©Colette Lewis 2008--
Austin Krajicek overcame a rough start, Jordan Cox overcame a rough middle, but both ended by adding their names to the long list of champions at the USTA Boys 18 and 16 National Championships in Kalamazoo.
Cox, the 7th seed, downed No. 6 seed Denis Kudla 6-1, 6-7(2), 6-3, recovering from the disappointment of failing to convert four match points in the second set to dominate in the third set. Krajicek, the fifth seed, defeated No. 8 seed Ryan Thacher 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 in the first battle of left-handers in 18s finals history.
The jacket and sweater clad crowd began to warm to the 16s contest when Kudla and Cox engaged in a gripping game with Cox leading at 5-3 in the second set. Kudla, serving to stay in the match, had his first game point at 40-30, but an aggressive chip of a second serve and a charge to the net by Cox got him to deuce, the first of eight in the game.
Kudla saved his first match point with a first serve winner, the second when his backhand up the line caught the net and eluded Cox, the third with another first serve winner and the fourth when he retrieved an overhead and Cox's putaway volley went wide. It took six more points before Kudla held, but once he did, the crowd support and the momentum shifted to him.
"I tried to forget that it ever happened," said Cox, from Duluth, Ga. "But you could tell in the next game that I didn't. I threw it away really quickly, got broken at love. I think the crowd just wanted to see more tennis, to urge him on to make it a really good match, and I think it helped him."
After a nervous start to the match, Kudla began to find his form midway through the second set.
"I was telling myself to start playing with my feet instead of trying to hit winners and everything, making him play," said Kudla, from Arlington, Va. "And I ended up doing that and coming back in that big game which was a little bit lucky and I started feeling it a little bit.
"In the third, he sort of surprised me a little bit. I thought he'd think about it and maybe let go, but he regrouped and he really showed a true champion, so all credit to him."
In the ten-minute break after the tiebreaker, which was all Kudla, Cox took a two-pronged approach to handling the disappointment of the second set.
"I let out a little anger," said Cox, who had displayed none of that on the court. "I had my water jug, my gallon of water and I threw that against the wall. Pablo (Mayorga, a coach at the IMG Bollettieri Academy) really helps me out at the break. He tells me the stuff I'm doing right, he focuses on the positives, gets me back up and ready to play the third set."
Cox was serving for the match at 5-1 in the third set, but Kudla broke and held to make it 5-3. In his second attempt to finish, Cox was down 15-30, but Kudla missed a backhand then saw a forehand volley catch the tape to give Cox his fifth match point. When Kudla's forehand sailed out, Cox gave a subdued fist pump and trotted to the net for the handshake, having earned not only the 16s National title, but a main draw wild card into the U.S. Open Juniors.
"I'm looking forward to it a lot," said Cox, who has never played the junior qualifying or main draw in Flushing Meadows. "I've already seen the acceptance list, and it looks pretty strong, so I'm looking forward to playing some of those guys. It's going to be great."
Austin Krajicek will receive an even bigger prize, and he's not running scared from any potential opponent in the U.S. Open main draw.
"I wouldn't mind playing Roger or Rafa," said Krajicek, who started his college career at Texas A & M in January. "I just think it would be fun to play on a big court and get that experience, but whoever I play is fine. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity."
The best-of-five set format gave Krajicek ample time to recover after a shaky first set. Thacher, who will start school at Stanford next month, had played in the finals in the 16s in 2006 and last year in the 18s, so he had an edge in experience and it showed.
Krajicek was missing not by a little, but by a lot in the first set, with Thacher's serve and ground strokes setting the table for him. But somewhere in the middle of the second set Krajicek began to get a read on his fellow left-hander's serve.
"He has a really good serve, first and second serve," Krajicek said. "In the beginning it was tough for me, with the wind too, adjusting a little bit. But I think I started to see a little better, move a little more, toward the middle of the second set."
In the third set, Krajicek got an early break, and with that cushion began to play more aggressively. At 5-2, still just one break down, Thacher was at 30-40 on his serve when Krajicek hit a perfectly placed forehand winner deep in the corner to take the set. Thacher's ability to return nearly any shot was in evidence throughout the match, but Krajicek was always ready to hit a second winner.
"I knew coming into the match that Ryan's a really good athlete," said Krajicek, a distant relative of 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek. "That he was going to get to balls and make me hit another shot. I did a good job of staying focused throughout the point and being ready for the next ball. That's something you have to do against good players."
Thacher was disappointed in his inconsistency off the ground in the final three sets.
"He was a little steadier off the ground," Thacher admitted. "Normally that's not my problem, being aggressive off the ground. But today I never really found a groove, never felt like I was hitting it clean, and he was taking advantage of that. Hats off to him, he really played well, especially down the stretch."
Speaking to the spectators after the match, Thacher joked that most people disliked change, but he wouldn't mind it in this case, as it was the third time he was giving his remarks as a runner-up in Kalamazoo. And then he added, "I still can't believe I lost the last set 6-0."
Down 3-0 but only one break, Thacher needed to win the fourth game to have any chance to reverse his fortunes, but he didn't even get to deuce, although he saved six break points before double faulting to make it 4-0 for Krajicek. Sensing the trophy would soon be his, Krajicek finished his service game with an ace for 5-0 and in the next game, on his first match point, planted a forehand winner into the corner for the match.
Krajicek stood facing the crowd with his arms raised in celebration, and in his speech after the match expressed regret that it was his last year in Kalamazoo, but "a pretty good way to go out."
Then Krajicek remembered another way to play in Kalamazoo--at the Opening Night Exhibition.
"I really enjoy this tournament, it's kind of tough to leave knowing that I might not be back," Krajicek said. "Maybe I'll get to be in the exhibition, you never know. That would be cool."
But first, there's that U.S. Open main draw match to play in two weeks.
In other action on Sunday, third place in the 18s went to Ryan Harrison, the No. 1 seed, who beat No. 6 seed Ty Trombetta 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-2. No. 2 seed Evan King took third in 16s singles when No. 5 seed Bob Van Overbeek withdrew due to injury. Raymond Sarmiento, seeded ninth, finished fifth in the 16s with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Mitchell Frank, the No. 14 seed. No. 2 seed Chase Buchanan took fifth in the 18s with a 6-3, 4-1 ret. inj. win over No. 9 Jarmere Jenkins.
For complete draws, see ustaboys.com.
For coverage of the girls 18s, where No. 1 seed Gail Brodsky took the title today, see Marcia Frost's collegeandjuniortennis.com.
Sunday, August 10, 2008