The moment of truth in Reed Cordish's tennis career came two years ago.
Then a freshman at Princeton, Cordish was playing his first regular-season dual match against Ivy League rival Harvard. At home, in front of the biggest crowd of the year, the team score was 3-3. With the deciding point coming down to Cordish's match at No. 5 singles, he lost to fellow freshman Danny Chung.
That loss had the former Gilman star questioning his tennis game and his desire.
"It is pretty natural that you're going to be disappointed," said Cordish, who begins defense of his two-time Greater Baltimore Men's Championship title today at the Suburban Club. "After this one, though, it was like, 'That's it. You couldn't pay me to go out there. That's enough.' I felt like that that night when I went to sleep."
The loss also had his teammates questioning what would become of Cordish.
"That match his freshman year could have been a real downer, but he used it to turn things around, and when he was in the same situation the next year, he came through," said Andy Weiss, a teammate of Cordish's his freshman and sophomore years. "I think, in some ways, that is an example of the turnaround or improvements he made."
Last season, Cordish moved up to No. 2 singles and went 32-8. He even avenged his loss to Chung, beating him in straight sets and clinching Princeton's 5-2 victory over Harvard in the East Regional. The next day, Cordish helped the Tigers advance to the 1994 NCAA team tournament for the first time since 1980 by winning the deciding point against Dartmouth.
"When I look back since I've been playing juniors, the times that I have really improved have been after hard losses, and that was a very hard loss to take," Cordish said. "My freshman year was heartbreaking, and that was when I really started working hard. To see that hard work pay off and win the deciding point against Harvard the following year was sweet. Losing can really be beneficial."
Said Princeton coach David Benjamin: "I think that match certainly had a significant effect on Reed in a positive way. Reed is a bright person, and he made up his mind that he was going to vindicate himself and win a lot more matches for Princeton. Reed was determined to make himself stronger and better, and he did exactly that a year later."
Now, Cordish, 20, is fresh off a 26-9 junior season at No. 1 singles that included an appearance in the NCAA individual singles championship tournament. Cordish, a 5-foot-9 left-hander, finished third in the East region and 93rd in the country.
Cordish's style is an attacking baseline game, and his strength is his two-handed backhand. He is one of three finalists for one of the biggest awards in college tennis, the Rafael S. Osuna and ITA-Tennis magazine/Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship Awards.
"He's extremely mentally tough," said Alex Dorato, Yale men's tennis coach. "To make things worse, he's such a nice guy that you are almost rooting for him."
Off the court, the Princeton co-captain carries a 3.4 grade-point average as an English major. That is a feat in itself, considering the team travels every weekend during the spring.
Recently, Cordish took a three-hour final exam in his hotel room at the NCAA championships with no teacher present, on the honor code. While other players were practicing and preparing for their matches, Cordish was studying and taking a final. That is part of the experience of being an athlete at an Ivy League school.
"I would probably be a better tennis player if I had gone to some tennis factory school where I didn't have to worry about anything but my tennis," Cordish said. "But that really wasn't what was most important for me. I wanted to play a lot of tennis, but I wanted to be more of a well-rounded person, too. I had a lot to improve academically, and Princeton has helped me do that."
FACTS AND FIGURES
What: Greater Baltimore Men's Singles Championships
Where: Suburban Country Club, 7600 Park Heights Ave. Take Interstate 83 to Northern Parkway west. Go two miles to Park Heights Avenue and turn right. The 7600 block is after Slade Avenue.
When: Today through Sunday. For more information, call (410) 484-1300.