Plainview JFK’s Yuval Solomon is as even-keeled as they come out on the tennis court, so when he fell behind 0-2 in the Nassau County singles final to Valley Stream Central senior Athell Bennett on Sunday afternoon at Oceanside High School, there was no panic.
“I was a little disappointed, but I knew I could stay in the match,” said the defending champion Solomon. “I knew I had to stay aggressive and make him move around.”
The junior gathered himself and calmly held serve to trim the lead to 1-2 and get himself on the board.
During the changeover, Solomon and Plainview head coach Nick Ventimiglia went over some slight adjustments, one of which was to prevent Bennett coming to the net.
“We knew he was a really good player. They had faced each other twice during the year, both indoors, and they split the meetings so we knew it would be a tough match,” said Ventimiglia. “Bennett has some of the softest hands I’ve ever seen at the net, so we wanted to avoid the net. I just told him [Solomon] to play his game and that’s what he did.”
With his rhythm back and some slight adjustments made, Solomon rattled off six straight games to take the opening set 6-2.
The two would exchange holds of serve through the first three games of the second set, but Solomon notched the key break when he hit a ridiculous backhand passing shot for the 3-1 lead. After a few more holds of serve, Solomon would break Bennett one more time to close out the match, winning his second straight Nassau County singles championship with the 6-2, 6-2 victory.
“He has a stronger game, a wider game,” said Ventimiglia on how Solomon has improved from a year ago. “He hits the ball harder and has such a soft touch. He’s like a pitcher with four pitches, his game is versatile and he has so many weapons he can use.”
Solomon hopes to build on his success at the New York State tournament in early June. He lost in the final a year ago to two-time defending champion Matt Gamble.
“I worked on being more aggressive, coming to the net when I need to, but just trying to get as many balls in as possible as well,” said Solomon. “My conditioning is better, I did a lot of running, so I’m confident heading in to states.”
In the third place match, Cold Spring Harbor’s Sean Mullins defeated Keegan Morris of Sewanhaka 6-4, 6-3 to qualify for the state tournament, joining Solomon and Bennett at the tournament which will take place from June 2-4 at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center.
In the doubles final, the Syosset duo of Neel Rajesh and Kabir Rajpal defeated Zachary Khazzam and Sangjin Song 6-1, 6-3 to keep the doubles championship with Syosset. Daniel Shleimovich and Dylan Granat of Syosset won the county title last year.
The eighth and ninth grade duo fought off a second-set rally from Khazzamn and Song to hang on for the victory.
“We stayed calm and stayed active at the net,” said Rajpal. “We served with a purpose, hitting our spots which allowed us to poach and be aggressive. We were able to stay steady and consistent.”
Syosset head coach Shai Fisher continued to be impressed by not only the pair’s success, but their attitude on the court.
“I am extremely proud of Neel and Kabir,” said Fisher. “For being so young, they are both mature on the court, always keep their composure and consistently communicate with each other.
I’m also proud that they both could have played singles and excelled there as well, but they realized and made the decision that playing together in doubles that they can accomplish great success not only at the county tournament, but possibly the state tournament.”
Joining Rajesh and Rajpal in the state tournament, in addition to the Roslyn duo, will be their Syosset teammates Spencer Lowitt and Preet Rajpal, who beat Great Neck North’s Jared Hakimian and Won Jung 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the third-place match.
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Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com.