Mmoh Ousts Escobedo, Rubin Downs Tiafoe to Reach 18s Semifinals; Crawford, Hance Advance to Final Four in Kalamazoo 16s
©Colette Lewis 2014--
Michael Mmoh is making his first trip to Kalamazoo a memorable one.
The 16-year-old, who had to withdraw last year due to an injury, earned a place in the 18s semifinals on Thursday by defeating No. 2 seed Ernesto Escobedo 7-5, 7-5.
The weather--70s, partly cloudy, little breeze--was perfect, which gave Mmoh, the No. 7 seed, an opportunity to attack.
"I really stepped up today," said Mmoh, who trains at the IMG Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Florida. "I played way more aggressively than I usually do, and I knew that I had to do that to win. He's not a tricky player, because you know what he's going to do, but his forehand is just ruthless."
Mmoh's serve was instrumental in keeping him in the first set, because he won only two points on Escobedo's serve in the 18-year-old Californian's first five service games. None of the 12 games went to deuce in the opening set, and Mmoh lost only six points in his six service games. But the opening came for Mmoh with Escobedo serving at 5-6. Escobedo's forehand, usually so reliable, let him down and three errors from that side gave Mmoh two set points. He only needed one, when Escobedo missed his first serve, then netted a backhand in the short rally that followed his second serve.
The second set was much more perilous for Mmoh. He faced his first two break points of the match in the third game, but saved them both, and after breaking Escobedo with a blistering forehand winner for a 4-2 lead, he saved three more to make it 5-2. He was finally broken serving for match at 5-3, double faulting at 30-40 and Escobedo held for 5-5.
The next game proved pivotal, with Mmoh serving to a 40-0 lead only to lose the next four points. He saved the break point with an ace, confirmed by the service line judge, despite doubts expressed by Escobedo, and held for 6-5.
Escobedo immediately went down 0-30 and a forehand wide gave Mmoh three match points. After short and furious rally, in which Escobedo thought a Mmoh shot was just out on the baseline but kept playing, ended with Mmoh hitting a forehand winner. Usually Mmoh doesn't show much emotion, but his roar at the end indicated just how big a win it was for him. Escobedo still was gesturing at the baseline and the chair umpire for several moments after the chair umpire announced the score, and after the handshake went, not to his bag and chair, but to a line judge's chair near the fence, where he sat for several minutes trying to process the loss.
"It was huge," said Mmoh. "With the way I was playing, I wasn't really expecting to get away with this win, but I'm really happy, really stepped up my game today."
Mmoh will play Noah Rubin in Saturday's semifinals, after the No. 3 seed defeated No. 6 seed Francis Tiafoe 6-3, 6-3 to reach his third consecutive 18s semifinal in Kalamazoo.
Rubin was at the top of his game, while Tiafoe was not, with unforced errors almost exclusively on Tiafoe's side of the ledger.
"I played well," said Rubin, who beat Tiafoe 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3 in the Wimbledon junior championships third round last month. "I was mentally prepared for this match. We've encountered each other a couple of times, one pretty recently on a different surface, and I felt good right from the start."
Both players held their first three service games, but Rubin broke for a 4-3 lead then broke again for the set. The second set went much like the first, with Rubin breaking for a 4-2 lead. Tiafoe saved one match point in the eighth game of the set, forcing Rubin to serve it out, but the 18-year-old New Yorker finished with a good first serve to seal the win, setting up his first meeting with Mmoh.
As for his two previous losses in the Kalamazoo semifinals, Rubin didn't seem concerned.
"If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen," Rubin said of reaching a final at Kalamazoo. "Everybody's here for one reason and we're going to put our hearts and souls out. I think I'm more mentally prepared, and I think my game is at the level it needs to be to win this tournament and I feel confident in all that. I think it showed in this match--Francis is a great player, so the fact that I played so well against him is more credit to myself."
The other two quarterfinals in the 18s--top seed Jared Donaldson against defending champion and No. 5 seed Collin Altamirano and No. 4 seed Stefan Kozlov against No. 8 seed Taylor Fritz--are scheduled for Friday afternoon.
The two 16s quarterfinals played Thursday produced mixed results for unseeded players. Victor Pham, who had beaten No. 3 seed Patrick Kypson on Wednesday, fell to No. 9 seed Connor Hance 6-1, 6-3, while unseeded Oliver Crawford continued his surprising run with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 win over No. 14 seed Alexander Keyser.
