Port Washington girl qualifies for, then wins U.S. Open juniors match

The Island Now
Schreiber High School’s Theadora Rabman receives an embrace after come-from-behind victory Photo by Michael J. Lewis


It was hard for Schreiber High School’s Theadora Rabman to focus at the start of her tennis match Monday morning.

Everything about it was different: Dozens of her friends and family were there watching; that never happens, as Rabman’s journey always takes her far from Port Washington.

Her twin brother, Davin, who rarely comes to see her play, was there, too.

And one other thing was odd: She was playing on Court 14 at the U.S. Open.

For the first time that anyone could remember, a Port Washington teen was competing at a Grand Slam Tournament.

The 16-year-old Rabman, an accomplished junior player, won two qualifying matches last weekend to get into the Open, and then continued her amazing week by rallying from a huge deficit to win her first-round encounter, 7-5, 6-2.

It was a day that brought more than a hundred locals to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and it was a day that Louis Rabman and Heidi Stephens, Thea’s parents, will never forget.

“Unbelievable. Amazing. This is so great!” exclaimed Heidi, who sat on metal bleachers at midcourt and received well-wishers during the whole match. “It’s so special to believe that she’s actually here, playing at the Open.”

Thea, who must’ve hugged 50 people after the match as she left the court, said the whole experience was a little overwhelming, which might account for why she fell behind 5-1 in the first set.

“It wasn’t the nerves but the excitement that got to me really fast,” Thea said. “I’m not used to this so it took a little while for things to calm down for me. A lot of my friends had never seen me play, so seeing them in front of me, on the side of me, behind me, it was a little weird at first.
Once I got used to it and got more comfortable, I took things slow and started to play better.”

Around 75 Port Washingtonians gathered on Court 14; Heidi and Louis, and daughter Tasha, sat on metal bleachers on the side of the court, when Louis wasn’t pacing.


The entire Schreiber girls tennis team, along with Coach Shane Helfner, was sitting above and behind the court, cheering her on (they had been given permission to miss practice today), while other friends and relatives whooped and hollered.

Laura Hietaranta of Finland, Rabman’s opponent, had no idea she’d be playing a road game in a hostile environment Monday.


When Thea got down 5-1, spraying balls all over the court, the crowd was down but trying to keep up hope. As Thea mounted her comeback, it got louder and louder until a big roar was let out when she won her sixth straight game to take the set, 7-5.


The second set was more of the same, as Thea used her mix of slices, drop shots and angled groundstrokes to totally flummox Hietaranta, and send the Port Washington teen into a second-round match Tuesday afternoon with top seed Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra.


Taking all the action in was Helfner, who has still gotten to coach Thea at Schreiber despite nearly all players at Rabman’s level skipping high school tennis to play tournaments.


“She really just loves being around her friends and her teammates, and loves the team aspect of the sport,” Helfner said. “Of course she hardly ever loses, but the girls love having her around and it makes the season a lot of fun.”


All of these teammates were on hand to watch Thea Monday, dressed in their blue and white Schreiber uniforms.

Grace Ain, a junior and one of her best friends, had a wide-eyed smile watching her buddy compete on such a grand stage.


“This is amazing. Thea comes over to my house sometimes in her pajamas and we hang. And now she’s at the U.S. Open!”


Louis traced his daughter’s tennis journey back to age 8, when Thea first picked up a racket.


“What happened is that she played softball at 8, and she was the only kid on the team who could hit the ball when it was pitched, and the coach said ‘you’ve got to do something with your daughter, she’s got great hand-eye coordination,” Louis recalled.  “And my mother said ‘why don’t you try tennis?’”


Thea started taking lessons with some friends at Sportime Roslyn, and quickly showed an affinity for the sport.

As she grew up to her current 5-foot-4, she started winning more and more, and moved her training to the John McEnroe Tennis Academy at Sportime Syosset, under coaches Lauren Clunan and Greg Lumpkin.


In seventh grade she started playing for Schreiber, and hasn’t stopped yet.

“Every college coach, every juniors coach we talk to can’t believe she’s playing high school tennis,” Louis said with a laugh. “But she loves being with her friends and loves doing it, so why should she stop?”


This year Thea won the prestigious Easter Bowl Girls 16s tournament in April, and last year finished third at the USTA Clay Court Nationals in 2019.

She was disappointed in losing early at the USTA Nationals in San Diego in August, but said it motivated her to keep working hard and earn a wild card to U.S. Open qualifying.


Just to get to play Monday, Thea outlasted two opponents in third set “match tiebreaks” last weekend.


“My confidence was pretty low before qualifying; I got the wild card but I knew I had to play my game to get to play in the main draw,” Thea said. “And then to get here today and win … definitely the most exciting moment of my career.”


No matter how the rest of her U.S. Open turns out, Thea’s future is bright. Helfner said many major college tennis programs have recruited her, but there’s plenty of time to make that decision.


For now, the glow of playing in a Grand Slam tournament a 30-minute train ride from her house will last a while.

Photo by Michael J. Lewis



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