Kalamazoo Center Court Dedicated to George Acker; Mats Wilander Teams With Juniors for Two Wins in Opening Night Exhibition
©Colette Lewis 2014--
Seven-time grand slam singles champion Mats Wilander was the star of the opening ceremonies for the USTA Boys 16 and 18 National Championships Saturday night at Stowe Stadium, pairing with two reigning Kalamazoo champions to win two sets of doubles.
But he wasn't the only legendary member of the tennis community on the minds of the thousand or so spectators who gathered for the RX Optical and Greenleaf Trust Exhibition on a beautiful summer evening. George Acker, the former Kalamazoo College men's tennis coach who died in 2011, was honored prior to the doubles exhibition, with the center court re-christened George Acker court. Acker, who won seven NCAA Division III national titles at Kalamazoo College between 1959 and 1993, was NCAA Division III coach of the year in 1982 and 1991. Hundreds of former players, colleagues, friends and alumni were present for the unveiling of of the lettering behind each baseline, and his wife and daughters were recognized by Kalamazoo College president Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, who spoke of Acker's countless contributions to the college and the community over the years.
The dedication of the court was followed by the introduction of the seeded players, and then on to the tennis. Comedian Michael Kosta, who played tennis at the University of Illinois and has been doing stand up comedy for the past decade, was the Master of Ceremonies, and he poked fun at everyone and everything: Wilander's doubles faults, a 17-year-old line judge, the chair umpire's hometown of Findlay, Ohio, the "veteran" ballrunners; nothing escaped his notice.
The first set had the top-seeded doubles team of Collin Altamirano and Deiton Baughman split up, with Altamirano and Wilander facing Baughman and Cameron Lickle, who is a partner in the Wilander on Wheels venture that crisscrosses the country providing clinics and instruction. Although Wilander will be 50 in a few weeks, he more than held his own with the younger players on the court, and he and Altamirano, the reigning Kalamazoo 18s singles champion, took the first set 6-3. Wilander then played another set with Paul Oosterbaan of Kalamazoo, who is the reigning 18s doubles champion, with Lickle partnering Stefan Kozlov, a member of the second-seeded doubles team.
Kozlov and Lickle led 5-1, but Wilander and Oosterbaan came all the way back to force at tiebreaker at 5-5, with Kozlov pulling out a wood racquet during the eighth game.
"I found it in my bag," the 16-year-old Wimbledon boys finalist said as he held the Borg Bancroft racquet. "Just like I found that flag in my bag (the US flag in the Wimbledon final against Noah Rubin, his doubles partner this week). It was an exhibition, obviously, and I wanted to have some fun and I played really well with it actually."
After a few entertaining points, Kozlov returned to his Head racquet, but he continued to have fun, teasing the ballrunners and smiling often.
"It's my first time playing this exhibition, and they do a really good job with it," said Kozlov, who got into the spirit of the exhibition by hitting a tweener early in a long point his team eventually won. "Michael was pretty funny."
Oosterbaan was part of the exhibition last year with Mark Knowles, so he knew what to expect, and was more than willing to serve every point for his team late in the tiebreaker, which he and Wilander won 12-11.
"I think my serves a little harder than his, I'm not sure though," said the 6-foot-9 18-year-old. "This was awesome. I think Stefan and I started a little slow, but we picked it up and it got competitive and fun at the end. A lot of long rallies. Mats was cracking jokes and keeping it fun, even when I was struggling at the beginning. It was a great experience to play with a grand slam champion."
As for Kosta's needling, Oosterbaan took it in stride.
"That made it more fun," said Oosterbaan. "I'm glad he could come and it was fun hearing him talk to everyone, keep it lively."
Wilander was making his second appearance in a Kalamazoo exhibition, the first being in 1988 against Andre Agassi, when he had already won two slam titles that year and would win the US Open a few weeks later.
Wilander spoke briefly of the international reputation of the tournament, saying that it was the goal of any young pro to beat the American who had won Kalamazoo, even though he admitted to having difficulty spelling it.
In the actual tournament competition, there were few upsets in doubles, with 14 of the 16 teams in both the 18s and 16s making it through to the third round.
In the day's last match, Trevor Johnson and Mitch Stewart defeated No. 7 seeds Reilly Opelka and Taylor Fritz 4-6, 7-6(7), 10-8, a contest that drew a large crowd to the stands and landing above court 5. Tillman Haynes and Jesse Ruder-Hook defeated Clay Court finalists and No. 12 seeds Yancy Dennis and Brian Tsao 7-6(1), 6-7(4), 10-3.
In the 16s, Aleks Huryn and Abhin Sharma defeated No. 14 seeds William Genesen and Johnathan Small 6-2, 4-6, 13-11 and Nick Stachowiak and Christopher Yun downed No. 5 seeds Sam Riffice and Brandon Holt 6-3, 6-4.
For complete draws and Sunday's singles schedule, see the tournament website.