A coach once told Taylor Marelli that the difference between the best tennis players in the world and the above-average players just below them is that those top players keep their eyes on the ball a fraction of a second longer.
Marelli has been keeping her eyes on the ball ever since. The Riverhead High School senior can’t tell you what her record is this season. That is because the first singles player understands that winning isn’t everything.
“It’s definitely a challenge” playing first singles, she said. “Sometimes it gets really frustrating because you see really great girls, but then you think, every time you play somebody better than you, you’re only getting better yourself. So, it’s not always about winning.”
Marelli has come a long way since she made her varsity debut as a freshman. She played her first matches at first singles as a sophomore and has been a regular at that position the past two years. This year she heads a singles lineup that includes freshman Gina Bassemir and juniors Sofia Sabalia-Reid and Anna Pozamantir.
How much has Marelli changed as a player over the years?
“Enormously,” she said. “I look back to my freshman year where I thought I was so good and I look back and I’m just like, ‘Oh my gosh, like, what was I thinking?’ ”
What does Marelli do well on the court?
“Everything,” coach Rose D’Orsogna said. “She’s good at everything. She’s great. She’s got a great forehand, a great backhand.”
D’Orsogna has known Marelli, who she calls a “natural,” since Marelli was a fifth-grader. She coached her at the middle school, junior varsity and varsity levels.
“I’ve just seen the improvement in her game,” the coach said. “She’s just a fantastic kid on top of it. She’s very positive.”
Marelli was involved in an intriguing matchup last Thursday. It was a case of her athleticism against the uncanny shot-making ability of Shoreham-Wading River’s Jillian Dinowitz.
Which one would win out?
After a series of momentum shifts — and 2 hours, 7 minutes — Marelli finally prevailed, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.
“When you play that long you really want to come out on top,” said Marelli, who defeated Dinowitz in a third-set tiebreaker when they played earlier this season.
Dinowitz, a junior, made Marelli work hard for the win. In a statistical oddity, Dinowitz actually had more winners than Marelli (43-27) and more total points (95-90). But unforced errors hurt Dinowitz. She collected 28 of them while Marelli limited her miscues to 15.
Marelli’s father, Ken, is a Riverhead Middle School football coach. “He’s actually a lot of fun to play with because he’s twice the tennis player I am, actually,” she said. “So going out with him is fun because he can slice and dice and do all the things that I cannot do yet.”
Marelli, who works at Westhampton Beach Tennis & Sport, doesn’t know her record, but she does know that she has won more matches this year than she has in the past. “That makes me feel good, so like all the work I put in offseason, it really shows,” she said. “I work hard to get where I am.”
D’Orsogna said: “She’s an incredible kid. Everybody looks up to her and yet she doesn’t dominate the team as though, you know, ‘I’m the leader.’ She’s not like that. I think that’s what makes this team so cohesive.”
Photo caption: Keeping her eyes on the ball has served Riverhead’s first singles player, Taylor Marelli, well. (Credit: Bob Liepa)