Matthew Fairchild’s varsity tennis career started strong in 2016.
He won his first three matches as a freshman at North Carroll High School, and had visions of rookie success. The sport had other plans, however.
“After those first three, I was feeling really good,” Fairchild said. “I was like, ‘Wow, maybe this is going to be a really good year. Maybe I’m going to surprise myself,’ and then was humbled by my next, I think, 15 losses.”
Fairchild didn’t win another match that spring, but he said the rash of defeats helped him understand — in a hurry — what needed to be done in order to be competitive. Fairchild needed to play. A lot.
He headed to Manchester Valley the following year and logged as much court time as he could. He played with his dad, listened to private and high school coaches, and honed shot-making skills. He reached the county tournament final as a junior, and landed on the all-county first team for a second year in a row.
Something was missing, though, and Fairchild made it his main objective heading into his final season.
“He definitely had the fire in his stomach,” said Man Valley coach Matt Bien. “He told me, way before this season even started, that he wanted a county championship.”
Fairchild’s drive led him to that elusive title, a straight-set win at Liberty High School. Fairchild followed that with a Class 3A West tourney crown, and earned a medal at the state tournament.
The Times Player of the Year improved with each season, from 10 wins as a sophomore to 14 as a junior and 20 this spring. He tweaked his serve, worked on controlling points faster to stay out of long rallies, and spent his down time with a racket in hand.
“Most of my work comes during the summer,’ Fairchild said. “I’m a firm believer that you don’t improve during the season. If you want to improve all four years, you have to be working harder in the offseason.”
Fairchild went 12-0 against Carroll County Athletic League competition this year, and rode a 14-0 record into the county final.
There he faced Chase Estes, his Manchester Valley teammate, but Fairchild wasn’t fazed. He leaned on last year’s championship experience — a three-set loss against Liberty’s Steven Goetz, and stayed in front for a 6-3, 7-5 victory.
“I’m not walking off with a silver next year,” Fairchild said he told himself in 2018. “[Goetz] talked to me after the match and said, ‘Next season it’s yours. Keep working’ … and I did that. Every day when I went out to play, I kind of had that in the back of my mind. I want to finish this season strong, I want to finish this season at the top.”
Fairchild added a regional title to his resume, and said his 3A West final victory over Tuscarora’s Karthick Sandar in Hagerstown was almost as special as his county win.
Fairchild played his semifinal match earlier that morning, and battled Sandar and the heat in the afternoon. Plus, theirs was the final match of the tournament — a decent crowd watched Fairchild prevail 6-3, 7-5.
“Leaving that match was some of the proudest I’ve ever been with playing tennis,” Fairchild said. “I had my whole my family there … that was kind of my peak this season.”
A fourth-place finish at states was gravy, Fairchild said. Bien agreed, and said watching his senior grow into a better all-around player was satisfying.
“The physical maturation, the maturity level cranked up,” Bien said. “I think his intensity seemed to rise more this year than any other year.”
Fairchild is heading to University of Maryland and plans on playing club tennis, since the Terps don’t field a men’s team on scholarship. He’s also looking forward to giving something else a try after devoting so much time to singles play.
“Tennis is a lifetime sport, and I want to be able to play, but by the time I get old I won’t be able to move enough to play singles,” Fairchild said. “So I need to learn how to play doubles.”