Stephan Gershfeld of Hewlett reacts after winning a set against...

Stephan Gershfeld of Hewlett reacts after winning a set against Ajer Sher of Jericho at the Nassau boys tennis finals on Friday, May 26, 2023 at Eisenhower Park. Credit: Dawn McCormick

The road to a title in the Nassau County individual boys tennis championships is rarely an easy one to travel. The final stretch of both the singles and doubles tournaments proved especially rough on Friday afternoon beneath the pounding sun at Eisenhower State Park.

Hewlett’s Stephan Gershfeld, the defending state singles champion, managed to win his third consecutive county title by persevering through a serious semifinal challenge from Syosset’s Ansh Chadha and debilitating cramps during a bold finals comeback bid from Jericho’s Ajer Sher.

The cramping in Gershfeld’s right quadriceps was so bad that he required a medical stoppage, could barely serve the ball when he came back and had to be helped from the court at the end of the 6-0, 6-3 win over the similarly beset Sher.

The Syosset doubles team of Nikhil Shah and Devan Melandro had to turn away four match points in the second round earlier this week to just reach Friday’s semifinal against Great Neck South’s Ayosh Shroff and Carter Shea. Its home stretch was a 7-5, 6-1 win in the semi and a bold comeback against Friends Academy’s Russell Notaris and Alistair Wright for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 championship match win.

“I play high school tennis because I love my teammates and because I love playing in this tournament,” Gershfeld said. “Winning this again was something I wanted. . . . The cramps were bad enough to put me on the [ground], but I’m not about giving up and I wasn’t going to as long as I could stand back up. In a way, I was lucky he came out with cramps, too. It could have gotten really close.”

There is a strong possibility that, as the defending champion, Gershfeld will receive top seeding for the state singles championships to be held June 2-4 at the USTA National Tennis Center. Joining him and Sher in the state tournament will be Great Neck South lefthander Albert Hu, who won the third-place match 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 after Chadha repelled a combined seven match points in the eighth and ninth games of the third set.

Shah and Melando, Notaris and Wright and Shroff and Shea earned berths in the state doubles tournament. Shroff and Shea lost the first set and trailed 0-3 in the second before coming back to beat the Jericho tandem of Brian Berger and Anish Pylla, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the third-place match.

Gershfeld was an intense and stoic competitor when he won last season’s county and state titles. Not so this time around. He was vocal and demonstrative Friday until the cramps set in, exhorting himself and occasionally engaging the Chadha’s Syosset fans with “I can’t hear you now” during his semifinal win.

“That was always Drew’s go-to — ‘I can’t hear you now,’” Gershfeld said referencing Roslyn’s Drew Hassenbein, who was a close friend. “That’s become my battle cry for Drew.”

Hassenbein and Bulldogs’ teammate Ethan Falkowitz were killed in traffic collision with an alleged drunk driver on May 3, an event that has left the entire Long Island tennis community grieving.

A matchup between Gershfeld and the much-touted Sher has been anticipated since the University of Chicago commit joined the Jericho team following three years of home schooling. Gershfeld was injured when their teams met in the regular season.

Wright and Notaris were pounding Melandro and Shah with  fierce shots from the baseline and high percentage serving until the Syosset duo got aggressive at the net and started poaching. Shah said “we finally let loose."

The union between Melandro, a sophomore, and Shah, a freshman, was described by both as a “common-sense” move. Melandro played singles last year, but said “you want to go as far as you can go and get to states, but singles [in Nassau] is loaded. We knew each other well, so we teamed up to try to do this.”

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