Harshith Pennabadi, left, and brother Shashank Pennabadi of Ward Melville...

Harshith Pennabadi, left, and brother Shashank Pennabadi of Ward Melville pose for pictures after winning the NYSPHSAA boys tennis doubles state championship at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows on June 2. Credit: James Escher

The Pennabadi brothers from Ward Melville waited three seasons to execute their master plan. And when they first put it into action, it went all wrong. When they got a second chance, they didn’t let it get away.

Harshith Pennabadi, a senior, and Shashank Pennabadi, a junior, first played together on the varsity boys tennis team three years ago. Harshith had always liked the challenge of singles play, while Shashank found doubles to be more fun. The plan — with Harshith as architect — was that at the end of their final season together at Ward Melville, the brothers would pair up for the county and state individual championships.

The idea was to win both. But they fell short in the Suffolk finals against Commack’s James Yu and Eric Benderly.

“I left the court and just sat alone for 20 or 30 minutes; I couldn’t process it,” Harshith said. “We envisioned winning a state championship. We didn’t see that.”

Ward Melville coach Erick Sussin made sure they understood that while the landscape had changed, there would still be another opportunity. They would not get a top-four seeding, but they would be in the state draw. And the Pennabadis turned that draw inside out, beating the No. 2, No. 6 and No.1 seeds to capture the state doubles championship.

“This was the plan,” Harshith said after they’d beaten a team from Scarsdale High in three sets of a high-level final at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. “We thought we could win the state in our last year together.”

Shashank had shined in the state tournament at doubles by twice taking third place: in 2022 with Aron Bursztyn, and in 2023 with Aron's brother, Gabe Bursztyn. The title had eluded him until he and his brother united. And for Harshith, who will play at Temple next year, it was a perfect final cadence for his high school career.

“I couldn’t think of a better finish to high school tennis than winning the state [championship] with my brother,” Harshith said.

Added Shashank: “Me and Harshith have a connection. We each know what we are capable of doing. And after losing [the county final], we prepared.”

The brothers consulted with a number of collegiate players in the time between the county final and the state tournament. “They had experience that taught us a lot,” Shashank said.

“We only worked on doubles in the [time] before the state tournament,” Harshith said. “We were ready for this.”

The Pennabadis beat the three top teams from powerful Section I to gain the title. They defeated second-seeded Benjamin Singer and Adam Fink of Horace Greeley, 7-6 (6), 6-3, in the quarterfinals; topped Owen Zerbib and Jinyang Li of Mamaroneck, 7-5, 6-2, in the semifinals; and rallied after dropping the first set to vanquish top seeded Sam Saeed and Jack Reis of Scarsdale in the final, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“You had a feeling after beating the second seed in the quarterfinals — that was them passing the test,” Sussin said after the final. “They have been so good for so long and they deserved this.”


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