When a tennis player cramped, his opponents helped get him back on the court

WEST HAVEN — It was at it should be. Notre Dame-West Haven’s No. 1 singles player James Lorenzetti and Xavier standout Matt Fuffo were the last two players competing with their SCC boys’ tennis match tied at 3-3 on the University of New Haven courts Friday afternoon.

The duo had started play at 3:45. Now it was 7:45. Notre Dame coach Al “Skip” South thought he would have to turn the lights on. Players from both teams were watching.

“It was 5-4 and James was serving match point and hit a great approach shot,” South said. “Fuffo hit a lob, an easy put away. James hit the ball, then fell to the court screaming. I thought it might be a muscle or a tendon injury.”

The quad muscle in Lorenzetti’s right leg had locked up.

“I’ve never cramped like that before, ever,” said Lorenzetti, a junior who recovered to win 7-6 (4) 2-6, 6-4 and give 5-0 Notre Dame the victory. “At 5-4 we had like a 20-shot volley. I came up and he gave me an overhead. When I jumped up my legs locked in. I fell as I hit the ball. It made it over, barely, Matthew got to it. After that it was just pain.”

The pain was followed by sportsmanship.

“I saw him fall and my first thought was to get him bananas,” Fuffo said. “When I cramp up I know that I need the potassium,” Fuffo said. “I wasn’t thinking about the match. James is a good guy and a great competitor.”

Lorenzetti picks up the saga.

“Matt brought me a banana and told me to eat and it would help. My teammates were looking for anyway to help,” Lorenzetti said. “Matt and I have played each other a lot. It was extremely windy. We weren’t playing at our best. With the wind we were just having fun with it. It was curving the ball in weird ways. Matt told me he didn’t want to finish the match like this.”

Xavier coach Pete Lyons left the bleachers to help tend to Lorenzetti. He stretched out his leg. Ten minutes later, Lorenzetti told everyone he was good to go. The match continued. The score went to deuce for another 10 to 12 points. Lorenzetti’s other leg cramped up.

“My left leg was locking in the rest of the match,” Lorenzetti said. “Matthew can do anything well. If it (the cramps) wasn’t on my serve I would have had no chance of winning. My biggest serve that works for me is my kick serve. I used it to shorten the game.”

South thought Lorenzetti would have to forfeit the match.

“I thought it was over. A great match but I’m ready to call it,” South said. “It was a wicked cramp in his quad. That is the worst place. We sprayed him with bio freeze. James wins it on the 12th or 13th point. All the other matches were over. It was 4-2 when the entire team got there. These two were so strong from the baseline. They never missed. This is my 30th year, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Fuffo had teammates picking him up.

“I was bummed when we were leaving the court,” he said. “It was the deciding match and I had let my team down. None of the guys thought that. They were cheering me up.”

Lyons said: “In the long run they were each a hero. James because he toughed through some pretty serious cramping and Matt because he recognized that sometimes there are more important things than tennis. It was a heroic moment on both their parts. I was proud to be a part of it.”

Lorenzetti learned an underlying lesson.

“I didn’t have a good lunch. I didn’t drink enough water. At the start of the second set, I was starting to feel dehydrated,” he said. “I kept going. In the third set my legs were beginning to cramp up, but not to the point I was going to stop.”

Fuffo was seeded sixth last season when as a junior he advanced to the CIAC Invitational semifinals before losing to No. 2 seed Prem Dave from Norwalk. Lorenzetti lost to Warde’s Petro Kuzmenok, who defeated Prem Dave to win the title.

“Petro is my good friend,” Lorenzetti said. “We’ve known each other since fifth grade (Stamford). I moved to Milford, and he moved to Fairfield right before high school.

“My parents said that I told them I never wanted to go to an all-boys school, a place where I would have to wear a uniform. They asked me to try it. It was the best decision. We have a brotherhood here.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com; @blox354