©Colette Lewis 2012--
There was an abrupt and welcome change in the weather between the second and third days of the USTA Boys 18 and 16 National Championships, with a brisk north wind ushering out the heat and humidity and taking nine of the 31 seeds in the 16s division with it.
The top four seeds made it through (No. 5 seed Thomas Fawcett withdrew with an injury before play began) but beyond that there was little predictable about Sunday's results.
Third seed Aron Hiltzik and top seed Mitch Stewart came through with victories, both by 6-2, 6-3 scores. Hiltzik handled Augustus Ge on a back court, while Stewart had his first opportunity to play on one of Stowe Stadium's show courts, defeating Nicolas Chua.
Once Stewart had secured his victory No. 2 seed Paul Oosterbaan followed on Court 3, and the Kalamazoo native drew plenty of fans to his cause. Oosterbaan has been nursing a back injury, and with three retirements in the recent 18s National Team Championships he wasn't coming into the tournament with the preparation he would have liked. But even though there were nerves and windy conditions to deal with, the six-foot-six Oosterbaan had too much power for opponent Andy Martinez, and he came through with a 6-2, 7-6(6) victory.
"I wasn't really mentally there the whole time," Oosterbaan admitted. "I kind of checked in and out. I was a little nervous, having the crowd behind me. My mind was all over the place in the second. I'm not too happy with my second set, but at least I could get away with not playing as good as I wanted to. Hopefully, I'll play better tomorrow. I'm going to need to."
Martinez only held serve once in the first set, but in the second set he was able to eliminate his errors and adjust to the wind. Oosterbaan had three break points with Martinez serving at 3-3 in the second set, but didn't convert and neither player faced a break point after that.
In the tiebreaker, Oosterbaan fell behind 2-0, but after taking the next two points neither player had more than a one point lead. Oosterbaan missed his chance to win the match with Martinez serving at 5-6, hitting a forehand wide, but a big Oosterbaan backhand forced Martinez into an error for a second match point. Oosterbaan missed his first serve, but his second serve was deep, and he was able to put away the forehand and avoid a third set.
"I knew when I got into the breaker, if I could hit a couple of big serves, I'd be able to get away with the second," Oosterbaan said. "But he had a couple of good points. I played an all right breaker--I let a few easy forehand slide in it. But it was very, very windy. One side it was pretty hard to keep the ball in deep and on the other side, if you touched the ball, it was going to go over the stadium. But I'm through to the next one."
While Oosterbaan was playing on court 3, Davis Crocker, another Kalamazoo resident, was taking on No. 4 seed Logan Smith. Smith won the match 7-6(5), 6-3, but he was relieved to get through with the crowd solidly behind his opponent.
"It was tough," said Smith, who is from Carlsbad, Calif. "It's my first round, so the nerves are in, and playing against a kid from Kalamazoo is tough because they're cheering for him. But I served well, played solid on the forehand side, and in the tiebreak I got a couple of returns in."
Crocker serves and volleys frequently and Smith needed some time to figure out how to defend that style of play.
"I don't usually play against serve and volleyers much, so that kind of threw me off a little," Smith said. "But by the second set my nerves had relaxed more, I loosened up and let go more on my shots."
Unseeded Jordan Belga took out No. 22 seed Daniel Kerznerman 6-1, 6-4, but just getting an opportunity to play a National Championship match was satisfying for the 16-year-old. After nearly a year out of action with a back injury, Belga has been working to reestablish his ranking, but he needed a wild card to get into Kalamazoo. and was happy to get one, after having been turned down in his request for one at the Clay Courts. One of the top 14-year-olds in the country, Belga moved to Florida from Illinois to join the USTA training program, but after only a few months there, he was experiencing back pain that extended periods of rest did not alleviate. Once he was diagnosed with two fractures in his lower back, he was in plastic back brace that left him unable to do any physical activity.
"I was a sack of potatoes for four or five months," said Belga. "I didn't start playing again until last September, but I wasn't 100 percent until maybe February. I was imagining that I wouldn't be able to play again to be honest. I had the emotions, the doubts, but I just had to stick to it."
In his match against Kerznerman, Belga thought the tricky winds might have helped him.
"It may have helped me focus harder on the more critical points," Belga said. "I had to focus on not making any errors, because he's obviously a great player, he's a grinder and he could have made me play out there all day. I was just the better player today."
Two of the top eight seeds were among the nine who exited on Sunday. No. 6 seed Chase Perez-Blanco retired to Jean Thirouin 6-7(6), 7-5, 1-0, while No. 8 seed Baker Newman, the 16s Clay Court finalist, was beaten by Catalin Mateas 7-6(4), 6-4. Chase Colton defeated No. 26 seed Eduardo Nava 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in a Court 1 match that lasted over three hours, and Martin Joyce downed No. 27 seed Jordi Arconada 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 in another lengthy second round contest. Alex Knight took out No. 18 seed Yancy Dennis 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, Michael Genender beat No. 11 seed Maximilian Fliegner 6-4, 6-3, Jacob Dunbar beat No. 23 seed Josh Silverstein 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 and Cody Rakela defeated No. 25 seed William Chiu 6-3, 6-1.
There were no main draw matches in 18s singles Sunday, but the third round of doubles were played at Western Michigan University. All the seeded teams advanced, with 15 of the 16 seeded teams reaching the fourth round. Top seeds Mitchell Krueger and Shane Vinsant and No. 2 seeds Harrison Adams and Andrew Korinek advanced in straight sets.
On Monday, both 16s and 18s third round matches will be played at Stowe Stadium. Consolation singles as well as the third round of 16s doubles will be at Western Michigan University.
Complete results can be found at the tournament website.