Eddie Liao hadn’t been tested very much this season. The Commack freshman didn’t lose a match en route to arriving for the Section XI boys tennis individual championships as the top seeded singles player.
However in Saturday’s final against Harborfields junior Chris Qi, Liao got pushed — hard.
And he pushed back even harder.
The 6-3 Liao, a big hitter by any measure in high school tennis, was up a set but down a game to the crafty Qi late in the second. And that was the moment he dug in. Liao won the next three games to finish off a 6-4, 6-4 victory at Smithtown East.
"My goal there was to make him keep hitting a few more balls, looking for a mistake or an opening, and then to use my serve as a weapon," Liao said. "I had to go for it because I would have regretted not going for it. My whole game plan is about aggressiveness and if I didn’t get aggressive right there, I wasn’t going to win the set."
Qi was up 30-15 when Liao uncorked a pair of aces en route to evening things in the second set, 4-4. He had a spectacular backhand passing shot in to grab the 5-4 advantage. And he had one of his two best passing shots in the final game as he won the title.
"He had those two bombs and there’s nothing you can do about that," Qi said. "The hardest thing about playing against him is returning that serve and keeping up with him since he hits the ball so hard."
On one point in the eight game of the first set, Qi made three impressive returns but still lost the point. It was like that: he played well by incorporating a lot of slices and a solid return, but he couldn’t quite stay with Liao.
"He last played varsity as a seventh-grader and his game is so much better," Commack coach Jimmy Delevante said. "He has height and strength and decision-making that he didn’t have his first season. But he was really committed to playing during [the coronavirus pandemic] and his game is more robust.''
In the doubles championship match, the Ward Melville tandem of senior Matthew Kronenberg and freshman Gabe Bursztyn toppled top-seeded seniors Michael Han and Atreya Rawat of Half Hollow Hills East, 6-2, 7-5.
Han and Rawat beat back four match points in the eighth game of the second set and broke serve; the game went to deuce five times. Han’s play was key as Hills East climbed back to 5-5. Kronenberg held serve for the lead and the Patriots didn’t drop a point as they broke serve to win the final game.
"We got tight," Bursztyn said. "We stopped moving because we thought ‘oh we got this.’ We became overconfident."
"When you see the finish line, it’s so easy to get all excited and stop kind of lose focus on what you should be doing," Kronenberg said. "That happened and the match probably went longer than it should have. But at 5-all we got the focus back we needed to win."
An early-season injury to Kronenberg’s original doubles partner opened the door for the union with Bursztyn to make a formidable pairing. Kronenberg sports a huge serve. Bursztyn is quick at the net and has accurate ground strokes.
"They’re long-time friends and their chemistry shows it," Pats coach Erick Sussin said. "It’s a great combination."