham of Camden Hills, Aslam became the first Messalonskee tennis player to advance to the round of 48 since Spencer Luettich in 2009. Aslam will take on Jason Laporte of Maranacook Community School in the round of 48 at Colby College at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

“His freshman year, (Aslam) didn’t play much,” Messalonskee boys tennis coach Ed Hinkley said. “Between his freshman year and his junior year, he got the interest and desire to play tennis, and he wanted to be the best.”

Playing in the No. 1 singles spot for Messalonskee, Aslam is 10-2 this season. The Eagles will go into the Eastern Maine Class A tournament as either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed, and will likely face Brunswick in the first round next week.

Aslam grew up playing tennis recreationally on his family’s home court in Belgrade. His dedication to tennis came after a freshman season in which he played only a couple varsity matches.

“I’m a pretty competitive guy, so I didn’t really like that. I just really wanted to get better. So I set a goal that my sophomore year, I’d play No. 1,” Aslam said.

On a family vacation to Hilton Head, S.C., Aslam took lessons at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy.

“My technique was awful my freshman year. I just improved all of my strokes. My fitness level, too,” Aslam said. “I didn’t have a backhand at all. I could barely get the ball over the net with my backhand.”

Aslam earned the No. 1 singles spot with the Eagles last season. He knew he was a better player, he kept more balls in play and kept his matches going for a while, but his improvement didn’t translate immediately into wins.

Over the winter, Aslam went to the Maine Pines Tennis Academy in Brunswick.

“I drilled a lot there. I pretty much played every day indoors,” Aslam said.

Aslam got his first taste of the state singles tournament last season. In trying to qualify for the round of 48, he lost to Adam Levesque of Mt. Ararat. After the match, Levesque gave Aslam a little pep talk. Aslam reminded Levesque of a player he’d faced in the tournament the previous year who had improved and earned a high seed.

” ‘You need to keep playing’, that’s what he said to me, ‘You need to keep playing. You need to keep working hard,’ ” Aslam said.

The strength of his game, Aslam said, is a mix of stamina and speed.

“I can keep points going on for a really long time. I think one of my biggest advantages is my speed. I can run a lot of balls down. I can keep a lot of balls in play and wear some guys out,” Aslam said. “I can finish points too, if I get the opportunity. I’m always looking to finish points.”

Added Hinkley: “He’s starting to design points and create points.”

No matter what happens in the singles tournament this weekend, Aslam will continue to improve.

“That’s tennis,” Hinkley said. “You can always improve.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]


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