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Axel Stern, Austin Yannone striving as pair in first season with men’s tennis team
One day during practice towards the beginning of the school year, freshmen Austin Yannone and Axel Stern were paired together for doubles practice. Men’s tennis team head coach Chris Pappas was still trying to figure out which players worked best with each other in doubles.
“The first two or three weeks of school, we were switching off with partners every day at practice during doubles tournaments,” Stern said. “One day, I’d play with Kei (Ezaka), one day with Freddie (Zaretsky), one day with Austin (Yannone), one day with Pat (Cachapero).”
At the start of the season, Yannone was paired with fellow freshman Jackson Koke, while Stern was paired with Zaretsky for the UConn Invitational.
“We didn’t initially play with each other, but then in practice we were playing unreal the first couple of weeks, so that’s when we stuck together,” Stern said.
Over those next couple of weeks, Yannone and Stern only got better and better as they played together more often.
Last semester on Sept. 25, Yannone and Stern were paired up for the first time in a match during the Connecticut State Championships. They won three out of their four matches in doubles play, including a 7-6 win over Yale, a team they weren’t expected to beat.
“Ever since then, we were consistently playing together. The (Connecticut State Championships) was a great tournament,” Yannone said. “We took out a really good Yale team, and I think that’s what made us stick together.”
When Pappas told Yannone and Stern that he wanted to keep them together for doubles tournaments, neither of them were too surprised.
“When Chris made the final decision, it seemed kind of obvious,” Yannone said.
Since then, Yannone and Stern have a 12-6 record in doubles play, which is the best on the team. Despite the great start to their first collegiate season, playing in tandem is tougher than it sounds.
“Doubles is a game where you have to have a lot of chemistry with your partner,” Stern said. “You have to know their tendencies inside and out, and what they’re thinking before a big serve or at the net.”
In order for a magnet to stick, opposite charges have to attract. Yannone and Stern have opposite strengths and weaknesses, which actually complement each other’s play when they’re paired up.
“(Axel is) a tall guy with a big serve, and I’m smaller and quicker, so I cover more ground at the net,” Yannone said.
Stern’s greatest strength is having the ability to put himself in the right position on the court so when the opponent returns a serve or a volley, he’ll be right there to return it.
“Our games complement each other,” Stern said.
Yannone kept his strengths short and sweet.
“Return and net game,” Yannone said.
In other words, his greatest strength is using his quickness to be a huge presence at the net and make quick returns, forcing opponents to react faster.
Yannone and Stern had to change their play style in doubles tournaments when they began playing at the collegiate level.
“Junior doubles is way different than collegiate doubles,” Stern said. “It’s a lot more net play and less baseline. Trying to get in as quick as possible, and we’ve both been working on closing the net a lot so we can put the balls away as soon as we can.”
Even though Yannone and Stern still have a long road ahead of them, both are well aware that great things take time. As far as the next four years go, the future looks bright for them in doubles play.
The pair can expect to play the rest of their collegiate careers at Quinnipiac together.
“I think Chris even said he plans to keep us together for the next four years since we’re both freshmen,” Stern said. “Chemistry is just something that develops with time. You can’t force it. Hopefully, we’ll be unreal within these next four years and be able to contend with anybody.”