'Enjoy the Moment & Take It All In':
Locals Make ATP Debut at New York Open
Victoria Chiesa | February 12, 2020
UNIONDALE, N.Y. – A trio of local collegians had an experience that they’ll never forget on Tuesday night at the New York Open.
Harvard sophomore and local product Brian Shi and the doubles pairing of Shawn Jackson and Ostap Kovalenko from Hofstra University, whose campus is directly adjacent to the tournament venue at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, all got a taste of the professional tour at the ATP 250 event.
Shi, a native of Jericho, N.Y.—about a 15-to-20-minute drive on the Northern State Parkway from the Coliseum—acquitted himself well in defeat against No. 7 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, also a product of the NCAA ranks at Texas Christian University, who boasts a career-high ranking of world No. 41.
The 19-year-old New Yorker, who is unranked on the ATP Tour, earned a wild card to compete in his first ATP main draw by virtue of winning last month’s collegiate playoff at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing.ADVERTISEMENT
“Everyone in this tournament I’ve seen on Tennis Channel and ESPN,” Shi said. “Just seeing my name in the draw… was surreal. Coming on court, as soon as I saw my teammates and my parents, all the nerves went away.
“Overall, it was such as incredible experience, even though I didn’t get the win. It's going to give me way more motivation coming back to school to train harder for next time.”
Despite going 0-2 on the day, all three coeds had opportunities in their matches: Shi led Norrie by a break twice in the first set, before falling, 7-5, 6-3, while the Hofstra duo earned a look at a deciding deuce point in six games of their 6-1, 6-0 defeat to the decorated duo of Robert Lindstedt and Tennys Sandgren.
“We were definitely excited because we thought we could win the game, but it's actually a lot harder than we thought in that moment,” Jackson said.
“They could turn it up at any point during the match. If it got tight with scoring, they were able to come up with a better shot, or we felt the pressure and we missed.
“We had the Hofstra crew and my family [supporting us]. They really helped us get through the match… It’s just amazing to be in this situation right now, being at a press conference when I'm watching the pros do this stuff. I’m almost speechless.”
In addition to the many friends and family who were on hand to support all three athletes, Shi’s effort in particular may have caught the attention of a notable name in American tennis: fellow Harvard man James Blake, a former member of the Crimson in the 1998-99 season.
“He actually FaceTimed the team a couple weeks ago prior to our season which was awesome. I think the best advice that he gave, it’s the same advice that I’ve heard from many good tennis players throughout the past few years,” the teenager said of the former ATP world No. 4. “That’s to not get too high when you’re playing well and you’re doing really well, and then when you’re not playing as well not to get too low to try to keep that equilibrium. That’s how to stay motivated and not get too discouraged.”
Shi, who reached a career-best ITF junior ranking of world No.62 and played in the main draw of the junior Australian and US Open, is studying economics and has plans to finish his degree in Cambridge, Mass., before testing the waters of the professional circuit.
Jackson, a sophomore from Staten Island, N.Y., is a pre-med major at Hofstra and aspires to be a doctor, while Kovalenko, from Bashkortostan, Russia, is in his first year on the Pride’s roster and majoring in computer science and mathematics.
And after serving aces and lining up backhands, all three student-athletes will now return to school, tackling their upcoming semesters by acing exams and hitting the books.
“It’s just been an amazing couple of days. When we got the wild card, they didn't believe me at first. They thought that I was just joking around,” Hofstra coach Jason Pasion said.
“My advice was to really enjoy the moment and to take it all in because we're not sure if we'll ever have the chance again. I really believe that they maximized the experience. It’s something that they’ll remember probably for the rest of their lives.”
(Photo: Brian Shi in action against Cameron Norrie at the New York Open. Photo credit: Alex Smith / New York Open.)