Hills East's Zain Ali reaches state semifinals
GalleriesBoys tennis state championships
This was the dream matchup that Long Island was waiting for.
By luck of the draw, the boys tennis state championships featured a quarterfinal between the Suffolk champion, eighth-seeded Zain Ali (Half Hollow Hills East), and the Nassau champ, No. 2 Vihar Shah (Herricks), putting the best Long Island has to offer on display Friday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Ali came out on top, 7-5, 6-0, a victory that took almost two hours, thanks to the battles within the battle that each point required, putting the Hills East junior in the semifinals for the first time in four trips to the state championships.
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Ali, the only remaining player from Long Island, will play a semifinal at 9 a.m. Saturday.
"By far, this was the biggest win of my life. It's a big tournament and it feels amazing," said Ali, who said he is 9-0 against Shah since first playing against him at age 10. "Going against him was a lot of fun. We're friends on and off the court and I'm happy to win one for Suffolk."
The first set was the most contentious as Shah and Ali exchanged three breaks apiece in the first eight games and were tied at 4-4. Ali then held after winning a long rally, when he was able to counter Shah's long reach with consistent defense and a strong volley to take a 5-4 lead. After both players held serve, Ali broke in the final game to take the set.
Shah struggled with the heat and cramped up in the second set, and Ali took advantage.
"I didn't let that get to me," Ali said. "He was cramping but he was also pulling off some great shots, so I just had to play my game."
Cold Spring Harbor's Conor Dauer, the seventh seed, was the only other Long Island singles player to reach the quarterfinals, but he could not reach the semis, losing, 6-4, 6-1, to the tournament's top seed, Shawn Hadavi (Dobbs Ferry).
In doubles, Plainview JFK's Josh Young and Yuval Solomon, Cold Spring Harbor's Conor Mullins and J.P. Paris, and Hills East's Jeff Cherkin and Kyle Alper won second-round matches, but all three teams fell in the quarterfinals.
Dauer, Shah and all three doubles teams will compete Saturday for fourth-place medals.