MEDINA — Ali Garrity has a great sense of humor and certainly sees the irony in a déjà vu situation that seems to grow daily.
At the same time, the Medina senior knows something has to change if she is to extend her illustrious high school tennis career beyond her next match.
Three-time Gazette MVP Garrity will face defending Division I singles champion Mehvish Safdar of Cincinnati Ursuline Academy in the first round of the state tournament Friday at 9 a.m. at the OSU Outdoor Varsity Tennis Courts.
After last year becoming the first Medina singles player since 1998 to reach the state tournament, Garrity played Safdar in the first round and lost 6-1, 6-2.
The similarities don’t end there.
Last weekend, Garrity finished sixth at the Oberlin District for the second straight year, clinching her state berth by defeating Hudson’s Kati Mdzinarishvili by the same 7-5, 6-0 score she beat her by in the semifinals of the Medina Sectional.
Now she plays Safdar — in the first round — again.
“Oh, gosh,” the 17-year-old said with a wry laugh Monday afternoon when informed of her draw. “I feel like I have nothing to lose.
“I wanted to get to states again; that was my main goal. I do want to make it a couple rounds, but I have to take it a round at a time and focus on this match.”
While Garrity doesn’t dare look ahead, the 5-foot-5, 125-pounder can hope Safdar does.
Considered the 46th-best prep player in the nation by Tennis Recruiting Network, Safdar teamed with older sister Komar, now a sophomore at Syracuse, to win the D-I state doubles title as a freshman.
After beating Garrity in the first round last year, she went on to win three more matches to capture the state singles crown as a sophomore, downing Cincinnati Mount Notre Dame’s Sandy Niehaus 6-1, 7-5 in the final.
“She’s been playing long enough to know you have to be an all-court player to be successful,” Garrity said of Safdar. “She plays similar to me. Overall, she’s more consistent, but power-wise she’s not hitting crazy winners. She looks for the error before she goes for the winner.”
Safdar, who won the Mason District for the second straight year, is not invincible. She’s lost to Niehaus twice this season, but didn’t play her at districts because Niehaus fell in the semifinals and finished third. Seeded second, Safdar downed the top-seeded Niehaus 6-4, 6-1 in the Cincinnati Sectional final.
Now 25-4 on the season and 90-22 in four years as Medina County’s top player, Garrity is aware of Safdar’s talent and accomplishments, but doesn’t plan on conceding anything.
“I was able to compete with her last year, but mentally I wasn’t as tough as she was,” the left-hander said. “That was where my downfall was.
“If I can mentally focus and keep playing my game, I think my game is good enough to beat hers. I’ll bring a different mentality and go down there and play it like it’s just another match.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.