Zain Ali is at the summit of Suffolk tennis for the second straight season.
The Hills East senior's climb to the top this year, though, presented a new challenge, as he had to face senior teammate Kyle Alper in both the divisional qualifying round and Wednesday's final.
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Top-seeded Ali defeated No. 2 Alper, 6-1, 6-4, Wednesday afternoon at Half Hollow Hills East in the Suffolk individual singles championship match, repeating as county champion.
"I'm just really excited," Ali said. "It was my goal to win it again, but it was tougher this year."
"I've never had to play a teammate in singles ," he added. "It was definitely tough mentally and tough physically. He's the best player I've played in the last two years."
"It's not only that he's a teammate," Ali added, "but he's also a great friend of mine."
Ali cruised to a 6-1 victory in the first set and won the first three games in the second. Alper rallied, winning four of the next six games before Ali closed out the set and the match.
Despite the loss, Alper, a two-time county doubles champion, qualified for the state singles tournament for the first time.
"I'm really confident in my game after playing well the last few weeks," said Alper. "I would've liked to have a chance to win in singles, but Zain's a very good player. There's not much I could do."
That is hardly a unique sentiment for an opponent of Ali, who is once again the top player in the county.