Ester Chikvashvili beats her sister Stephanie for Division I tennis title

Half Hollow Hills East's Ester Chikvashvili plays her sister Stephanie in the Suffolk Division I individual tennis final at Smithtown East. (Oct. 15, 2013)

Half Hollow Hills East's Ester Chikvashvili plays her sister Stephanie in the Suffolk Division I individual tennis final at Smithtown East. (Oct. 15, 2013)

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Ester and Stephanie Chikvashvili grew up together on the tennis courts.

The two sisters from Half Hollow Hills East, separated by just 18 months, have competed in tournaments both as singles opponents and as a doubles pair since Ester, 15, and Stephanie, 14, were 7 and 6 years old, respectively.

Tuesday, they faced each other for the first time at the high school level in the Suffolk Division I individual singles final at Smithtown East, where older sister Ester earned bragging rights for now with a 6-4, 7-6 (7) victory. Both sisters qualified for the Suffolk individual championships, which begin Saturday at Smithtown East. The top three finishers in the county will qualify for the state championships, which begin Nov. 2 in Latham.

"It's different because when you're playing any other kid you just want to win," the No. 1-seeded Ester said. "But when you're playing your sister it's completely different because you want to win but you don't want to hurt her feelings or lose the fact that you're sisters. You want to win but you don't want to win. There's a massive mix of emotions."

Said the No. 3-seeded Stephanie: "It's just fun. We practice together all the time and we know it's a competition but still, we keep a close relationship and don't want to ruin anything."

Both Ester, a sophomore, and Stephanie, a freshman, joined the varsity this season, having never played on a tennis team before and only competing in individual tournaments.

Hills East coach Tom Depelteau called their arrival to the team, "a gift on my doorstep on the first day of tryouts."

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"They didn't play in middle school and Ester was in a class with someone on the team who said how much fun it was, and she said 'maybe I'll come out for the team and get my little sister to come out, too,' and they did," Depelteau said. "They've been a great part of this team and they're having fun."

In Tuesday's Division I final, Stephanie, a lefty, took an early break in the first set with solid volleys at the net and a tricky serve, but Ester, a righty, battled back to take it 6-4. In the deciding second-set tiebreaker, Stephanie displayed a few well-hit passing shots but Ester was more consistent and showed off her big forehand to win it 9-7.

"In this situation my sister was taking it easier on me, she was playing much better than I was," Ester said. "It's always great every single time we play. I usually win but we learn from each other and it's always a tight match . . . And to be here for the first time and winning Division I is unbelievable."

But for both Ester and Stephanie, Tuesday's match had little to do with winning and more to do with playing for pride and their family name -- which is of Georgian, Russian and Jewish origin.

"It's still first and second place and we're sisters so it's really cool doing this," Stephanie said.

Said Ester: "Just to know that those spots are secure for us, for Chikvashvili . . . It's a win for the entire family."

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