Hills East's Zain Ali falls just short of state championship final

Zain Ali of Half Hollow Hills East hits

Zain Ali of Half Hollow Hills East hits a forehand in the semi-final round of the Boys New York State Tennis Championships at the USTA National Tennis Center. (June 1, 2013) Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

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Half Hollow Hills East has been a powerhouse in boys tennis for nearly 30 years, but junior Zain Ali did something Saturday that no other player from his school had ever accomplished.

Ali reached the semifinals and took home a third-place medal from the state championships at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, making the 67th appearance by a Hills East player the best one yet.

Ali lost in the semis Saturday to Eastchester's crafty and powerful Taiyo Hamanaka, 6-3, 6-0, ending his fourth consecutive trip to the states.

"This is my best run here, so I was really excited and I'm still stoked," Ali said. "It's a bummer that I lost my semifinal match but there's still a lot to be proud of."

Ali also became the first boys singles player from Suffolk to reach the semifinals since Westhampton's Dillon Pottish in 2005, according to Suffolk boys tennis coordinator John Valente.

"I'm real proud of him," Hills East coach Tom Depelteau said. "It reflects on his commitment and the hard work he does to address the things that are his weaknesses from year to year."

In his semifinal, Ali was on serve through the first three games but was then broken and went down 3-1. Hamanaka was consistent and played a strong defensive game, mixing in tricky slices and a surprisingly powerful forehand, as the two players held serve the rest of the set.

In the second, Ali couldn't find his serve, and despite matching Hamanaka with strong net play and strategic drops and slices of his own, Hamanaka countered most of Ali's attacks.

"He broke me down," Ali said. "He really neutralized my strokes and if I wanted to beat him, that's what I would have had to do against him."

Ali's play in the semifinal was disappointing, considering the way he elevated his game throughout the tournament to reach the semifinals.

Ali, seeded eighth as the Suffolk singles champion, beat the top seeds from Section II and Section IV in his first two matches, then knocked off the Nassau singles champ and No. 2 seed Vihar Shah (Herricks) on Friday in the quarterfinals.

Shawn Hadavi, the top singles seed from Dobbs Ferry, beat Hamanaka in the final, 6-4, 7-5, and the Nardella twins, Colin and Matt, from Christian Brothers Academy won the doubles championship with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Maxwell Smith and Lucas Pickering (Beacon). In a fourth-place singles match, CSH's Conor Dauer fell to Matt Gamble (Webster Schroeder), 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, and Dauer's CSH teammates Conor Mullins and J.P. Paris took fourth place in doubles by beating Kyle Alper and Jeff Cherkin from Hills East, 6-3, 6-2.

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