When the NYSPHSAA Individual Championships’ singles draw was announced one thing stood out. Hewlett’s Stephan Gershfeld, the defending state titlist and three-time Nassau champion, was seeded No. 1. Commack’s Edward Liao, the three-time Suffolk champion, was seeded No. 2. The possibility they could meet for the title holds Island-wide intrigue.
“That’s how [the seeding] ended up working out but [it] doesn’t really matter because no matter what you’re going to have to win a bunch of hard matched to win [the championship],” Gershfeld said after dropping just four games in a pair of straight-set victories at the National Tennis Center. “It’s weird that we’ve never played . . . but I think only about the next match.”
Liao lost only six games in two straight-set wins to reach Saturday morning’s quarterfinal round and the next obstacle in his path is Ajer Sher, who did not play high school tennis the past three years while he was being home-schooled.
Sher was the great unknown on Long Island when the boys tennis season began. The Jericho senior is again as it winds into its final matches.
“I know his game — it’s really good — and I have a strategy in mind,” said Sher, who also dropped only six games in winning two matches. “He has a really big game and I think I know how to prepare for it.”
Sher played first singles for the Jayhawks and lost only two matches in team play. Then he reached the Nassau singles championship match. Asked if he could be the unknown in the draw, Sher replied “I hope so.”
Sher and Liao met in USTA events twice in 2020 — a generation ago in tennis terms — and Sher won both by narrow margins.
“Eddie is bigger and stronger and more polished and that was years ago,” Sher said. “I’m also different: More in control of my emotions and [with] a better mental game.”
The Friends Academy pairing of Alistair Wright and Russell Notaris will also look to be shaking the brackets up from their No. 7 spot in the draw. Notaris helped them through some rough patches en route to a 6-3, 6-4 quarterfinal win over a team from Newburgh Free Academy. “Good teams and good players need to be able to win on bad days and that’s what we did,” Wright said.
Westhampton’s Bobby Stabile and Giancarlo Volpe nearly stumbled in the first round, pulling out a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over a team from Shaker before rolling to a quick win in the second round. Volpe was too nervous and nauseous about the match to eat. The much-calmer Stabile said “he has to eat tomorrow because he had no energy when we started.”
“Super nervous,” Volpe said. ‘It’s the biggest match I’ve been in and it was the most-nervous I’ve been. I almost threw up on the court. After I ate, I was much better in the second [round].”
The top-seeded Ward Melville duo of Shahank Pennabadi and Gabe Bursztyn and the third-seeded Syosset pair of Nikhil Shah and Devan Melandro also made quarterfinals. A Long Island team is playing in all four Saturday morning doubles matches.
Notaris said that regardless of the doubles seeding — the eight quarterfinalists were the eight seeded teams — the race for the title is wide open.
“Everyone’s on the same level,” he said. “There will be no blowouts.”