Top Seeds Mmoh, Greif Claim Kalamazoo Titles in Convincing Fashion; Day Wins Girls 18s Championship in San Diego
©Colette Lewis 2016--
Lukas Greif and Michael Mmoh arrived at Stowe Stadium for the 2016 USTA Boys 18s and 16s Nationals as favorites for the titles. Seven straight-sets wins later, both No. 1 seeds had put their names on the long list of Kalamazoo champions, and will be heading to the US Open in New York, with 16s winner Greif earning a wild card into the Junior Championships courtesy of a 6-0, 6-3 victory over No. 10 seed Jenson Brooksby and Mmoh getting a wild card into the main draw with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 7 seed Vasil Kirkov.
Greif, who won the Clay Courts title three weeks ago by beating Brooksby 6-1, 6-1 in the final, continued his domination of his peers this week. Although he was broken in his first service game of the tournament, Greif was rock solid as the stakes rose, losing only nine games total in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final.
Greif said he was nervous prior to the final, but it didn't show in his tennis, as he took the first seven games of the match and didn't allow Brooksby a game point until Brooksby was serving down 0-1 in the second set. Moving well and dictating play with his forehand, Greif did not give Brooksby an opportunity to use his considerable court sense.
Brooksby managed to push Greif for several games in the second set, breaking Greif with a forehand return winner that drew a huge ovation from the large crowd to pull back on serve. But Greif broke back in a three-deuce game to go up 4-2, unwilling to provide Brooksby with any hope for a third consecutive three-set win.
"When you're the No. 1 seed, it's tough, because people are gunning for you, going to play their best against you, come out firing," said the 16-year-old from Evansville, Indiana. "I felt like I did a good job with that this week, weathering the storm of some people, like Jenson in the second set. He played an unbelievable set, we had a lot of close games, but they just happened to go my way."
Brooksby had vowed the Kalamazoo final would be closer that the Clay Court final, but couldn't find his A game against Greif.
"It is disappointing," said the 15-year-old from the Sacramento, California area. "I thought it would be a better match today. The second set was better than the first set, but I needed to keep up that play from the very beginning."
Brooksby said mentally he was comfortable with his position, even though it was his first appearance in Kalamazoo, and the first time all the crowd's attention was focused solely on his match.
"I wasn't nervous at all," said Brooksby, who trains with Joseph Gilbert, who coaches current University of Virginia star Collin Altamirano, who won the 18s title in Kalamazoo unseeded in 2013. "I knew I was probably the underdog. I think it could have been closer for sure, if I had played better, but the experience was fun. It was a good atmosphere today."
When it came time for Greif to serve out the match at 5-3, he made four consecutive first serves and won the first three points. Although he missed a forehand on his first match point and hit his only second serve of the game on the next point, Greif was able to close out the match with a minimum of drama.
"I just blanked out my mind, went for the serves and they happened to all go in," said Greif, who trains with Bryan Smith and Stephanie Hazlett at the Smith Tennis Academy in Indianapolis. "This week my serve's been struggling a little bit. Me and my coach have been working on it, and when it got to that game, I focused on what he told me and it went in. I played good points those points, played aggressive, so it's good to finish off the match like that."
Greif's trip to New York to play in the US Open Junior Championships will be filled with firsts.
"I've never been to New York, never been to a grand slam, so this will be my first experience with it," Greif said. "It will be awesome, hopefully a great experience."
Greif, who took a bronze ball in doubles with Drew Baird, was also named the winner of the Bobby Kaplan Sportsmanship award for 16s.
"It's a big deal, even more than winning the championship, I think," said Greif. "I did a great job of handling my emotions and staying positive all week. This will be a summer I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Greif may be a US Open rookie, but Mmoh is not. Yet after three trips to the US Open Junior Championships and an appearance in the men's qualifying last year, the 18-year-old Mmoh will take a large step up this year with a main draw wild card in to the men's draw.
"I definitely don't want to play on Arthur Ashe," Mmoh said about his main draw debut. "That would mean I would be playing one of the top guys. All those guys are really good players, but hopefully I don't get Djokovic or one of those big dogs. But if I play the way I've been playing this week, I think I can do some damage, that's for sure. I've been playing good tennis, big tennis, compared to what I've done in the past. I'm really going for my shots now and dominating, so I'm happy about that."
Mmoh was close to dropping a set only once, when he defeated No. 10 seed Oliver Crawford in a second set tiebreaker in the round of 16. Dominating with his serve and his power during the week, it was his return of serve that he singled out as a key to his win over Kirkov.
