New York State will crown a new boys singles champion on Sunday and there is a good chance the title will remain on Long Island.
Second-seeded Edward Liao of Commack staged a gutsy comeback and wore down No. 6 Drew Fishback for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 semifinal victory on Saturday at the USTA National Tennis Center in Queens to earn a spot in the 8:30 a.m. championship match.
However the Suffolk County champion will not be meeting Nassau County titlist and defending state champ Stephan Gershfeld of Hewlett in what would be a dream matchup that would command the eyes of all Long Islanders. Fourth-seeded Braeden Gelletich of Goshen turned in a spectacular performance to oust the top-seeded Gershfeld 6-1, 6-4 in the other semifinal.
“I’ve been playing high school tennis and I’ve always done poorly in this tournament,” said Liao, a junior who has committed early to Dartmouth. “I finally want to show the player I am here.”
Liao reached the semifinal by defeating Jericho senior Ajer Sher in a morning quarterfinal, 6-1, 6-3. Liao was the complete package in the quarterfinal using his powerful serve and big forehand to win points and his quickness and length to prevent Sher from wearing him down by running him from side to side.
He was also unusually vocal, often exhorting himself on at opportunities to break serve in both of his wins.
“It was a little like you see in the U.S. Open here when the crowd cheers the American,” Liao said. “Almost no one cheered for me, so I had to be my own cheering section. But I was fine with that.”
There was a moment in the middle of the second set where the momentum seemed to swing for Liao. Fishback needed three sets in his quarterfinal win to comeback from losing the first set, 1-6, but showed no signs of fatigue in the first 16 games of the match. In the eighth game of the third set he and Liao played perhaps the longest rally of the match and afterward, Fishback leaned back against the fenceand took several deep breaths.
“He’s a really good player and fights for every last point, but it started to seem like he was running out of gas,” Liao said.
Liao broke serve with a sizzling backhand down the line in the eighth game to get it back to 4-4 and rolled after that.
His opponent will be Gelletich, who was at the top of his game for the challenge of going against Gershfeld.
“He really came out firing in that first set and played great,” Gershfeld said. “I expected that in this tournament as the defending champ — getting everyone’s best shot — because that’s just how it works.”
The tipping point against Gershfeld may have come in the seventh and eighth games for Gelletich. He managed to break service for a 4-3 lead and then managed to hold serve after going to deuce twice in the eighth game to make it 5-3. Of the set, Gershfeld said “he didn’t make a lot of errors and let him play more balls."
Gershfeld will be playing at Penn next season, but was disappointed at not meeting his goal of repeating as state champ.
“It happens,” he said. “I had a great high school career. It sucks that it ends with a loss, but that is kind of how these things happen.”