The final day of the 2011 USTA Boys 16 and 18 National Championships will dawn with only three of the four finalists determined.
A Saturday marred by lightning and multiple rain delays ended with both doubles finals being played indoors after tournament officials decided to postpone the completion of the Marcos Giron – Jack Sock semifinal until Sunday morning.
Awaiting the winner of that match is No. 2 seed Mitchell Frank, who managed to complete his 6-3, 6-0 win over Mac Styslinger before the day’s third rainstorm halted further outdoor play for good.
“The rain delays actually loosened me up, which is usually not the case,” said Frank, who was up 5-3 in the first set when the day’s second thunderstorm arrived. “I just started to come through the ball more and played really solid. I was lucky he didn’t play his best the rest of the way.”
Frank had never played Styslinger, the No. 9 seed, but he had a few scouting reports: one from his doubles partner Junior Ore, who had lost to Styslinger in the quarterfinals, and another from Bjorn Fratangelo, who beat Styslinger in the semifinals of the International Spring Championships in April.
“He gave me some advice too,” said Frank, who is starting classes at the University of Virginia in a few weeks. “I’m trying to get him to become a Cavalier. But I’m glad I got some revenge for Junior.”
Frank was looking forward to a best-of-five-set match, but the usual format for the boys 18s final has been reduced to best of three due to the continuation of the second semifinal.
Frank beat Sock in the quarterfinals of the 2009 Orange Bowl, and although he has no recent meeting with either Sock or Giron, Frank is familiar enough with their games.
“I know their games really well. I know how they both play,” said the Annandale, Virginia resident. “At this point there’s not going to be many surprises.”
Sock and Giron were in the first game of their match when that second storm arrived, and when they returned around 3:30 p.m., neither seemed to be able to get any rhythm on their usually very effective serves. From the third game to the seventh, neither player held serve until Giron held to make it 5-3.
After Sock held, Giron served for the set, but at 30-40, Sock hit a backhand winner down the line to make it 5-5, celebrating the shot with a loud cry of ajde.
In the tiebreaker, every point went to the server until 5-5, when Giron just missed a forehand wide. On set point, Sock hit a series of ever-bigger forehands, which Giron scrambled to handle. Sock let the final Giron reply go and it went long, by no more than four inches, but it gave him the set.
Giron was broken in the opening game of the second set, but he battled through his next two service games, both of which went to deuce. With Sock serving at 3-2, the very ominous-looking clouds approached, bringing with them an unnerving darkness for the middle of the afternoon. Play was suspended with Sock up 3-2, 40-30 and within a few minutes, it was raining heavily for the third time in nine hours.
There is still suspense in the 18s, but the 16s final is set, with No. 2 seed Ronnie Schneider facing No. 4 seed Luca Corinteli in Sunday’s championship match. Schneider led No. 6 seed Nikko Madregallejo 6-1, 1-0 when play was suspended, and he had no trouble picking up where he left off when the match was sent into Kalamazoo College’s Markin Racquet Center, dispatching Madregallejo 6-1, 6-2.
“I was a little bit more loose because I was up that break (in the second set),” said Schneider, a 16-year-old from Bloomington, Ind. “I play indoors five months out of the year, and I don’t think he knows what indoor courts are, because he never plays on them. So I was confident going in there and I really picked up my serve.”
Corinteli had come back from a set down in his previous two matches, so when he fell behind No. 13 seed JC Aragone, in a match that was played entirely indoors, he still believed he could win.
“It’s good to get through something like this. It shows a lot of hard work coming back three matches in a row down the first set. It shows mentally how I’ve improved,” said Corinteli, who recorded a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory. “It feels good inside, not just because I won or am in the finals, but because I know I can actually stay in matches now.”
Corinteli credited a change of strategy for the final result.
“JC hits huge,” said Corinteli, a 16-year-old from Alexandria, Va., who now trains at the USTA’s Boca Raton Center. “He’s the biggest hitter I’ve played so far in the tournament, and to try to have an ego match with him, try to outhit him, I realized the way he was playing in the first set, and the way I was playing, that wasn’t going to happen. At 3-2 me in the second set, I realized I had to start slicing more, junking, trying to mess up his rhythm. I started serving better and he kind of leveled off. It was good mentally to get through something like this, when your opponent’s playing that well.”
