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Tennis runs in Zain Ali's family
Zain Ali can't even remember exactly when he was introduced to the game of tennis. The Half Hollow Hills East senior and defending Suffolk County singles champion was practically born playing the sport.
"I've been playing since I was four or five," Ali said. "But I was always around the game, bouncing a tennis ball, just getting a feel for it."
Tennis is the game of choice in the Ali family and they have achieved great success in the United States and their native India.
Ali's father Afzal, the head coach at Deer Park Tennis Club, has coached four previous Suffolk County champions, including his son. Afzal has coached around the world with and under tennis luminaries such as Harry Hopman and Dennis Van der Meer.
"In India my dad's family is famous for tennis and my dad came here teaching," Ali said. "He's been my coach and passed on a sport that he loved to me and I learned to love it as well."
Ali's uncle Zeeshan is the head coach of India's Davis Cup team and has seen much success internationally, competing for India in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
The pedigree and training were in place early, helping nurture Ali's talent as a young player.
"My dad from a young age has always taught me to make the most of my time on the court and to keep learning," Ali said. "Even though I've won counties and been in states there's room to improve."
Ali has made steady strides throughout the years. He's been to the state championship tournament four times, getting all the way to the semifinals last season. 2013 was also the year Ali broke through and won his first individual county championship.
"Winning it once is great but winning it twice would be even better," Ali said.
Ali is part of a juggernaut of Suffolk tennis this spring. Hills East has won 90 consecutive Suffolk matches and has won eight of the last nine Suffolk team titles according to head coach Tom Depelteau.
"It's been a great experience," Ali said of his time playing at Hills East. "Coach has been more than excellent and I couldn't have asked for a better high school coach. We always feel like we'll win each year but we don't take anything for granted and we always work hard."
Depelteau spoke just as highly of his star pupil, calling him one of the best players he has ever coached at Hills East.
As the defending county champion Ali is set on continuing his evolution and earning his first ever state championship.
"I know I can play at that level and at any given moment I can take anyone out, the 1 or 2 seed at states," Ali said. "I believe in my game and when I'm playing well I can beat anyone and bring home the state title."