©Colette Lewis 2011--
The last time Nikko Madregallejo and Noah Rubin played, in the 16s final at the International Spring Championships in Carson, Calif., Rubin took the title by winning a third set tiebreaker when Madregallejo’s forehand went just millimeters past the baseline at match point.
In Thursday’s quarterfinal match in the USTA National Championships at Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Stadium, another Madregallejo shot, this one just catching the baseline, gave him new life. The result was a heart-pounding 0-6, 6-1, 7-6(6) victory and a place in Saturday’s semifinals.
The third-seeded Rubin led 6-4 in the tiebreaker, but sent his forehand return of a Madregallejo second serve well long. With Rubin serving at 6-5, Madregallejo jumped on a backhand that headed for the baseline. With a line judge sitting on that line for the first time during the tournament, all eyes went to him, and he signaled good. Rubin looked to the line judge and chair umpire but didn’t protest, and the players changed ends.
The hundreds of lunchtime spectators held their collective breath as the two players resumed their positions, neither with an advantage now after two hours of play.
Madregallejo got to his first match point, the only one he would need, with a deft backhand volley winner, an impressive shot in any circumstance and doubly so considering the score. That aggressiveness paid off on the next point, when Rubin netted a forehand, giving the sixth seed his second consecutive three-set victory.
Madregallejo, a 16-year-old from Monrovia, Calif., was serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set when Rubin requested a bathroom break. When Rubin returned, Madregallejo lost his serve at love, and when Rubin held at love, Madregallejo suddenly needed to hold just to get into the tiebreaker.
“I started rushing,” Madregallejo said of his performance when trying to serve out the match. “It caused me to lose the game real quick and the game after that. Once I got another changeover, I was able to breathe and talk to myself, and hold when down 5-6.”
Madregallejo thought Rubin’s decision to take a bathroom break at that juncture was strategic.
“I believe it was, in my opinion,” said Madregallejo. “Yesterday I was up 4-1 in the third set, and my opponent called for the trainer. Yeah, things like that throw you off, but I know that I’ve just got to stay focused and I did.”
Madregallejo’s opponent in Saturday’s semifinal is No. 2 seed Ronnie Schneider, who defeated No. 19 seed Roy Lederman 6-3, 6-4 on a warm, sunny and thankfully less windy day than Wednesday.
Schneider enjoyed having line judges for the first time, but also mentioned the challenges of that adjustment, with players were calling their own lines, with chairs only overruling obvious mistakes, in the first five rounds.
“When you call it out the same time as they do, it’s like oh, whoops, my bad,” said the talkative 16-year-old from Bloomington, Ind., who also liked having ball runners for his last two matches on the front courts.
“But it’s an amazing tournament. You do this in the quarterfinals, and it’s really nice. You feel pretty special when you’re playing.”
Schneider won the last time he played Madregallejo, back in April.
“We had a great match at the Easter Bowl, in the quarterfinals,” said Schneider, who won it 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-2.
The other two quarterfinal matches in the 16s will be played Friday, with top seed Connor Farren playing No. 13 seed JC Aragone and No. 4 seed Luca Corinteli taking on No. 32 seed Stephen Watson.
In the 18s, No. 2 seed Mitchell Frank again found himself down a set, and again found his way back, taking a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 decision over No. 23 seed Hunter Callahan.
As Austin Smith had done on Wednesday against Frank, Callahan came out with his forehand blazing, and Frank needed time to work out the best way to counter it.
“He came out really pumped up,” said Frank, of Annandale, Va. “I came out sluggish, and he took it to me for the first hour and a half of the match. But I’ve been in that situation a lot, and I didn’t panic. Up until a set and 4-3, any time I had a break point, he’d play a great point, so a lot of credit to him, making that tough.”
Frank’s opponent in Saturday’s semifinal is No. 9 seed Mac Styslinger, who defeated No. 29 seed Junior Ore 7-6(4), 6-4.
There was only one break in the match, which featured a pair of one-handed backhands, with Styslinger’s right-handed and Ore’s left-handed.
“I realized that he hits a lot of spin and his balls come into me on the forehand, so I had to adjust a little bit during the match,” said Styslinger, who is in his first year in the 18s. “That’s why he’s such a good player, because he has that really good lefty serve.”
Styslinger has made great strides in his game from last year, when he was seeded 31st in the 16s, to this year, when he reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open junior championships, and now the semifinals of Kalamazoo.
“I’ve gotten a little stronger, grown a little bit into my body,” said the 6-foot-4 Alabama native, who trains at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla. “The start of the year in Australia really set the tone for the rest of the year, and I think I’ve been playing well since then.”
Saturday’s semifinal will be Frank and Styslinger’s first meeting.
In the two 18s quarterfinals scheduled for Friday, top seed Jack Sock will play No. 8 seed Alexios Halebian and No. 4 seed Marcos Giron will face No. 5 seed Dennis Novikov.
The 16s doubles semifinalists were determined Thursday evening. Top seeds Ronnie Schneider and Yale Goldberg eliminated the unseeded pair of Dave Bacalla and Jeremy Bush 6-3, 7-5, but the other three victories went to the lower seeded teams.
No. 12 seeds Christopher Vrabel and Anton Zykov defeated No. 4 seeds Robbie Bellamy and Gage Brymer 7-5, 6-3; No. 5 seeds Joseph Di Giulio and Gregory Garcia beat No. 2 seeds Luca Corinteli and Spencer Papa 7-6(5), 6-4; and the unseeded team of Conrad Harron and Samuel Shropshire saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to down No. 6 seeds Tyler Gardiner and TJ Pura 5-7, 7-6(5), 11-9.
The semifinals in both 16s and 18s doubles are scheduled for Friday afternoon. They will be best of three tiebreak sets.
For complete results, see ustaboys.com.