Noah Rubin Defeats Defending Champion Altamirano for Kalamazoo 18s Title; McNally Claims 16s Championship
©Colette Lewis 2014--
With his 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 win over defending National Champion Collin Altamirano Sunday afternoon at Stowe Stadium, Noah Rubin capped off a summer to remember, adding the Kalamazoo 18s singles title the doubles championship he won Saturday and the Wimbledon boys title he captured last month.
Rubin returns home to Rockville Centre, New York with two US Open main draw wild cards in his bag but the 18-year-old has competition in the Most Successful Summer sweepstakes by 16s champion John McNally.
McNally, the top seed, defeated No. 9 seed Connor Hance 6-4, 6-4 in Sunday's 16s final to pick up his second gold ball of the weekend, joining his 12-year-old sister Caty in sweeping singles and doubles, with Caty's victories coming in the 14s division in Georgia.
Although he appreciates being on the long list of great players who have been Kalamazoo champions, McNally is especially excited by the prospect of playing in the US Open Junior Championships late this month with the wild card that goes to the 16s winner.
"It's awesome to get in," said McNally, who has now adjusted his dream of getting in to a junior slam to a dream of winning a round. "I'll be playing with guys like Stefan Kozlov and Michael Mmoh and Jared Donaldson, all those guys are going to be playing, I'm sure. And then you have me. John McNally. I don't really belong in there. But it's going to be a great experience, I can't wait."
McNally won the coin toss in Sunday's final and elected to receive, thinking Hance might be nervous, with a large crowd beginning to assemble behind court 1 on the fifth straight warm and sunny day of the tournament. That proved be a smart choice, as he broke Hance in the first game--the only break of the set.
In the second set, Hance looked as if he would get the first break when McNally fell behind 0-40 serving at 3-4, but McNally won the next five points, four of them with forehand winners. In the next game, which went to deuce three times, Hance had two game points, but it was McNally who won it, giving him an opportunity to serve for the match.
With McNally serving at 5-4 30-30, Hance netted a forehand but McNally double faulted on his first match point. Eerily, this is exactly the same score and scenario, right down to the double fault, in the 2013 14s Easter Bowl final between the two, with Hance winning the game and going on to a 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 victory.
"I'm sure everyone was thinking, oh my god, it's like the Easter Bowl, 6-4, 5-4, 40-30, the same exact score," said McNally, a 15-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio, who won the 16s Clay Courts singles championship last month. "But I wasn't really thinking about it, wasn't really nervous. I'd gotten this far, I might as well win it."
Although there was no comeback for Hance, he kept pushing McNally, saving two more match points and getting a break point after the third one, only to see McNally save it with confident overhead. After Hance netted a backhand, McNally got his fourth match point and this time a good first serve sealed the victory, his 64th in 2014, against one loss.
Hance, who dealt McNally that one loss in the July Intersectionals, wasn't disappointed in his level, despite the loss.
"I played pretty well today," said Hance, a 15-year-old from Torrance, California. "But to beat John I would have to play a lot better. He was taking advantage of my short balls and finishing every time, and I couldn't do anything about it. He's really good at taking the ball early, and he hits really deep and hard. He was just a little more solid than me today, and his serve was probably a little better. That's what did it for him."
Hance said he was happy with his week, and called Kalamazoo his favorite tournament "by far" and said he might play the 16s again next year to try to get his name on the champions honor roll.
McNally now has his sights set on adding his name to the 18s list of champions.
"To be on a list like that is unbelievable," McNally said. "There's so much history at this tournament. I'm just lucky to get my name on the bowl, and I'm going to try to win 18s one year."
Seeded third, Rubin was making his fourth attempt at a Kalamazoo title, playing here once in the 16s and three times in the 18s. His 2012 and 2013 attempts stalled in the semifinals, but on Sunday he put those disappointments behind him, dominating the fifth seed and defending champion with his court positioning, speed and belief.
