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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ayeni Beats No. 4 Seed Crawford; McNally Turns Tables on Kirkov in Kalamazoo 18s Round of 16; Top Four Seeds Move on in 16s Division; USA Teams Reach Quarterfinals at World Junior Tennis Competition

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Kalamazoo MI--

Unpleasant Kalamazoo memories were replaced by happier ones today for No. 12 seed Alafia Ayeni, No. 6 seed John McNally and No. 5 seed JJ Wolf.

Ayeni defeated No. 4 seed Oliver Crawford 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 in the round of 16 today at Stowe Stadium, avenging a loss in his first appearance in Kalamazoo back in 2014.

"There's a lot of history between us in Kalamazoo," said Ayeni, who turns 18 on Thursday. "He's the first guy I lost to here in Kalamazoo. I was up 5-2 against him in all three sets and I still lost [in 2014], and then he ended up making semifinals."

With a relatively easy first set, Ayeni had enough experience playing against Crawford to know he had a lot of work ahead of him despite his lead.

"I was like, he's pretty much got the second in the bag," said Ayeni, who actually came from 5-2 down in the second set, only to have Crawford break him serving at 5-6. "The way Oliver plays is aggressively consistent, his forehand and his return, especially on second serves. That's why I double faulted so much, because I was so nervous he was going to hit a winner off me."

The level was high during the second and third sets, with the lunchtime crowd, enjoying a delightful summer day at Stowe Stadium, showing their appreciation of the many dramatic and entertaining points they played.

Ayeni got the first of his two breaks with Crawford serving at 1-1 in the third set.

"He did really well in that game," said Ayeni, the 2017 Easter Bowl champion. "I was up 40-0 and he brought out three amazing points. Usually in the past, what I would do would be get mad at myself, but I was like, you know what, there's not much I could do about that, so let's try to get the next point. What needed to change for me, as far as improving my results, was my attitude. In those tough situations, in the past, that's where I'd lose it. So I'm proud of myself for staying solid mentally."

Ayeni got a second break to go up 4-1 and served for the match at 5-2, but Ayeni couldn't close the door. And memories of a match earlier this year against Crawford popped into his head.

"I guess it's only been two times that I've been up a break in the third set against him and lost," Ayeni said. "In January, in Costa Rica [Grade 1] I was up a break in the third set against him and ended up losing that match, so it felt good to get the win today. I was really nervous though."

After saving the first match point against him in an amazing rally, Crawford succumbed to nerves on the second, double faulting to give Ayeni the victory.

Ayeni's opponent in Thursday's quarterfinal will be No. 8 seed DJ Thomas, who got by a stubborn Britton Johnson, the No. 32 seed, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.

"Danny's a good friend of mine and I love seeing another African-American in the sport my age," said Ayeni, who has verbally committed to Cornell, but does not know when he'll be starting classes there. "Of course there's Frances [Tiafoe] and Michael [Mmoh] (the past two Kalamazoo 18s champions), but other than that, Danny and I are two of the few at the top."

McNally's 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 win over 2016 finalist Vasil Kirkov, seeded 10th, helped ease the pain of his quarterfinal loss in a third-set tiebreaker to Kirkov last year.

"Last year I played very, very tentative," said McNally, a rising freshman at Ohio State. "He was coming in a lot and I couldn't find the court with my returns, and I still managed to almost win that match. My coach and I and my mom (Lynn Nabors McNally), everyone back home, has been working on me playing a little bit more aggressive and not worrying about the score."

McNally was up 5-3 in the first set, but lost four straight games, and was down a break late in the second set.

"I took my foot off the accelerator a little bit and all of a sudden I found myself down 7-5, 4-3 with him serving," said McNally, the 2014 Kalamazoo 16s champion. "And I just kind of told myself, it's better to lose this match trying to make the right plays, play the correct way, and I sort of started to do that."

McNally took a 2-0 lead in the third set, but Kirkov broke right back and both players held until Kirkov was faced with holding at 4-5. Kirkov missed an overhead and forehand volley for 15-30, and McNally came up with a perfectly executed backhand pass to give himself two match points.  On the first, Kirkov came to the net and hit what he thought was a line-catching volley, but McNally called it out, fell to court, and when Kirkov pleaded with the chair umpire, she said she agreed with McNally's call.

"Obviously after a match like this the tension might be a little bit high, but I don't want any hard feelings and there were no hard feelings from me to him after last year's match," said McNally. " At the end of the second set and the whole third set, I felt the quality of tennis was pretty high....It's a really big win for me because last year was very tough on me, even though JJ [Wolf] and I did win doubles, which made it a little bit better. But obviously, coming to Kalamazoo, you want to play for the US Open wild card."

McNally will play No. 29 seed Ryan Goetz, who beat No. 25 seed Mason Beiler 6-3, 6-3.

