Zain Ali wound up and, as usual, smashed the ball.
But instead of flying precisely over the net and landing for a winner, which is apt to happen whenever Ali is playing, the ball was aimed back behind him, into the fence surrounding the court at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.
The rare display of frustration helped put one of Long Island's best players at ease.
From that point forward, it was Mike Selin of Dobbs Ferry who was unsettled as Ali took over the match.
Ali, the Suffolk champ and No. 4 seed from Half Hollow Hills East, dropped the first set 6-2, rallied from 3-2 down in the second and won the third set 6-1 Friday to advance to the semifinals of the state boys tennis championship. The semis and finals will be played Saturday. Ali will face top-seeded Matt Gamble of Webster Schroeder.
"I was just thinking about how this could have been my last high school match and I didn't want it to be," Ali said. "I got frustrated because I didn't want to lose this match and end my run in the quarterfinals. It was a goal of mine to make it back to the semifinals and maybe even go further."
Ali changed his game plan going into the second set, opting to try for longer rallies before attacking.
"In the first set, I was making a lot of errors," he said. "I knew that was something I had to change. He was also playing really well and making me play. I was hitting some good shots but he was hitting great shots back."
As Selin tired, Ali flashed his killer instinct.
"Toward the end of the second set, I could tell he was making more errors," Ali said. "I knew he was wearing down and I felt great."
Suffolk doubles champs Dylan and Duane Davis of Half Hollow Hills West, the sixth seed, also had a long day. The twins advanced to the quarterfinals before falling, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, to Mark Fallati and Nick Lee of Mamaroneck. The twins won a grinding, 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 match earlier in the day.
"We just tried to fight," Dylan said. "Our goal is to win by any means necessary. We're here for a reason and we know eventually someone will give up -- but it won't be us."
Two other Long Island doubles teams -- Nick Fox and Cory Seltman of Commack and Henry Tell and Dylan Granat of Syosset -- made the quarterfinals before bowing out.
No other singles player from Long Island advanced past the second round, but Nassau champion Ben Rosen of Port Washington and Yuval Solomon of Plainview JFK battled back to the consolation semifinals, which also will be played Saturday.