The words “game, set and match” were still being uttered by the chair umpire when Edward Liao broke into a smile and spread his arms wide as though trying to embrace the world. It was a special moment for the Commack junior when all his potential for this season was realized.
Liao’s biggest weapon — his powerful serve — showed up in glimpses, but his strong will was always there as he waged a marathon battle Sunday morning against Goshen junior Braeden Gelletich to win the boys tennis singles state championship at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. It took three sets and nearly three hours, before Liao completed the 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 victory.
The second-seeded Liao, who has committed early to Dartmouth, reached the quarterfinals a year ago after winning the second of his three consecutive Suffolk singles titles.
“It feels so good — it feels amazing,” Liao said. “I always want to do this. I’ve wanted to do it since I started playing in seventh grade. So it feels like a dream come true.”
Liao became the first Commack player to win the singles state title and is one of three players in Suffolk history to earn the crown. Whitman’s Josh Axler was a state champion in 1998 and 1999 and Harborfields’ Randy Vigmostad was the 1982 winner.
Liao earned his first break point in the third game and collected another after four deuces in the fifth game of the first set.
Gelletich, the No. 4 seed who became the first Section IX player to advance beyond the quarterfinal round on Saturday, was not deterred. He mixed a powerful serve and ground strokes with softer, high-spin shots and covered the court well to win the second set after breaking Liao’s serve in the fourth and final games.
“He kept up with me and was able to return almost all my serves,” Liao said.
“He didn't give [Liao] any angles to work with and played awesome defense, landing slices and shots close to the baseline,” Commack coach Jimmy Delevante added.
Liao took the court for the third set with a new mindset and broke serve on three of Gelletich’s first four service games to pull away in the deciding set.
“I was just doing a little bit too much,” Liao said. “I needed to just play my game and be a little bit more neutral. I just started making [fewer] errors . . . and doing a lot better.
“A year of maturity has done a world for him: he’s a little more comfortable, a little more confident,” Delevante said. “He walks into matches knowing he's been here before and he can do it.”
In the consolation bracket, 2022 state champion Stephan Gershfeld of Hewlett finished fourth after losing to Geneva’s Drew Fishback in straight sets. Jericho’s Ajer Sher won the seventh-place match in straight sets.
In doubles consolation play, the top-seeded pairing of Gabe Bursztyn and Shashank Pennabadi from Ward Melville beat Horace Greeley’s Adam Fink and Benjamin Singer, 6-4, 6-0 to place third. Friends Academy’s Russell Notaris and Alistair Wright finished sixth, Syosset’s Devan Melandro and Nikhil Shah took seventh and Westhampton’s Bobby Stabile and Giancarlo Volpe were eighth.