Scarsdale’s Luke Smith and Nikolay Sahakyan played 13 matches together from May 8 through June 2. The only two losses they suffered were in the Section 1 and New York State finals.
Senior Smith and sophomore Sahakyan, who won the Section 1 Conference 1 tournament, finished up second in the state between champion Mamaroneck and third-place finisher Horace Greeley, two teams the Raiders beat en route to the conference title.
Yes, the top three doubles teams in the state came from Scarsdale’s conference.
“Section 1 is known around the state to be the toughest section,” Smith said. “It’s good to see the competition you’re really going to face at states in the conference and then the section. There’s an extra chance to look at them and play them.”
Added coach Jennifer Roane, “It helps you become a powerhouse after so many challenging matches.”
The duo played one regular season match together — winning 0 and 0 — and then 12 in the postseason, including two 10-point tiebreakers against Mamo and Greeley in conferences.
“Honestly we meshed pretty well right form the beginning,” Smith said. “We still have discussions in between points about what we should have done, but it’s less of them now. At first it was every point and now it’s less frequent.”
Smith and Sahakyan cruised in the first two rounds of the conference, dropping one game. In the semifinals they topped Mamaroneck’s Connor Aylett and Charlie Levinson 6-3, 1-6, 11-9. They then topped Spencer Lowitz and Kenta Togo 2-6, 7-5, 10-4. At sectionals, the top seed beat a pair of Edgemont teams in the first two rounds. After beating Harrison 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals, Aylett and Levinson got revenge with a 6-3, 7-6(5) win.
At states, the Raiders won 6-1, 6-2 in the round of 16 and 6-2, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals it was a tight 6-4, 6-4 win over Section 5 champs Patrick O’Brien and Joshua Weiss of Pittsford Mendon.
Smith and Sahakyan won the first set of the finals 6-2, but lost the next two 6-1 and 6-4 to Aylett and Levinson, the top seed.
Having faced off twice and split, Roane called it a “level playing field” going into the finals. “They know each other’s strengths, they know each other’s weaknesses,” Roane said. “We’ll just have to see how the points play out.”
As the No. 2 seed, the Raiders had a bye for the first round at the National Tennis Center in Flushing last Thursday. With rain constantly threatening, the tournament was held indoors at the Chase Center and the Raiders didn’t hit the court for the round of 16 until 1:15. Luckily it was a quick 45-minute match and Smith was able to jet back home for prom. He got two hours of sleep and was back in Queens at 8 a.m. for the quarterfinals and semifinals Friday. He was exhausted, but the team pulled through to make the finals.
“You’ve got to experience the prom if you’re a senior and of course I wasn’t going to miss states,” Smith said. “It’s just annoying and unfortunate it’s the same exact time. I was able to manage.”
Smith has always been known as a singles player, having competed in top international competitions throughout the years. He played singles at states the last two years, and made it to the quarterfinals a year ago. He and Sahakyan decided to team up the day after the team’s May 7 match after Smith watched Sahakyan battle against Horace Greeley’s Lowitz — half of Greeley’s state team — to a 10-point tiebreaker win.
“The past few years I did singles and I really wanted to experience doubles,” Smith said. “I know it’s fun and I thought Nikolay and I would have a really good chance of winning it all. That’s the main goal. I thought I had a better chance in doubles.”
Though Sahakyan has played singles the last two seasons for Scarsdale and plays singles in tournaments, he also competes in doubles events.
“Sometimes when kids decide, ‘Oh, let’s play doubles,’ they don’t have that experience,” Roane said. “He had that. Maybe not with Luke, but he had that. And Luke was able to lead him in what to do. I’m really the cheerleader. If it works, I let them go.”
Sahakyan plays outside tournaments with Patrick Liew. They’ve been paired up for three years. Playing with Smith gave Sahakyan a mentor on and off the court.
“Luke is older, so if I make mistakes he knows what to do because he’s been playing a lot of tennis,” Sahakyan said. “I really like doubles. I think it’s more fun. It takes a load off you a bit to put half and half on you and your partner. It gives you an opportunity to have that team piece. Being good at both singles and doubles is pretty key. For college you’ve got to be ready to play both.”
While the Raiders didn’t get the outcome they had hoped for, they became Scarsdale’s first state finalists since Austin Kaplan and Ben Fife made it back-to-back years in 2010 and 2011.
“I’m happy for Luke because he’s a senior,” Roane said. “You always get a little nostalgic. I’m thrilled for Nikolay. It’s his first time and he’s coming into his own. Right away they decide who is the stronger player and they start beating up the weaker player, and he knows he’s not as good as Luke, but he held his own.”
The duo communicated well, which is key in doubles play.
“What I like is how they are supporting each other,” Roane said. “If Nikolay makes a couple of mistakes Luke will go over and say, ‘Look, this is what we’re going to do.’ Luke also made some mistakes. And they didn’t break down on the court. If you don’t communicate or you’re second-guessing your partner it’s hard.”
Smith learned that and it will bode well for him in college. “I kind of learned that you have to really communicate in doubles,” he said. “You have to step up and take leadership at times. You’ve got to be really vocal. That’s helped us as I’ve gained more confidence.”
In addition to the individual postseason, Smith and Sahakyan helped Scarsdale to the Section 1 team finals for the second time, the first being in 2014. That tournament was interspersed throughout May due to rain. The Raiders lost 4-2 to Horace Greeley, the team’s third loss to Greeley this season, in the finals.
Last year Sahakyan teamed with then-junior Suhas Vennam to make the conference quarterfinals. They lost in the consolation semifinals. Sahakyan has now set the tone for the next two years.
“It’s a lot of fun and a lot of pressure because everyone here is amazing,” Sahakyan said. “You’ve got to step up your game a lot to compete with these talented kids. I learned to focus a lot. I get very tight during points, important points. As states goes on it gets tougher.”
Smith has a career ahead of him at Washington University in St. Louis. He’s looking forward to the team environment.
“High school is fun, but college tennis is different,” he said. “It’s a different experience. You’re really a team there. You hang out with them all the time. I can’t wait.”
Scarsdale Boys Tennis
NEW YORK STATE DOUBLES CHAMPIONSHIPS
May 31-June 2 at Chase Center, Flushing
Opening round: No. 2 Luke Smith/Nikolay Sahakyan bye. Round of 16: No. 2 Smith/ Sahakyan def. Ricky Dartawan/Jared Rackliffe (Section 2 runner-up, Niskayuna) 6-1, 6-2. Quarterfinals: No. 2 Smith/Sahakyan def. Alexander Roti/Samir Singh (Section 8 runner-up, Friends Academy) 6-2, 6-3. Semifinals: No. 2 Smith/Sahakyan def. Patrick O’Brien/Joshua Weiss (Section 5 champ, Pittsford Mendon) 6-4, 6-4. Finals: No. 1 Charlie Levinson/Connor Aylett (Section 1 champ, Mamaroneck) def. No. 2 Smith/Sahakyan 2-6, 6-1, 6-4. Notes: Section 1 third-place finisher Kenta Togo and Spencer Lowitz of Horace Greeley, the fourth seed, placed third in the state, topping O’Brien/Weiss 7-6(6), 7-6(6). The top three doubles teams in the state not only came from Section 1, but from Conference I. O’Brien/Weiss and Roti/Singh were both seeded in the 5-8 pool. All eight seeded teams made the quarterfinals.