Deniz Kalfa initially was disappointed when he was moved to the No. 4 singles slot for the Okemos boys tennis team earlier this fall.
The junior then looked at the bigger picture and realized it could be an opportunity to compete for a state title.
Kalfa did just that, concluding his junior season as the No. 4 singles champion at Saturday’s Division 2 state meet. His win helped the Chiefs finish tied for third as a team.
“It’s huge I think honestly,” said Kalfa, who defeated Midland Dow’s Saketh Kamaraju for the championship. “That’s one of the first singles titles we’ve had for Okemos in a few years. For me, that was probably one of my biggest accomplishments for the sport on my own.”
Kalfa, who was voted the LSJ high school athlete of the week, had dropped his three prior meetings to Kamaraju this fall before breaking through in the championship match. Those prior matches were close and Okemos coach Chris Silker knew Kalfa had the tools to emerge with a win.
It finally happened Saturday.
“During the match I really thought that I could beat (him),” Kalfa said. “I was getting close points and the score got really close toward the end of the first set. That really drove (me) to go hard and give it everything I had.
“I knew I was very close to his level and I was able to close out the last match, which mattered the most.”
Kalfa believes winning the title will have a significant impact as he aims to continue to improve his skills and grow as a player.
“I came into this season more improved than last season, and getting a title like this really helps boost my confidence, especially going into the next season knowing that I’ve done this before and I can do it again,” Kalfa said. “I think that’s really helpful. This could have been my breakout tournament for not even the high school tennis season, but even the offseason tournaments that I play. I think this really made a big difference.”
Silker also hopes it will make a big difference for Kalfa, who he believes has plenty of upside as a player.
“He has very powerful strokes and he’s a very quick mover,” Silker said. “He has a lot of fight and will work a match to death, but at the same time has that next level put away power. That’s really what he was able to find consistently in that finals match.
“I really hope that (title) brings him some stability. He’s been kind of an up and down player for most of his career. Everyone knows that he’s got this really high upside, but he also had similar downsides where he’s struggled to put things together. I think this title will give him the confidence he needs to relax a little bit during tough matches and trust his skill and his play.”
Contact Brian Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.