No experience? No problem for Nordonia tennis' Gitiforooz

Roger Gordon
Correspondent
Nordonia Knights

When Ryan Gitiforooz went out for the Nordonia tennis team last spring as a freshman, pretty much the only experience he had with the sport was a tennis camp run by Knights head coach Ryan Vehar when he was in fifth and sixth grades.

“I only saw Ryan four days at practice last year when the pandemic cancelled the season,” Vehar said. “He immediately said he hadn’t played too much tennis since he went to my tennis camp.”

This season, Gitiforooz, now a sophomore, missed some early practices. When he got situated and began going to practice every day, he was unorthodox and just learning to hit the ball again.

“Ryan really picked it up quick, though, and kind of remembered all those little skills he’d learned as a kid,” said Vehar. “He was a junior varsity player to start the season. I watched him play a couple JV matches, and I showed him a few more things about how to hit a better topspin forehand, and he picked that up pretty quick.

"The way he can cover the court and keep getting the ball back, you could tell that singles was more his style. Then we had some shuffling of our lineup and some players left the team.”

When Vehar was short a bunch of players for the April 13 match at Lyndhurst Brush, Gitiforooz got his chance. He was inserted as the Knights’ number three singles player – his first varsity match ever – against the Arcs.

He won.

On April 14, he played third singles again, this time at home against Suburban League National Conference rival Stow-Munroe Falls. The marathon match lasted more than three hours. Gitiforooz lost the first set but came back to win sets two and three after trailing in both sets.

“That match gave us a 3-2 win, our first [and only] conference win of the season,” Vehar said. “That was Ryan’s biggest win of the year. He’s been third singles ever since.

“A lot of people refer to Ryan right now as a backboard. If you hit the ball to him, it’s coming back to you. He very rarely is missing. He’s got good instincts and can anticipate where his opponent is probably going to hit the next ball, so he’s there ready for it. He’s been able to pretty much wear a lot of opponents down. I think he enjoys playing that way.”

Gitiforooz began last week with a 6-1, 6-1 loss April 26 during Nordonia’s 5-0 defeat at National Conference rival North Royalton that dropped the Knights’ conference record to 1-5. He rebounded the next day, on April 27, with a 6-0, 6-1 victory in his team’s 5-0 win at home over Lakewood. Then, on April 28, he fell 6-1, 6-0 during Nordonia’s 5-0 loss at home to Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. Gitiforooz dropped to 4-5 for the regular season, and the Knights slipped to 4-10 overall.

On April 30 in the Suburban League Tournament National Conference at Medina Highland, Gitiforooz went up against the same North Royalton player he lost to 6-1, 6-1 at the beginning of the week. He lost again, but this time the score was 6-3, 6-1.

“Ryan played well,” said Vehar. “He improved from the match on Monday. He was happy. He felt like he was competitive with his opponent. He came off the court and said, ‘I feel like I’m getting closer to him as a player.’”

Gitiforooz’s next match – a pro set – came in the back draw against a Cuyahoga Falls opponent. The match was tied 6-6 when darkness suspended play. Gitiforooz’s match – and the tournament itself – will likely be concluded sometime this week.

According to Gitiforooz’s coach, he has become very close with several of the seniors on the team.

“They really appreciate how hard Ryan has been playing and appreciate him as a good kid on the team,” he said. “He’s as good as any player at his level just starting out. When he really wants to dig in his heels in and just not lose a game, when he’s close to his competition he’ll get in a 30-ball rally and get the point. It doesn’t always work out, but you know if anybody is really going to try to make it happen, it’s going to be him. He enjoys being out there, and it’s showing as he gets better at tennis.”