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Ninth-grader Merri Kelly Hannity of CSH wins Nassau tennis singles title

Merri Kelly Hannity of Cold Spring Harbor returns

Merri Kelly Hannity of Cold Spring Harbor returns a shot to Courtney Kowalsky of Oyster Bay during the Nassau individual singles and doubles finals on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016 at Eisenhower Park. Photo Credit: Anna Sergeeva

At the beginning it might have looked like any of the other Sunday morning tennis matches at the Eisenhower Park courts when best friends Merri Kelly Hannity of Cold Spring Harbor and Oyster Bay’s Courtney Kowalsky exchanged pleasantries and warmed up.

That idea quickly dissipated after Hannity, the daughter of Fox news correspondent Sean Hannity, hit her first booming serve to open the Nassau championship match.

Hannity and Kowalsky have been close friends since meeting nine years ago through tennis but battled back and forth in a tight contest. After splitting the first two sets Hannity took control of the third with two early breaks before holding on to win, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4.

“It was hard but it was fun at the same time,” Hannity said about playing her best friend. “We talked about [playing each other] when the draw first came out and said ‘Thank God we’re on the opposite side.’ ”

Hannity jumped to an early lead in the first set, going up 3-1 after breaking Kowalsky’s serve. A long rally with Hannity up 4-3 resulted in her second break and she closed out the first set on her next service game.

“She’s just quicker, her game is tighter and mentally she’s tougher,” Cold Spring Harbor coach Melissa McLees said. “She’s a ninth-grader playing a senior who is her best friend and to be able to cut that out and focus and concentrate on the task at hand was unbelievable.”

Kowalsky dominated the second set, winning the last five games. But Hannity came out strong in the deciding set, getting a break in the opening game before going up 4-0.

“We grew up together — we’re like sisters,” Kowalsky said. “I tried my best to put that aside and it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Kowalsky, set to play tennis at Brown next year, will make her first solo appearance at the state tournament in Port Chester on October 29. Kowalsky was part of the state champion doubles team each of the last two seasons.

Calista Sha and Morgan Wilkins of Friends Academy also thought of themselves as singles players who came together as a team just before the tournament.

“It was last minute for us playing together,” Wilkins said. “We were actually supposed to play with different people. But by our third match we realized we were a pretty good team and could win.”

WIlkins and Sha defeated Olivia Scordo and Lucia Hu of North Shore, 6-2, 6-4, in the final.

“States is like a whole different thing,” Wilkins said. “We’re just going to stay positive and take it match by match.”

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