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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Svajda Claims Kalamazoo 18s Title; Bernard Saves Match Point to Win 16s Championship; Volynets Takes Girls 18s Crown in San Diego

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Kalamazoo MI--

Most players need years to acclimate themselves to the special atmosphere of the Kalamazoo Boys 18s and 16s National Championships. But for 16-year-old Zachary Svajda, it took only a few matches, with his first trip to the tournament ending with one of the biggest titles in junior tennis and the US Open main draw wild card that goes to the winner.  Svajda, seeded No. 6, defeated No. 5 seed Govind Nanda 6-7(3), 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 Sunday afternoon at Stowe Stadium, with his progressively better performance in the best-of-five final mirroring his path in the tournament.

"It definitely took me a few days," the San Diego resident said of the time he needed to adjust to Kalamazoo's special character. "The first few matches weren't the best. But I would say third round it got a little bit better and then the fourth, the fifth, and in the semis and finals it got much, much better."

Svajda served for the first set at 5-4 after going down 3-0 to start the match, but he never got to set point, and Nanda played the more composed tiebreaker that decided the set.

In the second set, Svajda lost a 3-0 lead, but he earned his first set points of the match with Nanda serving at 5-6, 15-40, needing only one to even the match with Nanda throwing in a double fault.

Both players were aggressively attacking the other's second serve, and that continued throughout the third set. Svajda saved five break points at 1-1 in the third set, broke in the next game and managed to hold on to that break, taking the 2-1 lead in sets with a big first serve at 5-3 40-30.

"I was trying to attack his second serve and he was on mine," Svajda said. "I don't have the biggest second serve. That was my game plan, be aggressive, attack the second serve, and it worked."

Although Nanda had played four consecutive three-setters just to reach the final and was also in the doubles draw throughout the week, losing in Saturday's final, Svajda did not want to adopt a strategy that would wear his opponent down.

"I tried to win right away," said Svajda, who found his first experience in a best-of five match difficult both mentally and physically. "I didn't want to be out there five sets. I'm feeling it now. I'm pretty tired right now, but I like the three out of five sets. It's definitely tougher on your body.

Svajda got an early break in the fourth set, and he was able to stay in front, saving a break point in the fourth game, with two serves down the T crucial in that hold. With his backhand doing the bulk of the work, Svajda earned a second break and Nanda couldn't summon that last bit of energy, dropping the final nine points of the match.

Despite the errors that crept into his game as the match neared a fourth hour, Nanda was happy with his level of play.

"I thought I played pretty well," said the 18-year-old from Cerritos California. "Probably one of the best matches I've played all week to be honest. There was a little bit of nerves from both of us, he came out a little shaky too and I could sense that, but he picked it up as it went on."

Nanda, who receives a wild card into the US Open qualifying, admitted that fatigue could have contributed to the loss.

"It adds up, having to play that many matches, that many three-setters, all that time on court adds up," said Nanda, who will be returning to UCLA in January of 2020. "But I thought I handled it pretty well. I had some chances in every set except maybe the last, but all credit to him, he played really well."

Svajda, who confessed he didn't even remember what happened on match point, said he is still processing the reality of his US Open wild card.

"I was getting pretty nervous when I was one game away," said Svajda, who has yet to play a match above the Futures level. "But there were definitely some tears when I won, it was pretty special."

Although Svajda doesn't have any experience playing a competitive match with the top pros, he has hit and trained with several of them, including Roger Federer this year at Indian Wells, John Isner, and other pros who are based at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, where Svajda often trains.

Svajda plans to accept the US Open first round prize money, which is $58,000 this year, marking the beginning of his professional career, but his immediate plans include a return to San Diego for some rest and relaxation before testing his game on the courts of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.
The 16s final that preceded the 18s championship match also featured a come-from-behind victory, with top seed Alex Bernard saving a match point and coming from 4-1 down in the third set to beat No. 4 seed Aidan Mayo 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.

