Stephan Gershfeld from Hewlett High School in action in the...

Stephan Gershfeld from Hewlett High School in action in the singles finals against Emil Grantcharov from Mamaroneck High School in the New York State High School boys tennis individual singles championships at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Saturday, June 4, 2022 in New York. Gershfeld won in strait sets winning the singles championship. (6-2 6-2) Credit: Louis Lanzano

It’s said one has to beat the best to become the best. That is precisely what Hewlett’s Stephan Gershfeld did this spring. Now he stands as the state tennis champion in boys singles.

After the Hewlett junior won his second straight Nassau title, he was the third seed in the state tournament. He then took out Nos. 2 and 1 in the semifinals and championship respectively to become Hewlett’s first boys singles champion since Jordan Murray accomplished the feat in 1991.

To win the county crown he beat Great Neck South’s Albert Hu, 6-0, 6-3. In the state semifinal he topped Scarsdale’s Jason Shuler, 6-3, 2-6, 6-1. He earned the championship with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over New Rochelle’s Emil Grantcharov, the tourney favorite, at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. 

“As the top seed at counties, I was expected to win and I was glad to get through it,” Gershfeld said. “But the states were the pinnacle, the really big ‘wow’ for me. In the semifinal match, I was the underdog and my season was supposed to end right there. But I came out to prove a point and played so aggressive that I was able to win in three sets.

“Then I played the No. 1 player in the state, someone I’d battled back and forth with for years, and I got through.”

Gershfeld had lost seven matches in seven USTA tournaments to Shuler before his Jan. 4 win. He’d split eight matches with Grantcherov before beating him the next day.

“Winning the state [title] was his goal all season and he worked really hard to do it,” Hewlett coach Joyce Raikos said. “Those last two matches might have been the toughest, but he was completely up to the challenge.”

Those two wins completed a high school season where he was 26-0 and lost only one set.

The magic in Gershfeld’s game is its unpredictability. He has a strong serve that can win points. He can dash and slide across the baseline to return shots with the precision of a metronome. He can baffle opponents by mixing topspin and slices. And then there is his confounding drop shot, one with a wicked spin that seems to drop like a stone as soon as it clears the net.

“I watch him at practice and he works on that drop shot tirelessly,” Raikos said. “He experiments with spin and touch and has developed a really devastating shot.”

Some of Gershfeld’s great accomplishments have happened away from the high school season – last fall he won the indoor nationals for boys under 16 – but there was something about competing with the Bulldogs that made the season special.

“My teammates are my friends and we have a great bond,” Gershfeld said. “Your high school teammates and your college teammates? You go through it all together and they will be your friends for the rest of your lives. Winning with your school – for your school – is a really big deal.”

Gershfeld would certainly seem to be the odds-on favorite in 2023 to repeat as the state singles champion, yet he might take another path.

“I'm definitely going to play high school tennis again next year – I’m definitely going to come back,” he said, “but I still haven't decided whether I'm going to defend the state title. I might participate in doubles with one of my teammates. It could be a great experience.”

ROAD TO THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP

NASSAU COUNTY SINGLES CHAMPIONSHIPS – Seeded No. 1

Def. Conrad Kulikowski (Mepham), 10-1.

Def. Dylan Coonerty (Garden City), 10-4.

Quarterfinal: Def. No. 8 Sage Menon (Wheatley), 6-0, 6-1.

Semifinal: Def. No. 5 Michael Safir (Jericho), 6-2, 7-6 (5).

County championship: Def. No. 2 Albert Hu (Great Neck South), 6-0, 6-3.

NYSPHSAA SINGLES CHAMPIONSHIPS – Seeded No. 3

Def. Mahen Bitkuri (Guilderland), 6-1, 6-1.

Def. David Riccio (Ithaca), 6-1, 6-2.

Quarterfinal: Def. No. 7 Drew Fishback (Geneva), 7-5, 6-3.

Semifinal: Def. No. 2 Jason Shuler (Scarsdale), 6-3, 2-6, 6-1.

State championship: Def. No. 1 Emil Grantcharov (New Rochelle), 6-2, 6-2.

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