COLUMBUS - In Ancient Greek mythology, the word "Elysium" refers to the mythological heaven.
After teaching Greek mythology at Austintown Fitch High School and Youngstown State for 35 years, John F. Kennedy boys tennis coach Joe Marino didn't miss the significance when the state tennis tournament moved from the Ohio State University Varsity Tennis Courts to the Elysium Tennis Center in Dublin because of weather.
"I said, 'Hey, we're going to heaven. That's going to get us to Saturday,' " Marino said. "For me, this is tennis and mythological heaven all in one."
Tribune Chronicle / Matt Wagner
John F. Kennedy’s Jad Abdul-Aal throws the ball up for a serve during his first-round match at the state tennis tournament on Friday. He has advanced to the state semifinals, which begin at 9 a.m. today
Kennedy singles player Jad Abdul-Aal found a bit of heaven on Friday, becoming the first area boys tennis player to make it to the state semifinals since 1977.
In the first round, Abdul-Aal outlasted Columbus Bishop Watterson's Ryan Bibo, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 6-4, and in the quarterfinal round, he beat Milton Union's Matt Brumbaugh in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2.
"There's no better feeling," Abdul-Aal said. "This is the best feeling in the world."
The Kennedy senior started the day on the OSU courts and almost finished off his first-round match before a rain shower forced a break in the action and the relocation to the Elysium Tennis Center.
Abdul-Aal held a 5-4 lead in the third set and needed just one game to win, and instead of it taking 5 minutes, he had to wait more than an hour to finish off Bibo.
"That delay I knew that I had to come out strong," Abdul-Aal said. "That's exactly what I did. That delay actually did help me a bit - it gave me some time to actually rest for the second match."
The rest did help against Brumbaugh, especially in the second set.
Abdul-Aal dominated the Milton Union sophomore, winning two games to punch his ticket to the semifinals. Abdul-Aal's experience in the tournament seemed to play a factor as well.
"That's the smartest I've ever seen him play," Marino said. "He stayed within himself, mixed it up That's as fundamentally sounds as you can play. That kid he played was tough.
"We're in the dance, and that's awesome."
Unfortunately for the area's other two state qualifiers, they are no longer in contention. Poland's Garrett Gardner lost his first match all season, a three-setter to John Larkin of Cincinnati Seven Hills, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Gardner had a serve to take a 5-2 lead in the second set and have him be one game away from the match-win, but Larkin fought back, broke the Poland junior's serve and won five of the last six games to take the set. The Seven Hills senior then took the third set to win the match.
"Today was probably the best I've played in a long time," Gardner said. "I think I just had a few mind-faults, and it's all mental at this stage. I just fell short today. He earned it. He went out there and executed, and I sadly fell behind a little bit."
As for Lakeview's Aaron Paczak, he lost in straight sets to the third-place finisher from last year, Asher Hirsch of Cincinnati Country Day School, 6-3, 6-1. He was down 5-3 in the first set before the rain delay.
"He was a good player, but anybody can take out anybody," Paczak said. "I don't feel like I'm that far from him. There were just a couple of big points that I didn't buckle down, so the next match I play, I'm going to make sure that, especially against these good players, you got to buckle down and focus better."
As for Abdul-Aal, he will play for a chance at a state championship today at 9 a.m. against Country Day School's Patrick Wildman in the semifinals.
Whether they will square off indoors or outdoors will be determined 30 minutes before the match at a coach's meeting, but Abdul-Aal knows which one he prefers.
"It's a windy weekend," Abdul-Aal said. "I don't do well in the wind. I play a lot better indoors."