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Friday, August 5, 2011

Sock and Withrow Beat Pros as Exhibition Match Kicks Off Kalamazoo Nationals

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Kalamazoo, MI--

Defending champion Jack Sock returned to Kalamazoo on Friday, posting two wins in doubles, one expected, one perhaps not.

With Jackson Withrow, Sock is the No. 1 seed in doubles in the 18s division of the USTA National Championships, and after a first round bye, the two Nebraskans claimed a 7-6(2), 6-0 victory over Eduardo Irizarry and Timothy Tan on a seasonably warm Michigan afternoon.

Less than two hours later, Sock and Withrow were back on Stowe Stadium's Court 1, playing against Luke Jensen and Taylor Dent in the professional exhibition that kicks off the tournament, and the teens got a late break in a match dominated by the servers to claim a 7-5 victory.

The more than 1800 fans were treated to a variety of spectacular gets and impressive volleys, but it was the serves that dominated. Although the radar gun, always notoriously slow here, didn't register any serves near Dent's occasional 140-mph range, there was some serious heat, and not a lot of exceptional returning. Sock hit three aces in a row during one game, down 15-30 on his serve, and Dent impressed not just with his speed, but also with the kick serve he threw in to keep Sock and Withrow off balance. Luke Jensen, who is ambidextrous, served both left-handed and right-handed in one sequence, and Withrow took up the challenge when he next served, trying two serves left-handed, both of which were faults.

Dent was playing in the exhibition as a last-minute substitute for Murphy Jensen, who was injured earlier in the week and told tournament director Mark Riley Thursday that he would be unable to play Friday evening. Riley called Dent, who had played in the exhibition in Kalamazoo twice before, and Dent caught a 5:45 a.m. flight from Los Angeles to Kalamazoo this morning in order to participate in the sponsor's reception and the exhibition that followed.

Dent, who is now coaching juniors alongside his father Phil at the Dent Tennis Academy in Newport Beach, California, retired from professional tennis last November. The 1996 16s champion in Kalamazoo, Dent spoke of the great memories the tournament provided him, a sentiment that Luke and Murphy Jensen also echoed in their remarks to the crowd prior to the match.

After the juniors had scored their victory, a game of rock, paper, scissors decided the pairings for the next set, with Jensen and Withrow ending up as partners. There were several disputed line calls and some boisterous coaching by both Riley and Murphy Jensen. Jensen provided a manual version of a Hawkeye replay on a disputed serve call, carrying a tennis ball through the various stages of animation and then placing the ball, which was called good, a foot out.

Murphy's coaching was entertaining, but despite leading the Washington Kastles to an undefeated season and World Team Tennis championship last month, he was unable to provide that magic touch tonight, with Luke and Withrow winning the second set 7-6(5).

While the Jensens and Dent are heading back to their many other tennis-related endeavors, Sock and Withrow will play singles matches on Saturday. Withrow, who is unseeded, won his opening round today, while No. 1 seed Sock will play Christopher Cox in his first match, which is in the second round. Last year, Cox had the misfortune to draw Jordan Cox, the number one seed in the 18s in the second round, and this year he again comes up against the top seed after winning his opening match.

In other 18s doubles action Friday, 15 of the 16 seeded teams advanced, although there were a few close calls. The No. 4 seeded team of Mitchell Krueger and Dane Webb needed a match tiebreaker to down Danny Riggs and Ken Sabacinski, and No. 2 seed Bjorn Fratangelo and Alexios Halebian trailed 4-1 in the second set before coming back to defeat Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski 6-1, 7-5. Kristofer Yee and Fernando Sunago pulled off the only upset, defeating No. 12 seeds William Kwok and Michael Rinaldi 6-1, 6-2.

Complete results of the 18s doubles and the first round of 18s singles can be found at ustaboys.com.

Saturday, the 16s play their first round of singles and two rounds of doubles.

For my preview of the tournament, see my article for the Tennis Recruiting Network.