Saints' Alex Zuczek wins ECC singles title

St. Bernard's Alex Zuczek, left, walks off the court hand-in-hand with his brother Nick, who was forced to retire from Thursday's ECC singles final in the first set with an elbow injury. Visit www.theday.com for a photo gallery.

Waterford — Thursday's Eastern Connecticut Conference singles final had an ending that neither dueling brothers Nick and Alex Zuczek of the St. Bernard School wanted.

The doubles final between Matthew Chan and Nipun Hewage and East Lyme teammates Unni Kurumbail and Matthew Lin, on the other hand, was a ridiculously competitive teethgrinder.

Second-seeded Alex Zuczek beat his top-seeded brother, who was forced to retire down 5-4 in the opening set due to a recurring elbow injury.

Alex, a freshman, finished unbeaten in conference play. It was Nick's first loss this year and the second straight year that he lost in the final.

"It's kind of unfortunate that we had to finish the match like that," Alex Zuczek said. "I'd rather someone actually win it than winning on (default). It's kind of not really a true win."

Top-seeded Chan and Hewage had just enough to successfully defend their title as they rallied to win a topsy-turvy match that nearly lasted two-and-a-half hours, 3-6, 7-4, 7-6 (1).

Chan and Hewage are unbeaten. It was the first loss of the season for second-seeded Kurumbail and Lin.

"Every time we played this season (in a challenge match), it's always been close," Chan said. "I'm confident that we could both be number one and succeed. There's not much of a skill difference between us."

Alex Zuczek is a power player, and his hard-hitting style aggravated Nick's elbow. The injury flared up this season after not bothering him for six years and forced him to sit out a few matches. He occasionally played doubles, but could only hit forehand.

"I just sort of pushed his elbow over the top, and he had to stop," Alex Zuczek said.

Nick Zuczek said: "It's pitcher's elbow. It hurts whenever I make an impact or anything. Now it hurts just resting it, so I decided to stop playing quite abruptly. No offense to the other players as they're all really good, but Xander has a pretty hard serve. To keep up with him, I knew I'd have to hit a lot harder and that put a lot of stress on my elbow, and that's what set it off."

Nick Zuczek was ahead in the 10th game, 30-0, when he had to retire.

"It certainly hurts to be in the finals again and this time needing to default," he said. "I'm sure we'd have a great match. He's playing great lately. ... I'm proud of him because it's his freshman year."

Alex Zuczek said: "It's actually kind of fun (to play Nick) because he's the most competition I've had in this tournament. I was looking forward to a hard match. The first set was actually tough and I had to pull through."

The doubles final more than made up for the lack of drama in the singles, in particular the final set. Chan and Hewage led 5-4, then fell behind 6-5 before they clawed out the win.

"I didn't know who was going to win because they both wanted it really badly, and both (teams) are really talented," East Lyme coach Susan Welshock said. "They're equally level players.

"It was was nervewracking. ... It's bittersweet. I'm happy for (Chan and Hewage), and I know they don't feel bad for winning, but they have empathy (for Kurumbail and Lin). They can't totally go crazy because they know how it feels if they were on the receiving end."

n.griffen@theday.com

East Lyme's Nipun Hewage, left, and Matthew Chan celebrate a point during their three-set win over teammates Unni Kurumbail and Matthew Lin in the ECC doubles final on Thursday at Waterford.
East Lyme's Nipun Hewage, left, and Matthew Chan celebrate a point during their three-set win over teammates Unni Kurumbail and Matthew Lin in the ECC doubles final on Thursday at Waterford.

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