Alex Kotzen entered the 2019 season as the main player to watch and the favorite to be the last man standing at the end of the state singles tournament.
He was, and he dominated in impressive fashion.
Kotzen, a senior from Newark Academy, is the NJ.com boys tennis Player of the Year for 2019.
“I appreciate it. It means a lot,” Kotzen said with a big smile when told he would get the honor. “We as tennis players, we don’t get too much recognition for the good stuff we do, you know? Baseball, basketball, football, those are more hyped or are ‘cooler to play’. Sometimes I wish I chose to play one of those sports because I think I could have been pretty good, but it honestly means a lot to be recognized. I put in hours of work a day.”
Those countless hours a day includes no summer break, so to speak. Instead of soaking up the summer months with friends and such before heading to Columbia University in New York City, Kotzen, a blue-chip prospect according to the Tennis Recruiting Network, will soon head to France to work on his game and play a slew of matches.
“June 20, instead of enjoying my last summer before college, I’m going to France to play in a circuit over there. I’m going to play 40 matches in six weeks. It doesn’t stop,” Kotzen said. “So, to have a moment to be recognized, it’s a big deal. It’s important to have some validation along the way. You obviously do for the love of the game, but it feels nice.”
Kotzen, who missed just about the entirety of his sophomore and junior seasons due to injuries, came back as a senior and crushed the competition. He recorded 30 wins overall, including nine in eight days from the semifinals of Newark Academy’s Tournament of Champions run to the end of the singles tournament, which he breezed through.
Kotzen, who was underseeded as the No. 3 seed in the bracket, lost just nine total games in seven matches on his way to the singles title, with four of them coming in his 6-1, 6-3 win in the final against Montgomery’s James Hopper, the No. 4 seed. Kotzen and Hopper met four times during the season, all in finals, at the Bryan Bennett Memorial Tournament, the Newark Academy Invitational, the T of C, and the state singles tournament. Kotzen suffered his lone loss of the year to Hopper at the NA Invitational, and that ate at him and motivated him. It’s one of the reasons why and how he turned up the heat late in the year.
“I had one loss earlier in the season to James and I feel like I let my team and myself down in that match. After that, I’ve really focused hard and have been trying to beat everyone 6-0, 6-0 if I can. That’s been my goal,” Kotzen said after the semifinals of the singles tournament.
“…There were some tough times like when I lost to James at the Newark Academy Invitational,” Kotzen added after the final. “Everyone around me and people throughout the state were saying, ‘Oh, he’s not the best player. Why is his ranking this?’ I think I proved that I can fight back. Sometimes the rankings are a total fluke.”
The validation and recognition Kotzen spoke of earlier is here. He won the title he’s wanted for four years, maybe longer, and now he’s the Player of the Year.
“My expectations coming into the season were pretty high,” Kotzen said. “…I think I was the highest ranked player in my class to be playing high school tennis. My goal from the beginning was to win this tournament. I wanted to do my best the previous three years and maybe win it, but I was injured my sophomore and junior years.
“So to win it this year, it caps it off.