©Colette Lewis 2009--
The 2009 Kalamazoo champions' paths to the titles couldn't have been more different. No. 2 seed Chase Buchanan had one of the most dominating runs this decade in the 18s division, culminating in a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 8 seed Ryan Lipman. Gonzales Austin, the No. 8 seed in the 16s division, won five consecutive three-set matches including the final, where he upset top seed Jack Sock 3-6, 7-5, 6-0.
Buchanan, 18, lost four games in a set only once prior to the final, and on a steamy Sunday afternoon on Stowe Stadium's center court, he looked in complete control from the beginning. Even a game penalty, assessed when he was late returning from the restroom during the heat break after the second set, couldn't disrupt the composure he showed from the start.
"I stayed really calm, even if there were some bad games or some bad points, to try to figure everything out," said Buchanan, a freshman at Ohio State, who plans on returning to college later next month. "My overall demeanor and the way I was I coming through showed out there today."
Buchanan also surprised Lipman with his strategy.
"He played a lot different than I thought he was going to play, that's for sure," Lipman said. "Last couple of times I've played him, he was a little bit erratic, and didn't like the slice or the high balls, but today he was just really solid and made me press."
In the first set, Buchanan got an early break, and although he went down 0-40 in the fifth game, he survived one of the match's longest games, saving four break points to keep his lead. The two traded backhand slices with regularity in the opening set, and often it was Buchanan who forced the error.
"He sliced great, he beat me to the net, which was frustrating, because that's usually my game, trying to slice and get into the net," the 18-year-old Lipman said. "But he played it well, played smart."
In the second set, Buchanan again got an early break when Lipman didn't win a point on serve in the fourth game, making several errors, both forced and unforced. Buchanan made almost none of either kind, and when Lipman was able to come to the net on his own terms, he was frequently passed with all variety of Buchanan shots: topspin forehands, cross court dips, driving two-handed backhands.
After trading breaks in the third and fourth games of the third set, the latter the only time Buchanan was broken in the match, the games went by quickly until 4-4. With Lipman serving, Buchanan feasted on the Vanderbilt freshman's second serve, pounding two backhand return winners at 15-15 and 30-40 to give himself the opportunity to serve for the match.
Buchanan seemed determined to avoid a second serve in that final game, taking a lot of pace off and relying on his second and third shots to win the points. Lipman had a break point chance when Buchanan put a short forehand into the net, but Lipman's slice backhand went long, and on the next point Lipman, at the net, let a backhand pass go and it fell on the baseline to give Buchanan a match point. Another error, this one a slice backhand, brought it back to deuce, but Buchanan hit a clean backhand volley winner on the next point to earn match point number two. When Lipman's backhand sailed longed, Buchanan let out a loud laugh, dropped his racquet and pumped his fists, before trotting to the net to exchange an embrace with Lipman.
"This is a tournament I've been at for four years," Buchanan said. "I've watched players and seen people who have been here and won it, and been here and played in it, and it's really motivating. I've got a lot more work to do, but it's great to have this every once in a while."
With a U.S. Open main draw wild card now a reality, Buchanan was asked who he would like to draw for his first round match, perhaps Federer?
"You've got to hope to play someone like that," he said. "I've just turned 18, so I want to be playing somebody like that, whether you do well or you don't."
After he returns home to Columbus to celebrate with his Buckeye teammates, Buchanan hopes to spend a few days relaxing on a lake before beginning preparations for his Grand Slam debut.
Lipman, who begins classes at Vanderbilt later this month, will also be heading to New York with the wild card into qualifying that he's earned by reaching the Kalamazoo final.
"If my parents will let me go, yes, absolutely," Lipman said when asked if he planned to use it. "That would be a blast. I think it would be a good experience and would be fun."
New York was the goal for 16s top seed Jack Sock, who played the younger division expressly for the US Open Junior wild card that goes to the winner. But after an excellent first set, Sock couldn't sustain that level, and late in the second set began experiencing the same stomach problem that had surfaced early in the tournament.
The eighth-seeded Austin shook off any nerves that would understandably accompany a first trip to a national final, using his big serve and excellent returns to keep Sock on the defensive throughout most of the second set. Austin, who, like Sock, will turn 17 later this year, began to find a rhythm, using the advice that his friend and fellow Floridian Connor Smith had given him prior to the match.
"I think it was really important to keep it to the middle of the court, because when his arms are stretched he creates angles all over the place," said Austin, a solidly built left-hander from Miami. "If I got him stretched out on the forehand, he'd pretty much hit a winner every time. There was one shot where he just flicked his wrist and the ball went right by me, and I said I don't know if I'm going to beat this kid if he's doing this."
Near the end of the second set, when Sock was trying to hold serve to force a tiebreaker, he began to bend over, hands on knees, between points. He seemed more eager to end the points that he had before, serving and volleying, especially on second serves, and Austin kept putting the ball right at his feet. Sock saved one set point with an overhead winner in the four-deuce game, but a forehand slice error on the second gave Austin the second set.
The 10-minute break gave Sock a chance to regroup, but it didn't help him shake his stomach woes.
"I sat down and tried to ease my stomach, but it wouldn't go away," Sock said. "I played smart in the first set, I had chances in the second, if I hadn't lost my serve so much, but he started playing a little bit better at the end of the second, and in the third he just ran away with it."
Austin wasn't distracted by Sock's distress, and his body language throughout the third set telegraphed that he was ready to win regardless of Sock's physical problems.
"I wanted to win so bad, I didn't really care," Austin said. "It sounds bad, but I wanted to win. But he was playing so well in the first set I couldn't do anything. In the second set, I had a lucky break at the end; he was up 40-15 serving to go to the tiebreaker. But I held him off and I noticed something was wrong on those last two points. So I said now is my chance to take it to him."
The thousand or so spectators adopted Austin after he lost the first set, and as the underdog, his winners were cheered more loudly during the second set. But the crowd became more subdued and even tried encouraging Sock at the opening of the third set with a round of applause, hoping for more of the entertaining tennis of the previous two sets.
But it wasn't to be, with Austin playing with focus and confidence throughout the quick third set, and earning his way into the US Open Junior championships.
"I'm going to go to New York to visit my sister--she lives up there, and maybe train a little bit for the U.S. Open," he said with an almost disbelieving laugh. "This is my best achievement ever, nothing could top this, unless I win the US Open. Then that might top it."
The third place and consolation final matches were also played on Sunday. No. 13 seed Raymond Sarmiento finished third in the 18s with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Mousheg Hovhannisyan, and fourth seed Tennys Sandgren took fifth place with a 6-2, 7-5 win over David Holiner. Sekou Bangoura, Jr. was named the recipient of the Stowe sportsmanship award.
In the 16s, No. 3 seed Bjorn Fratangelo collected a bronze ball with a 7-6(4), 6-1 victory over No. 4 seed Jackson Withrow. Fratangelo was also named the Bobby Kaplan sportsmanship winner. Fifth place went to Nick Chappell, who defeated Robert Stineman 6-4, 6-2.
For complete results, see ustaboys.com.
Sunday, August 16, 2009