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Glendale High's terrific tennis tandem made a late charge

Throughout most of the season, the Glendale High boys’ tennis team excelled in doubles competition.

Veteran Glendale Coach Bob Davidson said it would have to be the Nitros’ chief strength if they had any chance to return to the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs. Rarely did Davidson tinker with the doubles combinations until two of his players — one singles and one doubles — approached him during the final week of the regular season with a suggestion.

The idea caught Davidson’s attention after Michael Akopians and Arin Meserkhani asked if they could be united in doubles for the remainder of the season. With the Nitros having already locked up a postseason berth after finishing tied for second in the Pacific League with Crescenta Valley, Akopians and Meserkhani went to work and capped a remarkable run.

“There were a number of things to factor into them possibly playing together,” Davidson said. “They are good friends, so they get along.

“From the tennis standpoint, they seemed to blend well together. Arin has got a real strong serve and Michael knows how to put away shots by being aggressive going to the net. Sometimes a lineup change like that one can work and other times it doesn’t. They sure did compliment each other well after they were teamed together.”

Akopians, a senior, had earlier been paired with David Ismailian and Nick Zatikian. Meserkhani, a sophomore, had spent the season as Glendale’s No. 1 singles player.

Once Akopians and Meserkhani were paired together, they enjoyed a windfall.

The duo captured the league doubles championship and then advanced to the third round of the CIF Southern Section Individual Tournament at Whittier Narrows Tennis Center in South El Monte. Akopians and Meserkhani finished 6-1 and were selected the 2014 All-Area Boys' Tennis Doubles Team of the Year, as voted by the sportswriters of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun.

“Arin and I only live a block from one another and we would play tennis on his court in his backyard,” Akopians said. “Arin and I would talk about what it would be like to maybe play together someday.

“We’d play against each other at his house and just rally and get in some extra practice to help our games. Then, we find ourselves matched together and we go out and win league and get to the third round at CIF. It’s just an amazing feeling.”

It didn’t take long for Meserkhani to make the adjustment shifting from singles to doubles.

Having spent numerous practice sessions — at home and school — with Akopians, Meserkhani made a swift transition.

“I came into the season not even thinking about playing doubles,” Meserkhani said. “I love playing doubles and it’s a fun part of the sport.

“When Coach Davidson said we’d be a doubles team, it was a great feeling. Mike and I had quite a run.”

That journey began during the league tournament, which was held May 5 and 7 at Pasadena High.

Akopians and Meserkhani, the second seed, started off with a 6-0, 6-0 win against 15th-seeded Chris Westwood and Reeve Bruner of Burbank. The duo then worked together to post a 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal victory against seventh-seeded Justin Nguyen and Henry Zhang of Arcadia to advance to the semifinals.

Akopians had been ill leading up to the semifinal match against 12th-seeded Cibi Pari and Andrew Chung of Arcadia. Akopians shook off the illness and paired with Meserkhani to rally for a 5-7, 6-0, 10-7, victory.

In the championship match, Akopians and Meserkhani surged back in both sets to post a 6-3, 6-3 win against top-seeded Kevin Yang and Ken Nakamine of Arcadia.

“I was very happy to see them win league,” Davidson said. “We’ve had some good doubles team come through here, but it’s always fun to watch your team win a league championship.

“They had to beat two Arcadia teams who were a handful. They played consistently and knew exactly what they needed to do.”

Akopians said it wasn’t easy shrugging off his illness.

“I had a fever and my temperature reached 103 degrees,” said Akopians, who also had to take an Advanced Placement test shortly before the final day of the league tournament. “Arin played just great and made things a lot easier.”

Meserkhani said winning the league title proved to be the watershed moment.

“We just came out focused and were ready for anything that might come our way,” Meserkhani said. “We had that great chemistry and kept things positive.”

Glendale qualified for the postseason, suffering a 14-4 opening-round road defeat against Santa Barbara. Akopians and Meserkhani were not paired together for the match.

Though the Nitros saw their season conclude, Akopians and Meserkhani weren’t through. Since they won the league championship, they automatically qualified for the CIF Individual Tournament on May 29.

At the individual tournament, the players checked in before learning their draws shortly thereafter. Akopians and Meserkhani looked to sustain their momentum while making their inaugural appearance in the prestigious event

The tandem opened with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) win against Brad Brenner and Taiki Shirai of Aliso Niguel and then followed up with a 6-2, 6-4 victory versus Jacob Smooke and Matthew Lurie of Windward Their run ended in the third round with a 6-0, 6-0 defeat against top-seeded Robert Carter and Ryan Cheng of San Marino, which had won the CIF Southern Section Division II title against Palm Desert.

Akopians said he and Meserkhani enjoyed the experience.

“You have no idea who you are playing going into the first round and then you find yourself up against good players,” Akopians said. “To go out there and win two rounds and then lose to the San Marino team is something you’ll remember. It was just a fun time for Arin and I to be playing together.”

Meserkhani said he relished the time spent competing with Akopians.

“We came out knowing we had absolutely nothing to lose and that’s what made things so fun that day,” Meserkhani said. “We played well and our shots were able to fall.

“By the third round, we were exhausted and that was a very good team from San Marino. We came a long way in a real short time.”


Follow Charles Rich on Twitter: @TCNCharlesRich .

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