Long before he arrived at River Hill, Alex Artazov knew what it meant to be a high school champion.
At the age of 11, not long after moving to Howard County with his family from Russia, Artazov watched as his older sister Anna captured the Howard County singles title as a sophomore in 2017. Having looked up to her as a player since he first picked up a racket when he was 4 years old, he knew from that moment on exactly what he was working toward.
“That was right around when I started taking everything more serious, started practicing a lot more,” Artazov said. “I saw the attention she was getting and what it took for her to get to that point and I wanted that too. I felt like if I put in the work, I could eventually do the same things that she did.”
Artazov had to wait a year longer than anticipated because the coronavirus pandemic wiped out his freshman year, but he made good on most of his lofty aspirations this spring.
The sophomore steamrolled his way through the county at No. 1 singles during the regular season, going a perfect 7-0 and dropping only seven games along the way. He then continued his dominance in the postseason, winning another four matches in convincing fashion — including a region title — before eventually falling just short of a state championship in the finals against Bel Air’s Vivekraj Harinarayan.
For his efforts, he has been named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Boys Tennis Player of the Year.
“I think what sets Alex apart is his level of commitment. He literally dedicates all of his time to tennis, and when he’s on the court you can see how all those hours have paid off in the way he plays,” River Hill coach Kelley Pfefferkorn said. “He’s extremely fast, can hit all the shots he needs to and has a strong tennis IQ to back it all up..”
Pfefferkorn remembers first seeing Artazov at a Boosters camp back when Anna was on the River Hill team. He was small in stature but had all the makings of a future standout.
“He was probably in the sixth grade when he came out and I don’t remember too much, but I do remember thinking how I wished I didn’t have to wait three years or whatever it was to get him on the team here,” Pfefferkorn said. “At that age, the strength and power isn’t there, but you can see the potential. I knew he was going to eventually be a big part of this team.”
Last year as a freshman, Artazov was shaping up to likely play at No. 1 singles despite missing the team’s lone scrimmage against Century. Before he could make his debut, though, things came to a grinding halt.
But the shutdown didn’t deter him.
“I kept working the way I was, knowing that I still had time. There were still three more years,” he said. “I think the only part that was a little upsetting was not being able to come out and surprise everyone around the county as a freshman. I felt like I was ready to go.”
Instead, Artazov simply made sure he was even more ready to go this year as a sophomore. Showcasing a competitive side that included outspoken words of encouragement and occasional fist pumps, River Hill’s top singles player sprinted out of the gates with 8-1 victories against Glenelg and Centennial.
A couple matches later, while helping River Hill to a sweep of Howard, he earned an 8-0 victory over then-undefeated Andrew Au to make a statement.
“I thought the Howard match was one of the biggest of the season just because a lot of people were talking about how well [Andrew] was playing, and I thought it was my chance to show my level,” Artazov said. “I wanted to show everyone, especially my team, that I could step it up when needed.”
Artazov answered every challenge during the rest of the regular season and helped the Hawks secure a team county championship with an undefeated record. There was no county championship tournament this spring, so the focus immediately turned to regionals.
In the 3A East region bracket, he beat Long Reach’s Praise Apanisile (6-0, 6-0), Atholton’s Jason Lilly (6-1, 6-0) and Mt. Hebron’s Guy Scafidi (6-0, 6-0). The momentum continued into the state semifinals against Tuscarora’s Karthick Sankar, with Artazov winning 6-2, 6-3.
It wasn’t until the state championship match that the tables finally turned and Artazov never was able to find his footing. Harinarayan, who had lost to Artazov in a tournament just a few months earlier, immediately seized control and never let go on the way to a 6-1, 6-0 victory.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even all that upset … he just played really, really well and I got blown off the court,” Artazov said. “That happens sometimes in tennis, where you go up against someone with a lot of motivation who plays at a level on a particular day that is hard to match. All you can do is use it as a learning experience.”
One of the biggest takeaways for Artazov — and a major focus for him this offseason — is the importance of constantly working to improve his fitness.
“I feel like skill-wise I can play against the best kids, but not being able to keep up my fitness over the course of a tournament is something that is causing me to drop my level at times,” he said. “It’s good motivation to keep working because I know that I didn’t have my best game in that last match. Overall, though, I’m confident I can come back better next year and help River Hill have another great season.”
Also named to the All-County team:
Yari Armand, Reservoir senior
During the regular season, Armand paired with Trivikram Battalapalli to post a winning record at No. 1 doubles for the Gators. With Battalapalli not available for the postseason, though, Armand joined forces with top singles player Joshua Cai to go on a memorable run. The duo won five straight matches, three of those victories coming via tiebreak, to claim the 3A state championship.
Andrew Au, Howard junior
The top singles player for the Lions this spring, Au finished a combined 13-2 between the regular season and postseason. His only loss against a county opponent came against Alex Artazov of River Hill, and he handed Reservoir’s Joshua Cai his only loss. He went on to win a 4A East Region title before falling in the state semifinals against the eventual 4A state champion from Churchill.
Alex Broussou, Howard sophomore
Brousseau compiled an 8-2 record during the regular season while playing primarily out of the No. 1 doubles spot. In the postseason, he teamed up with Corinne Chau to win four matches and a 4A East Region championship at mixed doubles before losing to the eventual state champions from Churchill in the state semis.
Joshua Cai, Reservoir junior
Cai spent the regular season as the Gators’ top singles player, posting a 10-1 record. Then he transitioned to doubles for the postseason and went on a memorable run with Yari Armand. The duo won five straight matches, three of those victories coming via tiebreak, to claim the 3A state championship.
Keshav Ganapathy, Centennial senior
There were a couple setbacks during the regular season while playing a mix of singles and doubles matches, but Ganapathy still went 9-2 against county opponents during the prior to the postseason. Then for regionals, he joined Audrey Oaksmith to play mixed doubles and the duo won four straight matches to secure the 3A East Region championship. The run ended in the state semifinals against the eventual state champions from Urbana.
Jai Khanna, River Hill sophomore
Playing primarily out of the No. 2 doubles spot, with one time at No. 1 doubles, Khanna finished his first high school season with an undefeated record of 7-0. He then paired with Sebastien Lair to win one postseason match at boys doubles before losing in a tiebreaker in the 3A East Region semifinals against the eventual state champions from Reservoir.
Sebastien Lair, River Hill junior
Lair was one of the top singles players for the Hawks all spring, finishing 6-1 during the regular season while playing at No. 1 or No. 2. He then paired with Jai Khanna to win one postseason match at boys doubles before losing in a tiebreaker in the 3A East Region semifinals against the eventual state champions from Reservoir.
Guy Scafidi, Mt. Hebron sophomore
Playing at No. 1 singles throughout the regular season, Scafidi finished with an 8-3 record. During the 3A East Region tournament, he won two matches, including avenging a regular season loss against Centennial’s Vijay Jagarapu, before losing to Alex Artazov for the region championship.
Danny Ho and Ryan Huang, Centennial juniors
Despite a few close calls, Ho and Huang finished the regular season undefeated (9-0) while playing No. 1 doubles for the Eagles. Among the highlights was beating River Hill in a tiebreak early in the year. The duo then kept rolling with three straight wins to begin the 3A East Region tournament before losing a heartbreaker in the region final against the eventual state champions from Reservoir via tiebreak.