NYC’s Tennis ‘Magician’

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Among all the tennis players who have called New York City their home, perhaps no one has had a more unlikely journey to stardom than Max Segan.

“It’s pretty weird,” the 19-year-old conceded recently while reviewing his up-and-down career.

Segan has overcome injuries, burnout and apathy during the past half-dozen years. But undoubtedly the biggest impediment to his progress was the most obvious hallmark of his playing style: his two-handed forehand.

Max Segan at a 2009 tournament versus John Jay College. Photo by Joe DeBenedictis

Max Segan at a 2009 tournament versus John Jay College. Photo by Joe DeBenedictis

“My dad had a two-handed forehand,” Segan recalled. “When I was 2 he took me out on a tennis court, and my first time out I refused to leave. He just kept tossing me balls. I was hitting with two hands probably out of necessity more than anything else, but I kept hitting them.”

It’s no surprise that Segan’s athletic idol is no megastar but rather Fabrice Santoro, the obscure favorite of tennis aesthetes known simply as “The Magician.” Like Segan, Santoro (and almost no one else in the history of professional tennis) wields the two-handed forehand with surprising effectiveness.

“It’s an ugly stroke, but my forehand is probably my best shot,” Segan said. “So there’s not much people can say about it. Most end up asking me how to get more topspin on their forehands.”

With that topspin rocket of his, Segan prospered on the court throughout his young years. But when he was 13, he felt burned out and stopped playing tournaments. Back surgery also kept him out of tennis completely for several months. For a few years, he only played as a member of the Hunter College High School team. In 2007, though, the squad got a new coach, and Segan suddenly felt re-energized.

“He made me captain of the team, and I got into it,” Segan said. “I was a lot more competitive. Junior year was a bit of a wakeup call.”

As a senior, he led Hunter to the city championship game. At that point, despite all his previous struggles, he knew he was meant to play collegiate tennis. A native of the Upper East Side, he ended up at Hunter College, where he prospered athletically contrary to his own expectations. The transition from high school to college only seemed to improve his game. This past spring, he went 10-5 at first singles and 11-3 at first and second doubles. He was named the City University of New York Athletic Conference’s (CUNYAC) Rookie of the Year, chosen as team MVP and also served as its captain.

“It was a bit of a breakthrough for me,” Segan said. “I beat some players I never thought I could have beaten in college. I’m now obsessed with tennis. My whole summer has been dedicated to it.”

Still, he was dissatisfied at Hunter. Preferring the atmosphere of a traditional college campus, he transferred to Colgate University and will play Division I tennis there in the fall. It’s a big jump, but based on past results it should hardly be a problem for him.

New York is a center for young tennis talent, and colleges last spring were brimming with plenty of great players from Manhattan besides Segan. Mieszko Tomczak, his high school teammate, was 1-2 in singles and 6-9 in doubles as a freshman at Georgetown. Another former Hunter player, Anika Fischer, went 4-7 at first singles and 9-2 at first doubles as a junior at Wesleyan and was named to the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) All-Academic Team. Michael Piderit (Dalton) also played at Wesleyan, going 7-3 in singles and 6-5 in doubles as a freshman.

Other standout freshmen include two stars from the Beacon powerhouse: Milo Hauk and Imran Choudhury. Hauk was named to the All-Big East First Team after finishing 13-7 in singles and 12-9 in doubles at St. John’s. Manhattanville’s Choudhury was named the Freedom Conference Rookie of the Year and a member of the All-Conference First Team. He was 19-1 at first and second singles and 16-5 mostly at first doubles. He also won the Middle Atlantic Conference Championship in singles.

Rajeev Deb-Sen and Haig Schneiderman, two more freshmen, went from Horace Mann to the collegiate ranks, where they helped to lead Columbia to the Ivy League title. Deb-Sen was 9-2 in singles and 11-4 in doubles. Schneiderman was the conference Rookie of the Year and Second Team All-Ivy in doubles, where he finished 14-5. He was also Honorable Mention All-Ivy in singles thanks to a 13-6 record. Other Horace Mann alumni playing college tennis include Michael Yassky, who was 11-8 in singles and 12-8 in doubles as a junior at Colgate; Robbie Erani, who had a great freshman season at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, going 17-7 and 19-10 at second singles and doubles, respectively; and David Orbuch, a freshman member of the Dartmouth team.

One of Orbuch’s teammates at Dartmouth was Curtis Roby, a sophomore from Trinity who was 11-10 in singles and 9-12 in doubles. He was named team captain for next season.

At other Ivy League universities, Hilary Bartlett (Brearley) and Coleman Crutchfield (Riverdale) both played as freshmen at Princeton. Bartlett was First Team All-Ivy in both singles (thanks to a 19-5 record) and doubles (16-8). Crutchfield was 2-4 on his own and 1-1 in the doubles format. Jonathan Pearlman (Fieldston) was Second Team All-Ivy in singles after going 19-9 at Brown. He was also 15-6 in doubles. Emily Wolf (Columbia Prep), yet another freshman, was Honorable Mention All-Ivy in doubles after a 7-6 record at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also went 4-8 in singles.

In the NESCAC, Kathryn Friedman (Chapin) concluded her sophomore season at Williams with a 3-0 record in singles. She lost only two games during those three matches and was part of a team that won its second straight Division 3 national championship. Julian Camacho (Columbia Prep) was 7-4 in singles and 6-2 in doubles as a freshman at Amherst. Josh Cranin, his high school classmate, finished 7-7 in singles and 6-5 in doubles for Bowdoin. Sophomores and Fieldston graduates Arielle Leben and David Dessau played at Trinity. Dessau lost his lone singles match, and Leben was 6-11 in singles and 11-9 in doubles. Olivia Merns (Spence) was also a regular for the Bantams, earning a 12-5 singles record and 11-5 mark in doubles.

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