"It was pure mental toughness," said Rubin. "I changed my game plan because it was five sets and I knew I couldn't run down every ball, I'd be exhausted. So I tried to shorten the game, stay on top of the baseline, and that was in my favor. I took the angles away from him. He's a great ball mover, I know that, and he kind of takes players out of their game, so I thought stepping up first would be a good idea."
Both players held their first service game, but Altamirano was broken the second time he served and never entirely recovered from that. After playing very precisely against Stefan Kozlov in the semifinals, Altamirano was unable to execute against Rubin, often missing the finishing shot when he had succeeded in getting Rubin out of position.
In both the first and second sets, Rubin went up two breaks, and although he gave one of them back both times, serving for the first and second sets at 5-2, he held in his second attempts, with Altamirano becoming increasingly angry and demonstrative as the match continued.
"I felt like he believed and I didn't," said Altamirano, despite having the experience of winning the title last year as the first unseeded player in the tournament's history. "At 2-1 in the first set, I don't know what was going on in my head, but I was worried, and the whole time I was trying to convince myself to turn it around, turn it around, but I just couldn't do it."
Altamirano looked as if he had calmed himself down after going down 2-0 in the third set, winning three straight games to take the lead for the first time since the first game of the match. Rubin stayed focused however, and won the final three games to become the first player since Van Winitsky in 1977 to win both the Wimbledon boys title and the Kalamazoo 18s championship in the same year.
"I knew in the bottom of my heart it could have gone four or five (sets), but after that second set I had the confidence," Rubin said. "Putting myself in his shoes, it's tough to win three sets. Even if he wins two sets, it's still another set."
As the runner-up this year, Altamirano receives a wild card into the men's qualifying draw at the US Open.
"I'll look at the bright side," said Altamirano, who lost in the first round of the main draw last year to Philip Kohlschreiber of Germany. "Qualies isn't bad. It's an opportunity. It'll be fun and I'm looking forward to it."
Rubin, who earned a main draw doubles wild card with Stefan Kozlov on Saturday, is not sure who he'd like to draw as his first round singles opponent in New York.
"It's both ways. I feel like I have a chance against anybody, I've seen these guys play, played guys 100 in the world, but would Fed in a night match be awesome? Yes," Rubin asked and answered. "But winning first round of the Open would be nice also. But really anything--I'm playing the Open, in my own backyard, let me just enjoy myself."
Rubin will be heading to Wake Forest this fall, and joked with Demon Deacon head coach Tony Bresky that nothing would change his mind about attending school, not even reaching the final of the US Open.
"If I win the Open, maybe not," said Rubin. "But anything less than that, I'm going."
"I'll cheer for you all the way until the finals," joked Bresky, who was also at Wimbledon for Rubin's title run there. "Then it's 'Let's Go Fed.'"
"But no, this doesn't change anything," said Rubin. "I still need that year (at school). Tony's a great coach and he's really going to help me through this first year."
Bresky saw Rubin's ability to come through when the stakes were high in his two singles titles this summer.
"Noah played his best tennis in both tournaments at the end, which is what I think every tennis player aspires to," said Bresky. "It was pretty impressive stuff. I'm excited, my coaching staff is excited, my athletic department is excited. I think the university and the community is excited, the guys on the team are excited. Noah's a great kid, and he's obviously going to be a great ambassador, not only for our program from a tennis perspective, but for the university as well."
Bresky credited Rubin's coach Lawrence Kleger at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy and Rubin's father Eric with preparing his recruit for these accomplishments.
"So now all the pressure is on us, to make sure he keeps developing and getting better," Bresky said. "We welcome that, and we're excited to have him."
In the third place singles matches played Sunday morning, Gianni Ross won the bronze ball in the 16s, defeating Oliver Crawford 7-6(3), 6-4. William Genesen won the feed-in consolation tournament, defeating Kyle Seelig 6-3, 1-6, 10-7.
Stefan Kozlov won the bronze ball in 18s singles, via a walkover from Michael Mmoh.
Seelig was the recipient of the Wes Richards Sportsmanship Award for Feed-ins, and Aron Hiltzik joined his brother Jared as a Dr. Allen B. Stowe Sportsmanship award winner for the 18s division this year. Jared won the award in 2012.