Kaan Oral came into his junior season this year as not only an established tennis player at Greenhills but as an elite player at the state level. After winning his flight at two singles last year at the states, he admits that he faced some challenges as he took the court this season.
“In many respects, this year was a transition year for me,” says Kaan. “Going from an underclassman on a team with many juniors and seniors last year to an upperclassmen in a position of leadership required that I assume greater responsibility on the team.”
Part of that responsibility was looking out for his kid brother, Mert, who joined the Gryphons this season as a freshman.
“It strengthened our sibling relationship, as it allowed me to view my brother as a teammate and even a friend, rather than just as a younger sibling,” Kaan said.
The two brothers helped lead a deep and talented Greenhills team to the Division 4 state title last weekend at Kalamazoo College. They finished with 38 points, 12 points better than second-place Traverse City St. Francis.
Kaan, 16, defeated St. Francis senior Elliott Bandrowski, 6-4, 6-1 in the championship match at two singles. Oral was dominant at three singles, defeating Charlie Schmude of Traverse City St. Francis 6-1, 6-0 in the championship match.
The two brothers served up a scouting report on their talented sibling.
First, Kaan on Mert: “Mert is a very solid, extremely competitive player who never gives up in matches, regardless of the score. Playing him, as both (Sahil Deenadayalu, one singles) and I learned at tryouts this season, is really taxing. When you play him, you just need to be unrelenting, constantly being aggressive and coming forward to the net a lot. If you’re the slightest bit off, he’ll punish you for it. It seems as though he never has those dreaded ‘off-days.’”
Mert’s success in tennis is reflected in his B14 USTA Midwest Closed Championship this summer, B14 Quarterfinalist finish at National Hard Courts (in Mobile, Ala., in July), and 5-star rating on Tennis Recruiting for the class of 2022 (where he is ranked 49th in the country).
Now, Mert on Kaan: “Kaan is a great player. He plays really smart and on most days won’t give you an inch. He has the determination to always put one more ball back in play and this really wears down his opponents. On top of this, he has a pretty big forehand and a very sneaky backhand. His biggest weakness is probably his serve, but this has also improved tremendously throughout the course of the season.”
They both, of course, enjoyed how the season ended. What’s not to like?
“Winning the team state championship was a truly special feeling,” Kaan said. “Though I already knew what winning an individual title felt like, it was a much better feeling to be able to share the title with my team, especially after coming so close but falling just short my last two seasons. Most of all, it felt great to be able to send our seniors off with a victory – and reclaim the state title for our school and coaches, who’ve worked so hard to make this outcome possible.”
Kaan, who has played two singles all three years, reached the semifinals of the state tournament as a freshman year. He won it all as a sophomore and defended his title this season.
Unfortunately, the team lost the state title by two points in his first two years.
“While we were favored to win the state title this year, we knew that it was up for grabs up until the last rounds and that we needed to be at the top of our games to secure the title,” Kaan said. “Understandably, losing the championship for two consecutive years was a huge motivator for us throughout the season. It allowed us to come together and play with a ‘chip on our shoulder’ when it mattered most.”
The brothers, sons of Hakan (father) and Elif (mother) Oral, have obviously not only grown up together but have shared a tennis court often as they improve their games and reach for the next level. It’s a competitive situation that has certainly benefited both players.
“Playing each other is emotionally difficult, as we definitely don’t want to lose to the other, but also don’t want to bring each other down,” Kaan says. “That said, having the experience of competing in a setting as intense as playing your brother is the ultimate way to improve mental toughness in big moments of matches. The matches keep getting closer and closer every time we play – though I’m proud to say that I have the upper hand and mental edge, at least for a few more months.”
Both Kaan and Mert serve up impressive scores in the classroom – both have 4.0 grade-point averages. That competitiveness on the tennis court should serve them well today and in the future.
“I think that competitive tennis has been a crucial life experience for me,” Kaan says. “Hopefully, I’ll continue having good results these next two years and would maybe be able to play tennis at a competitive, academically rigorous liberal arts (D-3) school. If I end up studying at a Division 1 program, though, I’ll probably look to play club tennis. In any case, I plan on playing the sport well into my adult life – and hopefully for the duration of my lifetime.”