Mayo took the first set after a break at 5-all, with two let cord winners helping the 16-year-old from Torrance California close out the set.

Bernard, sensing he had to make a change to his strategy, played more aggressively early in the second set, hitting a spectacular winner off a good overhead from Mayo to take an early 2-0 lead. Mayo then struggled to get a serve in the court, hitting four double faults in the sixth game to go down 5-1. Bernard couldn't close out the set on his own serve, but the left-hander from Bonita Spring Florida broke Mayo for the third time in the set to pull even at a set apiece.

"In the second, I was like, ok I'm going with everything to the backhand and try to come in," Bernard said of his decision to focus on Mayo's one-handed backhand. "And I was finishing with overheads a lot."

Bernard held to open the third set, and before the second game, Mayo asked for a medical timeout, with the trainer working on his right hamstring.  After a long game, in which he saved four break points, Mayo found his stride, breaking Bernard twice to take a 4-1 lead.

"I got down 4-1 in the third off just being tentative," said Bernard, who turns 16 on Tuesday. "It went by really quickly, and I didn't even realize how quickly. So I thought I'm just going to make balls deep and look for opportunities to be aggressive. And then I think he won just one point out of the next eight, so I got it back to 4-3 and I thought, I've got a good chance here."

At 4-3 Mayo managed to hold serve after saving a break point, hitting two tough overheads with a forehand winner sandwiched in between. At 5-3, Bernard went up 40-30, but a couple of unforced errors gave Mayo a match point. Bernard decided to bring Mayo in with a drop shot, and the strategy, which hadn't been successful earlier in the match, worked this time, with Bernard able to execute a backhand pass.

"I was kind of thinking of lobbing it," Bernard said. "And then I just went for a passing shot and it went in."

The large crowd roared its approval and Bernard held after Mayo made two unforced errors on the backhand side.

"The crowd was pretty crazy," said Bernard. "They got really loud sometimes, it was pretty cool."

Mayo still had a chance to close out the match, but he played a sloppy game to get broken at love.

"I maybe got a little tired, maybe a little ahead of myself, thinking about the title," Mayo said. "I made some loose errors, my feet weren't going and didn't make enough first serves. Mentally, I got a little tight, and I definitely didn't play that one very well."

After Bernard held to take a 6-5 lead, Mayo went up 30-0, but it was Bernard who took control after that, winning the final four points of the match to earn his place on the tournament's permanent list of champions displayed at Stowe Stadium every year.

"It's just really cool to see the names, and next year I'll come and see mine there," said Bernard, whose previous USTA National Level 1 title came at the 2017 Easter Bowl 14s. "I don't know where I'll end up being, but at least I've got that."

Bernard and Mayo are both heading to the ITF Grade 1 in College Park, Maryland, which begins on Monday August 19.

Four other singles matches were played on Sunday, with third place and fifth place matches in each age division decided. Alex Finkelstein defeated Ben Shelton 6-3, 6-2 to take the bronze ball in the 16s, and Brandon Nakashima beat Ronan Jachuck 6-2, 6-7(2), 7-5 to finish third in the 18s.

Evan Wen beat Ozan Colak 6-3, 6-4 in the feed-in consolation final in the 16s division, with Andres Martin taking fifth place in the 18s with a 7-6(10), 6-2 win over Blaise Bicknell.

The Allen B. Stowe sportsmanship award for 18s went to Brandon Nakashima. Thomas Paulsell won the Bobby Kaplan sportsmanship award for 16s and Nathan Han was the recipient of the Wes Richards feed-in sportsmanship award.

At the USTA National 18s championships in San Diego, No. 2 seed Katie Volynets won the singles title and a US Open women's main draw wild card, beating No. 3 seed Emma Navarro 6-2, 6-4.  The 18s doubles title and US Open women's doubles main draw wild card went to Abigail Forbes and Alexa Noel. The No. 13 seeds beat unseeded Katrina Scott and Gabby Price 7-5, 6-1 in today's final.