Long Island doesn't see many high school tennis players as dominant as Hewlett's Rachel Arbitman. Her skills on the court are undeniable, but it's what she does off the court that makes her special.
Arbitman thrives on the camaraderie of being part of a team. The junior won the state title in singles last year and decided to try for the state championship in doubles this year. Playing with eighth-grader Nyla Gershfeld, she pulled off the rare back-to-back state title feat this week to earn Newsday's Athlete of the Week honors.
“I’ve always wanted to play for a team, represent something larger than myself and support my school,” Arbitman said. “I wanted to show everyone that I could be a winning doubles partner, not just a singles player."
Arbitman has an array of shots and can mix up the pace and spin to keep her opponents off balance. Her versatility and leadership helped form an formidable duo with Gershfeld.
“Rachel is an incredible partner," Gershfeld said. "She reminded me to stay calm, focused and play my game. She was very confident in us and so was I.”
Arbitman and Gershfeld, the top-seeded pairing, dropped only one set in their six victories in the state tournament in Latham, N.Y.
"Both are high-level tennis players, but with Rachel’s tutelage and Nyla’s work ethic, they jelled together very well,” Hewlett coach Abby Samlin said.
Arbitman became the first player in New York to win either a singles or doubles title one year and the other the next since Hauppauge’s Jennifer Kellner in 2007 and 2008.
"The combination of having a great partner and being able to use my prior experiences over the years to help Nyla in her first state tournament was an amazing feeling,” Arbitman said.
Arbitman has lofty goals that go beyond helping her teammates at Hewlett. She practices at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, which is also the home of the U.S. Open, America’s biggest tennis stage.
"People are always astonished to learn that I train where the U.S. Open is held,” Arbitman said. “It’s amazing, in hallways or classrooms, classmates think I am pretty famous.”
With state titles in singles and doubles, Arbitman is focused on what comes next. She is in the process of deciding where to go to college and wants to pursue a degree in psychology or economics.
And with Arbitman’s talent, the idea of playing professionally is not far-fetched.
“I would love to play professionally," Arbitman said, "but right now I am taking it one step at a time and seeing where things go.
“To have the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd at the U.S. Open would be a dream come true.”