Lehigh Mountain Hawks sophomore Gary Fishkin sets up for a volley at the net. Fishkin led the team in singles this season with a record of 8-1 and will return to the courts in February. (Marlee Deutsch/B&W Staff)

Fishkin finds strength on the court in ritual and religion

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Sophomore tennis player Gary Fishkin drives the ball across the net, scoring his first point in the match.

His free hand instantly travels to the gold chain wrapped around his neck, briefly moving it out from under his collar. As he prepares for his opponent’s serve, he quickly returns the chain back to its original spot.

An exchange of volleys, and Fishkin scores another point. 

Chain out, chain in.

Fishkin said this instinctive behavior following each point has served as his good luck charm throughout his entire career. 

Fishkin first picked up a racket when he was three years old, and his interest was piqued. Though he didn’t have access to organized training, Fishkin said he taught himself how to play, and he gradually “grew to love” the sport.

Fishkin said he knew from a young age he wanted to continue his tennis career in college. He sought out schools that offered fulfillment of both his athletic and academic goals. With the encouragement of an upperclassman friend on the Lehigh tennis team, Fishkin made the commitment to become a Mountain Hawk.

“It was the perfect balance for me,” Fishkin said. “It wasn’t too much tennis so that I couldn’t focus on academics, and it wasn’t too much academics that I couldn’t focus on tennis.”

Last season as a freshman, Fishkin played to a 4-7 record in 11 double matchups, and a 7-3 record in 10 singles matches.

After notching a year of experience, Fishkin returned to the court in impressive fashion this fall, battling his way to an improved 4-4 doubles performance. He also led the team in singles, earning an 8-1 record for the season.

Coach Wouter Hendrix said he was not surprised by Fishkin’s improvements on the court.

Gary (Fishkin) is an all-court player who can hit every shot in the book with ease,” Hendrix said. “He’s extremely coachable and works hard on his game. In addition, he is a highly-committed student and teammate.”

While Fishkin’s skills place him among the team’s top players, sophomore Andrew Nakhjavan said Fishkin’s statistics represent only a small part of his leadership on the team.

“He’s kind of like glue,”  Nakhjavan said. “He keeps everyone together, everyone likes him, and everyone gets along with him. He’s definitely a leader.”

Fishkin said he is proud to serve as a leader for his teammates this year, but also looks to them for encouragement. He said the rest of the team’s support is key to his personal success.

The team’s supportive atmosphere reminds him he “is not alone” on the court, which gives him more confidence during competition, he said.

Nakhjavan said Fishkin also draws inspiration from religion, a characteristic that he believes sets him apart from other players.

“I don’t know anyone who cares that much about God and faith, and he’s super dedicated to that,” Nakhjavan said. “He prays a lot, he goes to synagogue a lot, and I think that all has a lot to do with who he is as a person.”

Whether drawn from ritual, religion or both, Fishkin’s success at Lehigh has served the program well. Hendrix said Fishkin is “killing it on the court and in the classroom,” balancing a winning season with an integrated major in computer science and business.

Fishkin said he hopes to keep his positive momentum going in the spring, when he can continue to improve as a player and a student. 

“I was really happy this fall, so I hope that that carries over into the spring,” Fishkin said. “I’m just happy to win matches, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Lehigh closed out its fall season at the ITA Regionals Oct. 17-21. The Mountain Hawks will now look to prepare for its return to the courts in February.

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