CHATHAM — For tennis fans and players, the Arthur Ashe Stadium located at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing is something comparable to a Mecca. And a local high school tennis star was able to play at that special venue.
Keon Armstrong, a Chatham student and impressive athlete, had the honor of competing in the State Championships after winning the Section II singles championship, a first in Chatham High School history.
“Keon without a doubt is the best tennis player Chatham has had in recent history,” Chatham High School’s tennis coach Mike Griggs said.
Eli Armstrong, Keon’s Dad and the tennis professional of Old Chatham Tennis Club, had Keon playing tennis since a young age.
“My dad and mom are (tennis) coaches,” Keon said. “It’s something I’ve been doing all my life.”
Armstrong had a tremendous 2019 season; going undefeated, 16-0, in regular season play. In the Section II and state championship play, Keon would add four more wins, one was a grueling three-set thriller win against Nicholas Grosso of Saratoga, one of the best players in Section II. Overall, he was 20-2, with both losses coming during state championship play.
The first loss came against the best player in the state and nationally ranked, Ryan Fishback of Geneva in the opening round.
“Keon handled the match really well,” Coach Griggs said, “Many games went to deuce and it was clear that Ryan wasn’t going to walk away with an easy victory. I was proud of Keon for keeping his head up high after that match and he was able to string together some victories in the consolation bracket.”
Armstrong shook off the loss and went on to post three straight wins to reach the consolation bracket championship match against Josh Benson of Hendrick Hudson. Keon was defeated in two sets, 6-4 and 6-2.
“The level of tennis was amazing,” Armstrong said, “It was so fun to watch some of these kids play, like the state finals was one of the best non-professional matches I’ve ever seen.”
According to Armstrong, it was an amazing experience overall. Being part of state level competition and competing on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“Playing at the center, where I went and watched pros hit and practice, was so exhilarating,” Armstrong said, “It felt so good just knowing pros played where I was.”
Keon is a dominant player with strong serve and a natural athletic prowess. Both skills have helped him win tough matches.
“I think the key to Keon’s success at the tournament was his serve,” Coach Griggs said, “It’s such a monster! It threw his opponents off their game and really allowed for Keon to dominate the pace of the matches.”
According to Keon, he also learned a lot from the competition at states.
“Just talking to some of these kids, I saw that they all worked so hard and I wanted to be at that level, it takes work and time,” Armstrong said.
According to Griggs, Keon has set the bar for tennis at Chatham, being the best player in recent school history.
“It’s certainly the end of an era.” Griggs said.
But Keon is more then just a tennis talent. Keon is a great person and student as well. Griggs described Keon as a kind, friendly, determined and passionate student. Keon is a senior at Chatham High school and will be graduating with the class of 2019.
As for Chatham’s program, Griggs looks to rebuild the team going forward and has four returning players: Alex Schwab, Jack Bryant, John Miles and Jonah Grey.
“All three are young which certainly helps.” Griggs said, “All four are young which certainly helps. I’m looking go get as many players as possible into the game.”
According to Griggs, one of two upcoming players to watch for would be seventh-grader, Alex Schwab. “He went 11-3 this year at the number two spot,” Griggs said. “Quite honestly, I see many similarities between Keon and Alex. I hope that he continues to train and play the game at a level that will help him reach the State Tournament eventually. I think he can do it.”
Even with Keon graduating, the Armstrong family will continue to make an impact on Chatham tennis. The second Arsmtrong player to watch is Jahnyah Armstrong, the younger sister of Keon, who had an incredible 2018 season, going 16-0 in the regular season.
According to Griggs, Jahnyah plans to return for the upcoming girls tennis season in the fall.