Crawford is playing in only his third USTA Level 1 championship this week, having played the Clay Courts the past two years, in the 14s and the 16s, and he is impressed with Kalamazoo in his first visit.
"The tournament's great, and I like all the officials on the court," said the 15-year-old from Spartanburg, South Carolina. "It was fun with the ball boys. I've never done that before. The line judges were great, very fair, nice, the crowd. The whole tournament I've been playing on the back courts, so today was good. I enjoyed it."
Crawford regularly trains at Furman, hitting with former Kalamazoo champion Kelly Jones' daughter Makenna, who reached the quarterfinals of the Girls 16s Nationals in San Diego this week.
"I hit with her a lot actually," said Crawford.
Lacking a coach here with him in Kalamazoo, Crawford turned to his father for advice in the ten-minute break between sets.
"My dad doesn't play tennis," Crawford said. "He just told me to do more of what you did in the first set and less of what you did in the second, and you'll win."
Unlike Crawford, Hance has been near the top of his age groups for years, but he said he wasn't a top five seed due to some mediocre results and a spring injury.
"I hurt my back earlier this year and I didn't play the Easter Bowl, pulled out in the second round of the Carson ITF," said the 15-year-old from Torrance, California, who was a semifinalist at last month's Clay Courts. "At Winter Nationals I lost early to a kid who played really well, so except for Clay Courts, I haven't really done well in Supernationals, but I'm getting confident now."
Against Pham, Hance was far steadier to begin the match, and quickly had the first set, with Pham unable to find the range with his forehand. The second set was much closer, but when Hance broke Pham, who led 40-0, to take a 4-3 lead, he was confident.
"He was playing pretty good in the second set, but when I broke him at 3-all and held serve, I was pretty sure I had it," Hance said.
Hance is not quite sure what to expect from Crawford in the semifinals.
"He's up-and-coming, I'd say," Hance said. "I hadn't really seen him before Clay Courts a couple of weeks ago, but he beat me in doubles there. We've never played in singles though."
Hance, Mmoh and Rubin are all still alive for a doubles title after Thursday's quarterfinals.
Rubin and his partner Kozlov, the No. 2 seeds, overcame a slow start to record a 2-6, 6-2, 10-6 victory over unseeded Mitchell Stewart and Trevor Johnson. Top seeds Deiton Baughman and Altamirano also needed a match tiebreaker to defeat No. 6 seeds Dan Kerznerman and Nathan Ponwith 3-6, 6-3, 10-6. Mmoh and Tiafoe, the No. 4 seeds, won their third and fourth straight tiebreaker, defeating No. 5 seeds JT Nishimura and William Griffith 7-6(2), 7-6(5). No. 3 seeds Tommy Paul and Henrik Wiersholm advanced to the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 8 seeds Aron Hiltzik and Logan Smith. Beginning with Friday's semifinals, all doubles matches will be best-of-three tiebreak sets.
Hance and Liam Caruana, the No. 8 seeds, defeated unseeded Ryan Cheng and Max Pham 6-3, 7-6(5) and will play No. 12 seeds Matthew Galush and Brenden Volk, who beat No. 15 seeds Jake Berber and Payton Holden 3-6, 6-4, 10-7. Top seeds John McNally and Gianni Ross overcame unseeded Alafia Ayeni and Danny Thomas 4-6, 6-4, 10-5. They will play No. 3 seed Robert Loeb and Alex Phillips, who beat unseeded Daniel Boussom and Connor Johnston 6-3, 6-2.
For complete draws, see the tournament website.
At the other USTA National Championships, the semifinals and finals are set.
Boys 12s: Zane Khan(3) v Faris Khan(6)
Girls 12s: Katie Volynets(1) v Sedona Gallagher(6)
Boys 14s: Bill Duo(17) v William Woodall(5)
Girls 14s: Caty McNally(6) v Taylor Johnson(3)
Girls 16s: Kayla Day(2) v Kylie Mackenzie(9)
Girls 18s semifinals:
Louisa Chirico(1) v Tornado Alicia Black(5)
Sofia Kenin(15) v CiCi Bellis(2)