The 2024 Times Boys Tennis Players of the Year: Ottawa’s Alan Sifuentes and Evan Krafft

Pirates’ No. 1 doubles team found cohesiveness, advanced to 1A state

Ottawa's No. 1 doubles team of senior Alan Sifuentes (left) and sophomore Evan Krafft are the Times 2024 boys tennis players of the year .

In any sport, there are many adjustments an athlete has to make – some small, some large.

For Ottawa’s No. 1 doubles team of senior Alan Sifuentes and sophomore Evan Krafft, those adjustments came only a few weeks into the season and were quite significant.

After an injury to a teammate, Sifuentes joined forces with Krafft at the top doubles spot. As the schedule progressed, so did the cohesiveness of the pair on the court. The 2024 Times Tennis Players of the Year eventually finished the season strong, finishing third at the La Salle-Peru Sectional to earn a spot at the Class 1A State Meet.

While the Pirates’ team lost both of its state matches, Sifuentes – who also was part of the Ottawa soccer team that won a regional championship in fall 2023 – said it was satisfying that the two not only reached their goal of a state berth, but also overcame so much during the season.

“Playing in the state tournament was a great overall experience,” said Sifuentes, who plans on playing tennis at Illinois Valley Community College while starting toward a degree in early education. “At the hotel we watched basketball the night before, then in the morning it was kind of cool getting ready to go. It was like, we know when we play, we know who were playing, we have a game plan for the match, and now we’re going to play in the state tournament.

“For me in my senior year to win a regional in soccer and advance to state in tennis, it was the two best things I could have hoped for.”

Although Krafft also said the state trip was a wonderful time, he didn’t feel as much pressure as he thought he might. He added the biggest thing he learned from his teammate.

“It was exciting for me, as well,” Krafft said. “I think just being able to go through the state experience was even better than I thought it would be. I actually think I was more stressed at sectionals, I guess, because I knew how much we both wanted to make it to state. I guess once we were at state, the pressure was off knowing we’d reached our goal.

“Alan really helped me learn better how to stay calm. Tennis is mental as well as physical, and he always seemed to be able to get me to stay levelheaded if I started to get upset.”

Ottawa coach Matt Gross couldn’t have been happier to see the pair – which finished fourth in the Interstate 8 Conference regular season and tied for fourth at the league meet – do so well after having to make the major adjustment to a new partner.

“Basically, because they were put together as doubles partners a quarter or so of the way into the season, it took them a little while to mesh,” Gross said. “Alan had never played at No. 1 doubles before, and Evan hadn’t played at the varsity level, so for them to advance to state was a fabulous accomplishment.

“I also think a key to how well they did was they both have skills that complement the other. Alan is very good at the net, and Evan is very good as a server and playing from the baseline. That’s a good combination to have.”

When asked what, if any, advice he’d have for younger players thinking that playing doubles might be their thing, Sifuentes didn’t hesitate to answer.

“I would say working on your play at the net would be the best advice I’d give someone wanting to play doubles,” Sifuentes said. “I think most of us grow up mostly playing singles and working on our game from the baseline. In doubles, your baseline game is important, but you also have to put a lot of work into your volley skills, as well.”

Krafft said one match, despite it being a loss, stands out as one that really gave the teammates confidence they could compete with anyone.

“I think one of our best matches was against Andrew [Bollis] and Danny [Santoy] from La Salle-Peru in the last conference match here at home,” Krafft said of the 7-6 (10-2), 5-7, 6-3 defeat. “We had won like five straight matches the week before and were in the middle of a really good streak as far as playing well. Even though we ended up losing, I feel like it raised our confidence even more.”

Ottawa number one doubles team players Alan Sifuentes and Evan Krafft play tennis against L-P at the Henderson-Guenther Tennis Facility on Monday, Monday, May 6, 2024 at Ottawa High School.
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