By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Times Staff Writer
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — Before Rohit Navelkar could reflect on the last of the three matches he played Monday in the FHSAA Class 4A team tennis state championships at Sanlando Park, his coach forced a banana into one of his hands and a bottle of Gatorade into the other.
The Wharton boys tennis team' march to its third straight state team title was momentarily grounded when Navelkar's legs refused him and he fell to his knees just three points away from clinching his No. 1 doubles quarterfinal match.
Wharton's No. 3 player's hydration recipe of pickle juice, Pedialyte, Doritos and Gatorade wasn't doing it at the end of his sixth set of tennis on Monday.
"I usually don't cramp like that at all," Navelkar said. "I was eating all I could. I was cramping after my second singles match too."
But after a trainer came to his aid, Navelkar regrouped and served the final three points, sealing a victory for him and his doubles partner, Wildcats' No. 1 Michael Alford, 6-3, 6-1, and capping a first day that ended with Wharton leading the boys field with 10 team points.
"You just hope you get the serve in and hope they miss, you're just praying almost," Navelkar said.
It was a rare roadblock for the Wildcats, who had each of their top four singles seeds advance to today's finals.
Alford faced his own adversity, rallying from a 3-0 first-set hole to win his semifinal, 6-3, 6-3.
"Last year I was down 5-2 (in the semifinal), so you know it's not going to be easy and you're not going to roll by everyone," Alford said. "It's just important that you stay strong and get through it."
Wharton No. 2 Ben Hwang (6-0, 6-2), No. 3 Navelkar (6-3, 6-3) and No. 4 Jon Ho (6-2, 6-0) also won their semifinals matches in straight sets. Hwang and Ho also won their No. 2 doubles quarterfinals match, 6-2, 6-2.
The Plant girls team, winners of the Class 3A crown last year, missed out on repeating in 4A (Miami Dr. Krop clinched the team title by winning each of it 12 matches Monday), but the Panthers head into Tuesday's final round in contention for a runnerup finish. The Panthers sat third after one day with six points, and with plenty of opportunities.
Freshman Blair Martin was the only singles player to advance to her bracket's final, grinding out a 6-2, 7-5 win over Spanish River's Hannah Fritzinger at No. 2.
And Plant can pick up key team points Tuesday after advancing in both doubles brackets. Amber Li and Claire Mitchell Andrews reached the No. 1 semifinals with a 6-4, 6-7 (10-8), 6-3 win, and Martin and Carol Marie Fraley did the same at No. 2 doubles with a 6-1, 6-4 victory.
"We knew it would be tougher this year," Li said. "But maybe didn't know it would be this tough. Last year, we were all seeded No. 1. This year the draw was tougher. I think we still showed we have game. We didn't want to leave early so we'll see how it goes (Tuesday)."
In the Class 2A individual tournament at Sylvan Lake Park in Sanford, Hillsborough County's only two single entrants, Jesuit's Jamie Sullivan and Steinbrenner's Kaleigh Wagner, were ousted in three-set quarterfinals matches.
Sullivan defeated Naples Lely's Zak Rabani in the round of 16, 6-2, 6-0, but fell in the next round, 6-2, 6-7 (8-6), 6-2. Wagner also lost a heartbreaker, 6-2, 2-6, 4-6, after a first-round bye.
Sullivan and Jordan Nasser fell in the No. 1 doubles first round, 6-3, 6-1, as did Wagner and Tatum Brannan, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5.