©Colette Lewis 2012--
Dennis Novikov captured his first two gold balls in his last junior tournament this week, adding the USTA National 18s singles championship and another US Open wild card to the doubles championship he claimed on Saturday.
Novikov, the No. 3 seed, defeated No. 8 seed Alexios Halebian 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to finish his ten days in Kalamazoo 13-0.
Henrik Wiersholm, a 15-year-old playing in Kalamazoo for the first time, will return next year never having tasted defeat in the tournament known for its blueberries and cream, after he capped his week with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Sasha Gozun to take the 16s title.
Conditions were ideal for tennis Sunday, with a manageable northerly breeze and temperatures in the low 70s as Wiersholm and Gozun took the court. Wiersholm, the No. 12 seed, had lost to Gozun, seeded 32, in their previous meeting on clay back in December, but he had a different strategy this time against the much more physically developed 16-year-old.
"Alex can hurt you if you give him the right ball, especially with the forehand," said Wiersholm, from Kirkland, Wash. "I was doing a really good job of whipping the ball up to his backhand or deep, making him move to his forehand, or even sometimes keeping it short, away from his forehand."
The first set was close, with both players holding until 3-all, when Wiersholm got a look at his first break point. He converted it with a dramatic winner, and that one shot buoyed his confidence.
"He hit a good serve, I barely got the ball back and he hit that inside in ball," said Wiersholm, who still sports braces on his teeth. "I did an on-the-run winner for the break and that's where I kind of got it going and kept the momentum through in the second."
Gozun, who is from Moldova and has been in the United States for four years, had saved three match points in his third round win over Korey Lovett and had three times come back from a set down to win during this tournament, including over No. 2 seed Paul Oosterbaan in Saturday's semifinals. So a comeback was certainly possible, but all the positive energy he had used in those victories was nowhere to be found Sunday.
"Henrik did a very good job keeping everything away from my powerful game, and I wasn't realizing what was happening," said Gozun, who was playing in his first USTA National championship final. "You've got to raise your level every time you play, and you can't have a day off, when you're not prepared. You always have to be on top of your game."
Gozun fell behind 4-1 in the second set, and had only one brief chance to get one of the two breaks back, but Wiersholm saved a break point with a good first serve and swung freely in the rallies, eventually forcing errors to make it 5-1.
Gozun double faulted twice in the last game, and two more unforced errors gave Wiersholm his second gold ball of the weekend and a ticket to the US Open Junior Championships next month in New York.
"I really wanted to go, really wanted to go," said Wiersholm, who hasn't been to New York since he was four years old. "Winning gives me the means to get into main draw, and that feels good."
Novikov will be making his trip to New York for the men's tournament later this month, and his preferred opponent is not Federer or Nadal.
"I'd rather win and then play them," Novikov, of San Jose, Calif. joked. "I can still play them second round."
Novikov earned his spot in the main draw by serving big and hitting with too much depth and power for Halebian, who stayed with the UCLA freshman throughout the first set, but couldn't find any solutions in the third and fourth sets.
Halebian, an 18-year-old from Glendale, Calif., who trains at the USTA facility in Boca Raton, served for the first set at 5-3, but at 30-40 he tried a drop shot that Novikov ran down and got back over the net, with Halebian netting his attempt at a pass.
Novikov brought out his big serve in the tiebreaker, hitting a 125 mph ace early and a 129 mph serve to end it. Although Halebian did return that serve, Novikov put away the return with a forehand winner to take the first set, which Halebian thought was crucial to his own chances.
"I started off well, like I've been doing the whole week, but I this time I didn't close it out, I don't know why," said Halebian. "I had my chances, missed a few backhands that I should make and the set kind of got away from me. The first set really helped him out, because when we split, I could have been up two sets and that would have helped me out a lot, I would have had room for error."
Halebian did take the second set without much trouble, a set in which Novikov admitted that he "kind of rested during it." Keeping points even shorter than they were for the bulk of the two hour and 15 minute match, Novikov served and volleyed and went for winners without trying to construct any points, and Halebian was quickly back in the match.
That didn't last long however, as Halebian was broken at love in the fourth game of the third set, and Novikov's energy and serve dominance returned, with Halebian getting no looks at a break point the rest of the set.
A ten-minute break between the third and fourth sets didn't slow Novikov's momentum and he broke Halebian to open the fourth set. After another break and hold it was 4-0, then 5-1, but Halebian finally got a break, his first since the second set, when Novikov served for the match at 5-2.
"I did a couple of things, I served to the wrong side, missed a couple first serves," said Novikov, who attributed those mistakes to nerves. "It's the finals of Kalamazoo, you're just a couple of points away, and you tend to go for a little too much, get a little excited."
With Halebian serving in the next game, Novikov again got within two points for the championship at 30-30, but he missed a backhand and Halebian hit an ace to make it 5-4.
If there were any doubts in Novikov's head when serving for the match again, they didn't surface, with his big forehand forcing Halebian errors in the first two points and an unforced Halebian error making it 40-0. A net cord that fell out didn't make for a dramatic ending, but Novikov had his National 18s title.
"I knew I had six serves just to win the (last) point," said Novikov of the relief he felt when he went up 40-0. "I could go for six aces, and hopefully one of them goes in."
"I feel great right now," said Novikov. "It's big to win this tournament, especially to win the singles and doubles the same year. I haven't won either here, so winning both here and getting my first two gold balls is a good experience for me."
CONSOLATION, THIRD PLACE and SPORTSMANSHIP AWARDS:
The feed-in tournaments concluded on Sunday morning, with Mitchell Krueger, the No. 1 seed in 18s defeating No. 13 seed Austin Siegel 6-2, 4-0 ret., to finish in fifth place. No. 15 seed William Griffith finished the 16s division in fifth place with a 7-6(4), 6-1 win over No. 7 seed Tommy Mylnikov. Third place in the 16s went to No. 1 seed Mitch Stewart, who beat No. 2 seed Paul Oosterbaan 7-5, 6-2. No. 6 seed Jared Hiltzik finished third in the 18s, with No. 5 seed Noah Rubin withdrawing due to injury.
The final sportsmanship award, the Bobby Kaplan award for the 16s division, went to Stewart. Hiltzik won the Allen B. Stowe award for the 18s on Saturday, and Mihir Kumar took the Wes Richards award for feed-ins, also on Saturday.
For complete results, see the tournament website.