The other quarterfinal in the bottom half will feature No. 7 seed Sebastian Korda and No. 2 seed Patrick Kypson.  Kypson got by No. 27 seed Trey Hilderbrand 6-2, 7-6(2) and Korda beat No. 11 seed Alexandre Rotsaert 7-6(5), 6-4.

No. 5 seed JJ Wolf, a rising sophomore at Ohio State, was the third player to erase a bad memory from Kalamazoo. Wolf defeated No. 30 seed Timothy Sah, who had beaten him at the same stage last year in three sets, 6-1, 6-1. Wolf will face top seed Sam Riffice, who beat friend and doubles partner Gianni Ross 7-6(0), 6-2.

Due to rain in the forecast for Friday, the decision was made to play all the 18 quarterfinals on Thursday, instead of splitting them, as is done when weather is expected to cooperate on both days.  The 16s quarterfinals will be played on Friday, with moving indoors considered more appropriate for that age division rather than the 18s, where a US Open main draw wild card is on the line.

Seven of the top eight seeds advanced to Friday's quarterfinals with wins today, with only one round of 16 match going three sets.

Top seed Brandon Nakashima, who had a tough fourth round match on Tuesday, was back in cruise mode Wednesday, beating No. 24 seed Spencer Whitaker 6-1, 6-0.  He will play No. 6 seed Leighton Allen, who has lost only 11 games in his four victories. Allen downed No. 14 seed Ronan Jachuck 6-1, 6-1.

Even No. 3 seed Siem Woldeab won in straight sets, beating No. 21 seed Andres Martin 6-1, 6-4.  Woldeab had needed three sets to advance in his first three matches.

Clay Court champion Garrett Johns, the No. 12 seed, eliminated the last unseeded player in either division, beating Matthew Che 7-6(5), 6-2.  He will play Will Grant, who dominated No. 13 seed Jaycer Lyeons 6-0, 6-4.

No. 8 seed Stefan Dostanic beat No. 10 seed Tyler Zink 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 and will play No. 2 seed Andrew Dale, who got past No. 15 seed Marcus McDaniel 6-4, 6-1.

Dale had to fight for his life in Tuesday's third round, beating Theodore McDonald, the No. 32 seed, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.

"Theo's a great player and we had a tough match, but I was able to fight it out," Dale said. "My quads were a little bit sore and tight, but I took an ice bath and everything was great from there on."

Dale hadn't won a match in Kalamazoo in 2016, his first year playing Kalamazoo, but the 15-year-old from Virginia.

"I played at Western Michigan all my matches last year," Dale said. "I played on Court 1 for my first round match [this year] and I was definitely tense. It was a change of environment, but I know I'm seeded 2 for a reason."

Dale and Dostanic met in the semifinals of the 16s division at the International Spring Championships in Carson, winning 6-4, 6-3.

"Stefan's a great player," said Dale. "Big back swing on the forehand, puts a lot of pressure on his opponents. I'm looking forward to playing him."

The doubles round of 16 was completed Wednesday evening, with the top 6 seeds in the 18s advancing to Thursday's quarterfinals. Top seeds Kirkov and Thomas were 6-1, 6-3 winners over unseeded Keenan Mayo and Sah, while No. 2 seed Crawford and Kypson needed a match tiebreaker to beat unseeded Robert Baylon and Eric Hahn 6-1, 1-6, 10-6.

In the 16s, the top three seeds are all still alive, with Robert Cash and Ryder Jackson, Eliot Spizzirri and Whitaker, and Grant and Zink all advancing in straight sets.

For complete results, see the ustaboys.com website.

At the ITF World Junior Tennis competition for 14-and-under teams, the United States advanced to the semifinals by going 3-0 in the round robin phase of the tournament.  The No. 1 seeded US boys beat Italy 2-1 with Martin Damm and Toby Kodat taking the doubles point, and the No. 2 seeded US girls beat France 2-1 with Cori Gauff and Charlotte Owensby winning the doubles point to secure the victory.  The US boys play No. 3 seed Spain on Thursday, with the US girls taking on No. 4 seeds Australia.  For complete results, see the ITF tournament site.


Brent said...

Another rash of back draw withdrawals out of the 18s. The notion that some of these players think they are good enough to be in the "US Open Wildcard or bust' mode is laughable. If you sign up for a tournament, play it to its completion. Huge opportunity to get better, put some good wins out there, get better, and compete. The few legitimate injuries aside, withdrawing is weak sauce. And the combebacks about 'pro tournaments don't have back draws' aren't relevant. Go play pro tournaments then. This is the format - you knew it when you signed up.

Ron said...

I totally agree with you Brent!

Each match is so great for their development. I hope those who pull out of singles, cannot continue in doubles as well.

I bet the same will be with the Girls 18s in San Diego.

I wish the USTA PD would take an aggressive stance on this issue.

Another perspective said...

All I will say that it's not always what you think when pulling out the back draw there is money and other things involved in the decision. Parents at least the non rich ones have to make sense of it to decide to afford it.