My Kalamazoo Preview; Former Champion Wiersholm Overcomes Tough Challenge in Opening Round at Kalamazoo; Clay Champions Riffice and Kirkov Fall in Doubles
Seeded players in the 18s all received byes in the first round, meaning their opening matches will be Saturday, and obviously the focus is on them in my Kalamazoo preview for the Tennis Recruiting Network. But a former champion will always receive attention at Kalamazoo, and 2012 16s winner Henrik Wiersholm fought his way past Alex Knight 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in one of the featured matches at Stowe Stadium.
Both Wiersholm and Knight have completed their freshman years in college, with Wiersholm at Virginia and Knight at Michigan, and Wiersholm anticipated he would have his hands full against the left-hander from Florida.
"He plays at Michigan and I knew they had a pretty good program over there, so I knew it was going to be a tough match," said Wiersholm. "It wasn't going to be junior tennis, because he goes to college, he knows how to play. I knew it was going to be long points, move the ball around. In the first set, I came out pretty nervous, honestly. I was playing tight, not looking for the ball and he capitalized on that. In the second set, I was just telling myself, yeah, it's Kalamazoo, but you've played this tournament for the fourth time, so what are you doing playing tight? Just go out and play."
In the third set, Knight's service game at 2-2 went to ten deuces and he saved eight break points before holding with an ace. And although Wiersholm lost the game, he held easily and then broke Knight for a 4-3 lead in a game almost as short as Knight's previous service game was long.
"I think that took a little bit out of him," said Wiersholm. "I don't how many minutes it was, so long, so many deuces. I had a lot of chances but I knew if I put him in a position like that, the next game I could capitalize because he'd be thinking like, wow, that last service game was tough, this one is going to be tough. And so I went after a couple of returns in that game and was able to get the break."
One of the characteristics of Kalamazoo that sets it apart from other junior events is its ability to draw players back from college, Pro Circuit and ITF junior circuit events.
Stefan Kozlov, who has not played a junior event since last December and accompanied his friend Wiersholm to his press conference in the Tower, explained.
"This tournament is like nothing else," said Kozlov, 17. "Everyone you see, it seems like you haven't seen in years. It's crazy. You see everyone and you've got to talk to them, you've got to plan an extra 30 minutes just for that. Even at junior slams, it's not like this."
"It's all the U.S. players, we're all best buds, and a lot of these guys I haven't seen in a year. I walked out to practice yesterday, and like for an hour, everyone was like, ooo, whaah," said Wiersholm, imitating good friends greeting each other after a long absence. "It's insane."
Wiersholm will play No. 8 seed William Blumberg in the second round Saturday.
"I'm excited," Wiersholm said. "Will's a damn good player."
Blumberg may not be in top physical condition however, as he withdrew from doubles with an illness. His partner Nathan Ponwith did find another player whose partner had also withdrawn, Adrian Chamdani, and they advanced to the third round with a straight-set victory.
No. 5 seeds Sam Riffice and Vasil Kirkov did not survive their first contest however. The Clay Court champions fell to Alex Diaz and Zach Jennings 6-2, 6-3.
The only other seeded team to lose was No. 14 Jordan Benjamin and Matthew Gamble, who were beaten by Billy Rowe and Reese Stalder 6-1, 1-6, 10-7.
Top seeds Frances Tiafoe and Michael Mmoh, No. 2 seeds Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka and No. 3 seeds Tommy Paul and Wiersholm all advanced in straight sets.
The 16s division begins play on Saturday with unseeded players taking the courts in the first round and the opening round of doubles to follow in the afternoon. Jake Van Emburgh and JJ Wolf are the top seeds in doubles, with Trent Bryde and Patrick Kypson the No. 2 seeds. The complete draw for the 16s doubles can be found at ustaboys.com.
Live streaming can be found for one of the show courts can be found here throughout the tournament.
The opening ceremonies, featuring an exhibition with 1995 18s champion Justin Gimelstob, are scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Stowe Stadium.