Neel Rajesh has won plenty of tennis matches for Syosset.
He and Kabir Rajpal placed third in the state doubles tournament last year, and the sophomore is 9-1 at first singles this season.
But his win on Monday was his most notable.
Rajesh earned a 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) victory over 2016 state champion Yuval Solomon of Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK, who had last lost to a Nassau opponent in 2014.
“It’s obviously a big win, but I still have to do it at counties and at states if I want to go pretty deep in those tournaments,” said Rajesh, who played at first singles last year, too, and was 0-3 against Solomon before last week. “But it’s obviously the biggest win of my career so far.”
Syosset coach Shai Fisher said Rajesh began working on June 4 — the day after he and Rajpal were eliminated from the state tournament — to improve his aggression and ability to control points.
Both those skills were at the forefront of Rajesh’s defeat of Solomon, who is at his strongest when he is the aggressor.
“I think that was the main reason I won,” Rajesh said, “because against Yuval if you’re not playing aggressively he’s going to out-rally you, out-grind you.”
Instead, it was Rajesh out-rallying and out-grinding the reigning state champion. Even after Solomon chipped away at a 4-1 deficit in the tiebreaker, Rajesh did not back down.
“What stood out to me was even on the 10th, 11th, 12th point of the tiebreaker, Neel is attacking with his forehand and hitting it from side to side, cross court, down the lines,” Fisher said. “The forehand has become such a big weapon, and he’s controlling the points. To do that in a pressure situation, it really speaks volumes to how much Neel has come along.”
With Rajesh and Rajpal leading the way, Syosset has won 45 straight matches.
For Solomon, the loss dropped his record to 59-2 since the start of the 2015 season. The only other loss came to Webster-Schroeder’s Matt Gamble in the 2015 state championship.
Solomon has his sights set on becoming the seventh Nassau tennis player to win back-to-back state titles, according to the county’s tennis handbook.
“I kind of reminded him that at some of the big basketball programs, the coach says that a good scare before March Madness is good for you because it gives you perspective,” POB-JFK coach Nick Ventimiglia said. “Nobody likes to lose, but it’s tennis. Sometimes the ball bounces your way, sometimes it doesn’t. Losing to a kid that played that well is not a problem for him. He’s past it, and he’s looking ahead.”