Corinteli has never lost to Schneider, but their most recent meeting was in the 2010 Easter Bowl.
“He’s playing unbelievable right now, and competing really well,” said Corinteli. “Blowing people off the court. He’s one of the smaller guys, but he’s hitting as big as anybody in the draw. For me to win, I’ll have to be on my A game for sure.”
In the boys 16s doubles final, which was started outdoors but moved indoors after the first set, Schneider and partner Yale Goldberg, the No. 1 seeds, defeated No. 5 seeds Joseph Di Giulio and Gregory Garcia 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-3.
Playing indoors against two Southern Californians had its advantages for the two Midwesterners, but Goldberg felt the move to the indoor courts had another benefit.
“Just the break, and letting ourselves relax,” said Goldberg, from Beachwood, Ohio. “It’s tough to recover from losing the first set in a tiebreaker. You’re so close.”
“We didn’t face any break points that first set,” said Schneider. “We had a couple games when we had break points against them, so it’s good to just start over. And we counted. Yale did not miss a single return once we went inside.”
Goldberg and Schneider, who also won the Clay Courts last month, have played together so long they have a hard time remembering just many years it’s been.
“We were trying to figure that out this morning,” said Goldberg. “But we know it’s been over three years. And we know each other really well, so when things aren’t going well, we can help each other out.”
The 18s doubles final was played after the completion of the 16s, and again the No. 1 seeds collected the gold balls. Sock and Jackson Withrow defeated No. 5 seeds Frank and Ore 7-6(5), 6-3 to win the title and a main draw wild card into the US Open.
Sock was broken serving for the first set at 5-3, and they also were unable to convert a set point in the next game with Ore serving. In the tiebreaker, Sock and Withrow trailed 3-0 before fighting back for 5-5. Withrow’s return of an Ore serve gave them a set point, which they won when Sock’s backhand drop volley caught the net cord and trickled over.
“I told him before the point ‘you’re clutch, you’ve got this,’” Sock said of the 5-5 return by Withrow. “And he hit one of the best returns of the week. He put in a good serve at 6-5 and I got low for a volley, the tennis gods were with me and helped me with a little net cord. Something went my way today.”
In the second set, Ore was broken in the first game, and he and Frank were unable to recover, with Sock and Withrow holding throughout the set and breaking Ore in the final game to claim the title and the trip to Flushing Meadows later this month.
“I’m really excited for New York,” said Withrow, a freshman at Texas A&M. “I’ll be learning through him, that’s for sure. He’s the guy that’s the role model for me. I’m going to do the best I can to raise my level of game, and hopefully we can try to get a W that first round.”
Sock, who now has 22 gold balls, has already played the Bryan brothers this year, partnering Ryan Harrison at the Sony Ericsson and winning only one game from the top-ranked team.
“I think it helped playing that match, knowing what the level is, what the expectations are,” said Sock, who was teaming with Withrow for the first time. “You can’t take any points off or they’ll be on top of you. I ‘ll take from that I need to have energy and be positive, and enjoy it.”
Sock, who is now a professional, will be able to accept the money earned by reaching the main draw in New York, while Withrow will not.
“I’ll take you out to dinner,” Sock joked. “Nice return at 5-all, I’ll take you out to dinner.”
The third place doubles matches were also played indoors Saturday afternoon and evening. In the boys 16s, unseeded Conrad Harron and Samuel Shropshire won the bronze balls with a 2-6, 6-1, 14-12 victory over No. 12 seed Christopher Vrabel and Anton Zykov. The match tiebreaker was played in error; it should have been a full third set.
In the boys 18s third place match, Emmett Egger and Styslinger, the No. 8 seeds, defeated Nick Chappell and Marcos Giron, the No. 7 seeds, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.
For complete results, see ustaboys.com.