"I thought I was returning unreal," said Mmoh, who is coached by Glenn Weiner at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. "Especially for the way he was playing. He was coming in, and I was able to hit some dippers. I was playing really well from the back, I wasn't serving that well, but I passed and returned well. Surprisingly, I wasn't that nervous. Last night I was really nervous, but today I came out pretty comfortable."
Although he showed glimpses of the entertaining game that helped him get to the final, Kirkov couldn't string together a succession of games that would apply pressure on Mmoh. A poor serving day didn't help, with his only lead of the afternoon coming with a hold in the first game of the third set.
"I don't think I played my best," said Kirkov, a 17-year-old from Tampa who is coached by his father Stoyan and also trains with the USTA in Boca Raton. "Michael does that to you. He makes you uncomfortable, and I was a little nervous, my first three-out-of-five match, finals of Kalamazoo, it was expected, but I'm kind of disappointed I didn't play my best. It was still a great tournament."
Kirkov, who will receive a wild card into the US Open men's qualifying for reaching the final, acknowledged that Mmoh's development is ahead of that of the other competitors in the 18s field this week.
"He's definitely more physical, a lot bigger than all of us, so that's an advantage, a bigger serve," said Kirkov, who won the Allen B. Stowe Sportsmanship Award for the 18s Division. "He has an advantage over us game-wise, he's still a little better, but once we get bigger and older, that should even out. But for now, yeah, I think he's a lot better than us."
Mmoh was broken twice by Kirkov, including serving at 4-1 in the third set, but he came out determined in his next service game, holding at love for a 5-3 lead and won the final eight points of the match.
Mmoh's celebration was muted, with a fist pump and look to his coach Weiner and his host family in the stands. After falling twice in the quarterfinals in Kalamazoo, then gaining a US Open wild card in his final opportunity, his reaction was not what many were expecting.
"It could have definitely been bigger and I was expecting it to be bigger," said Mmoh, who ripped his shirt off to celebrate a three-set victory in a Futures final last year. "But I played really well and there was not that much drama. So it would have been kind of weird. I've had some crazy celebrations in my career, so sometimes I can be a little subtle."
Although all the 18- and 19-year-olds he considers his peers were not in Kalamazoo, Mmoh credits them for helping him continue to work his way up the professional ranks.
"It's great motivation, because whenever your peers are doing well you want to do well," said Mmoh, currently 376 in the ATP rankings. "It's a very elite group. Taylor's top 70, Frances is winning Challengers and stuff, a lot of the guys are inside the top 200, so I mean it definitely pushes you. If you're the only guy there, your motivation might not be as high. Seeing those guys do so well gives you a lot of confidence and a lot of motivation at the same time."
It is the first time since 2007 when Michael McClune won the 18s and Tennys Sandgren won the 16s that the top seeds in each division have captured the title.
The third place singles matches and feed-in championships were also played on Sunday. In the 18s, No. 6 seed Zeke Clark defeated No. 8 seed Trent Bryde 6-4, 7-6(7) to take the bronze ball. Fifth place went to No. 4 seed Sam Riffice, who defeated No. 2 seed John McNally 7-5, 3-6, 10-7 in the consolation final. Third seeds Patrick Kypson and Oliver Crawford took third place in the 18s doubles on Saturday, beating Riffice and Anudeep Kodali, the No. 10 seeds, 7-5, 6-1.
In the 16s, No. 15 seed Robert Maciag won the bronze ball, beating unseeded Matthew Tsolakyan 7-6(4), 7-5. No. 5 seed Harris Walker won the feed-in tournament, beating No. 3 seed Jared Pratt 7-5, 6-3 in the final. Greif and Drew Baird took third in doubles on Saturday, beating No. 5 seeds Trey Hilderbrand and Jaycer Lyeons 6-3, 6-3.
Earlier in the week, Casey Ross was given the Wes Richards Sportsmanship Award for Feed-Ins.
The Kalamazoo Nationals YouTube channel has video interviews with the singles and doubles champions and all three sportsmanship award winners.
For complete draws, see ustaboys.com.
|Photo courtesy J Fred Sidhu, USTA Girls Nationals|
The girls 18s double title went to No. 5 seeds Ena Shibahara and Jada Hart, who defeated No. 9 seeds Meible Chi and Taylor Russo 6-1, 6-4. Shibahara and Hart will receive a main draw wild card into the US Open.