Jonathan Rhodes was firmly entrenched as a singles player in the Newman boys tennis lineup at the start of the 2018 season, but injuries elsewhere led coach Frannie Jacobs to juggle her lineup to put Rhodes with Cody Bonnell in doubles.
This season, even as the lineup has shifted somewhat around him, Rhodes has been a solid constant at No. 1 singles for the Comets.
Since falling to Sterling’s
Dillon Nitz on May 6, Rhodes has won seven straight matches – including a 3-0 record at the Mendota Invitational on Saturday, and straight-sets wins in duals against Dixon, Rochelle, Rock Island and Mendota.
“When Jonathan is focused and he’s in a rhythm, he just sails along,” Jacobs said. “That’s just Jonathan. It’s typical. If you’re an opponent of his, you don’t want to be playing him on a day like that. When he’s on, he’s on.”
When he was teamed up with Bonnell in doubles play last season, Bonnell is the stronger net player, with Rhodes complementing that with strong play at the baseline. Now in singles play, it’s Rhodes charging the net.
“That’s been a work in progress,” he said. “It all comes down to getting a good approach shot and then actually getting all the way into the net instead of second-guessing myself.
“A little bit of offense to try to push them to make a bad shot. Hopefully if I hit a good approach shot to stay up there, and get them to hit it to me and get the point.”
Jacobs said Rhodes has always had that ability to play at the net.
“His approach shots are getting much better, so he can maximize better coming into the net,” she said. “He’s always been that all-around, fundamentally-good player, so he can play at the back or come in to the net. He’s got a nice serve. He can mix it up and do drop shots.”
But Rhodes isn’t going to stay up at the net full-time. He will retreat back to the baseline when he has to.
“If the net game is working, I try to stick with it,” he said. “Otherwise, if he’s passing me at the net, I only let him do it once or twice. I’ll try to step back and play a little more defense.”
Rhodes isn’t the only Comet charging ahead on the court. At a recent dual at Dixon, Newman had Kyle Tunink at No. 2 singles, and the junior spent some time up at the net as well in his straight-sets loss to Quinten Hoyle.
“I’m new to singles – I usually play doubles – so I’m not too sure what to do out there yet,” Tunink said. “If I got up to the net, I just stayed up there, even if it wasn’t a very good approach shot.”
As the postseason looms, Rhodes is about to take on the best singles players the Rochelle Sectional has to offer, and he is hoping to work on his confidence.
“Staying in with my game and hitting my shots instead of letting them control the game is key,” he said.
Class 1A Rochelle Sectional
When: Friday, Saturday
Teams: Dixon, Newman, Rock Falls, Sterling, Alleman, Burlington Central, Geneseo, Mendota, Princeton, Rochelle
Local players to watch: Grant Bright, Sterling sr.; Daniel Ferguson, Dixon sr.; Quinten Hoyle, Dixon sr.; Brady Moran, Newman sr.; Dillon Nitz, Sterling jr.; Jonathan Rhodes, Newman jr.; Jonathan Rivera, Dixon sr.
Advancement: Top four singles players and doubles teams advance to 1A state finals, which begin May 23 at 12 sites around Chicago’s northwest suburbs.