In the world of competitive sports, singles tennis is known as one of the most solitary athletic pursuits: You are alone on the court, playing only for yourself, without teammates to cheer you on.
After playing on the junior tennis circuit, however, Darien High School’s Bobby Neuner found a community on the Wave boys varsity tennis team.
Now, after playing No. 1 singles for four years, the standout athlete is moving on to join Washington and Lee University’s highly-regarded men’s tennis program this fall.
“I was always looking forward to representing my town and playing for a team,” Neuner said of his decision to play for the Wave. “Tennis is such an individual sport where I travel most weekends just with my dad to compete for myself. I was really looking forward to competing for a bunch of other people and having the team around me.”
Neuner dominated high school boys tennis in his career at DHS. In addition to playing No. 1 singles all four years, Neuner played in the state Class L singles championship his freshman year, losing in the finals. He went on to win the state championship his sophomore year, picking up FCIAC most valuable player accolades along the way.
During his junior year, as team captain, he went undefeated in the regular season before losing in the quarterfinals of the state championship. He capped off his high school career in his senior season as team captain with a 14-2 record, before advancing once again to the state championship finals, losing a three-set match to Andrew Forchetti.
“It was a tough loss,” Neuner said. “I’ve played Andrew eight or 10 times and i’ve never lost to him before, but he was a great competitor and it was a lot of fun to play that match.”
But Neuner was not done with high school tennis: This July, he was a finalist in the New Balance High School Tennis Championship, a tournament held in Ojai, Calif., for the best 64 high school players in the country.
Neuner lost in a tight match; if he had won, New Balance would have sponsored the Darien High School tennis team for next season.
“It was really fun to watch,” his father Rob Neuner said. “He battled in 105 degrees, but that was his last high school representation, so he did really well.”
Bobby Neuner started playing tennis as a four-year-old at Tokeneke Club with his twin sister Emily, who also went on to play tennis at DHS, captaining this year’s varsity girls team.
By age 10, Neuner was playing five to six times a week at Solaris Racquet Club in Stamford, earning his first United States Tennis Association (USTA) ranking.
But while many serious junior players decide to pursue homeschooling for high school so that they can devote more time to tennis, Neuner was focused on playing for the Wave.
One deciding factor was the DHS coach at the time: His father, Rob. The elder Neuner, who had been a high school doubles champion but was not a professional coach, had been asked to step in two years prior when the Wave found itself without a coach just before the start of the season. After donating his time for three years, he moved on Bobby’s sophomore year when DHS hired current coach Hugh Underhill.
As both his coach and his father, Rob Neuner said that although homeschooling can give a junior tennis player many advantages in terms of practice time, playing for the Wave was the right decision for Bobby.
“The team aspect is the much greater source of joy for Bobby,” Rob Neuner said. “Representing your team, having a camaraderie with your fellow teammates, all working for a common goal, cheering each other on: It’s a different experience and a more well-rounded experience for tennis.”
Yet, despite all of Bobby Neuner’s successes, he has had to overcome physical challenges. At age 10, Neuner was playing tennis when he took a wrong step and his kneecap popped out while on the court.
After being rushed to the emergency room, he was diagnosed with patella maltracking disorder, a genetic condition which causes chronic kneecap dislocation.
Neuner wears specialized braces that prevent the dislocation; the kneecap can still move, however, causing pain on the court and limiting mobility.
Neuner experienced kneecap movement during his junior year loss in the state championship, where he was seeded number one as defending champion. Unable to move well around the court, Neuner continued to play three sets, before ultimately losing to a player he had easily beaten in the past.
According to his father Rob, however, Neuner never blames anything on his knees.
“If you took the braces off and saw how his knees are shaped, you would be like ‘oh my gosh,’” Rob Neuner said. “But what he’s done overcoming that has been spectacular.”
Currently ranked around No. 4 in New England and in the top 200 players in the country, Neuner is playing in several USTA tournaments this summer as he prepares for his college career at Washington and Lee.
In addition to the tournament in Ojai, this summer’s lineup includes stops in Florida, Illinois and Michigan.
And while he continues to enjoy individual success at singles, he said that playing for the Wave remains his greatest tennis experience.
“It was nice to compete for my school rather than just for myself,” he said. “Because tennis is considered to be a lonely sport, where it is just you on the court, it took away that loneliness where you’re not by yourself anymore. You have your whole team behind you.”