Jonah Link, then a sophomore playing Duncan High School’s No. 1 singles spot, fell in two sets to Mason Fair from Classen SAS.
The loss marked the end of Link’s run in the 5A tennis state tournament in Oklahoma City and his junior season in May. He felt fatigued and fogged as his backswing failed him during a pair of 6-0 and 6-1 losses to the eventual fifth-place finisher. It was his third match in two days and second against a top-six player in the state.
Link had opened the tournament against the worst draw, Cascia Hall’s first-ranked James Benien, who eventually became the runner-up. Link salvaged a two-set decision over Eisenhower’s Aldo Hernandez in his second game, but his lack of “in it” otherwise persisted both days.
“I had eight or nine very close matches that went to a tiebreaker, and I was not able to win any of them primarily due to being exhausted,” Link says.
Not only his endurance failed him, but Link’s backswing, which he likens to the Knight on a chess board, was weak. It cost him at state. Tennis, in its strategic call-and-response dance, is similar to chess, says Link, an authority on tennis-chess analogies.
Link has been playing online chess for over five years. His interest for the game perked when a friend of his brother’s brought a board to their house. The ball began its rolling that day, but Link really became hooked during high school.
Through studying tactics and opens, he has elevated himself to “the lower end to middle” of intermediate status and plans to enter tournaments on Saturday’s he won’t be playing tennis.
“I think the mental aspect of chess can be similar to tennis as you are always having to think what your opponent will do and how to deal with what they do,” Link says.
“Most of the time, I tend to think the same way I do in a chess match, throughout a tennis match.”
The reasoning skills he has acquired through chess have fueled Link’s offseason training. During long chess tournaments, in which matches can last hours, “if you make even one mistake, the game can spiral to a loss.”
This offseason, Link has also repaired his elusive knight and made his backswing one of his greatest tools.
“(The backswing) can either be a big weakness or a huge weapon, depending on how you use it,” Link says.
His improved durability, he says, will allow him to “play at a higher level throughout matches.”
“I hope to place top-eight,” Link says. “It is very stacked this year, but I believe I have a shot of making a good run if I am having a good day. When I am playing good, I believe I have a good shot against anyone there.”