Thursday, August 8, 2019

Top Seed Bernard Leads Kalamazoo 16s Semifinalists; Quarterfinals Set in San Diego Girls 18s; US Boys and Girls Advance to Semifinals at ITF World Team Event

©Colette Lewis 2019--
Kalamazoo MI--

Top seed Alex Bernard and No. 4 seed Aidan Mayo earned places in the Saturday's semifinals with impressive wins Thursday at USTA Boys 16s National Championships at Stowe Stadium, while No. 7 seed Ben Shelton equaled his father's best performance in Kalamazoo, and No. 19 seed Alex Finkelstein pulled out yet another victory after losing the first set.

Bernard defeated No. 32 seed Hugo Hashimoto 6-1, 6-4, but the 15-year-old left-hander had to bring all his defensive skills into play to put away the big-hitting Californian.

"I think he came out with a little bit of nerves, but in the second set he freed up and played some really good games," said Bernard, who has dropped just one set in the tournament. "So I felt I did pretty well in the second to just fight through it, stay steady. He can hit some really good shots."

Bernard prefers to dictate points, but once Hashimoto began to feel comfortable, Bernard didn't have a choice.

"I had to defend, because he's a very aggressive player," said the Bonita Springs Florida resident. "I'm not just going to hit hard with him all the time, that's kind of difficult, so I just had to play a little defense."

Bernard was up 3-1 and serving, but Hashimoto won the next three games, only to surrender his only lead in the match when Bernard broke right back. Bernard then closed out the match with a hold and another break to set up a semifinal meeting with Sheldon, a Florida junior rival.

Bernard said that being the No. 1 seed comes with expectations, but also can provide an advantage.

"I try not to think about the seeding too much, but you know you're expected to do well, so you have to stay focused and get off to good starts in matches," Bernard said. "But if you can get on top of people, it can help you."
Shelton came back to defeat No. 3 seed Samir Banerjee 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, getting over his nerves and eliminating his unforced errors in the last two sets.

"I was down 5-1 and I started playing more freely," said the 16-year-old from Gainesville Florida. "I started to move around and hit more forehands, and I won three games in a row. He ended up winning the set, but I had some momentum built up going into the second set, and I started playing well in the second set and kept it rolling in the third."

The 10-minute break between the second and third sets can halt any momentum, but Shelton came out with a plan to retain his edge on Banerjee, the reigning Easter Bowl 16s champion.

"He was serving in the first game of third set, so I said, let's go out and put pressure on him in the first game, see if you can get a break and I got it," said Shelton, who saved a match point in his third round win over Alex Visser. "Then it was, ok, let's back it up and hold, and I did that, and then let's break again. That was my mentality the whole time, just locked in."

Shelton is fortunate to have a coach with a lot of experience to impart during the coaching breaks, with his father Bryan currently the head men's coach at the University of Florida. Not only that, but Bryan also reached the semifinals in Kalamazoo, back in 1984, in the 18s division.

"He told me it was a great tournament," Shelton said. "He also said a lot people come here and they get tight, they tighten up, feel there's too much to lose, and I feel that's how I played my last couple of rounds. But today I played like there was nothing to lose, and I was putting a lot of balls in the court."
The top four seeds reached the quarterfinals, yet only two survived, with No. 2 seed and reigning Clay Court champion Luke Casper also unable to hold on to a lead, losing to Finkelstein 6-7(4), 6-1, 6-2.

Finkelstein said he wasn't discouraged by dropping the first set, as he had won three of his previous four matches from a set down.

"I'd lost the first set in every single match except one, so I was kind of getting used to it," said the 16-year-old from Raynham Massachusetts. "I don't want to get used to it. But I remember last time, I played him at Clay Courts and that went three sets too, so I kind of felt I could still get in the match, just trying to be aggressive."

Finkelstein said he felt nerves were a problem for both of them in the opening set.

"I think the first set we were both like super nervous," Finkelstein said. "I think we were both pretty tight, but I kind of relaxed after the first set; I had nothing to lose, as the 19th or 20th seed, I forget."

Finkelstein did think a run like this was possible, if not likely.

"I've always felt like I have the level to be here, but at the same time, I am kind of surprised," Finkelstein said. "I felt like I had a pretty tough draw--I know (Jack) Anthrop lost and that opened it up--but still, (Casper) was a really tough player, and I surprised myself how well I played the last two sets."
Finkelstein's opponent is not surprised to be the semifinals, although Mayo had to come from 4-2 down in the first set to defeat No. 9 seed Victor Lilov 6-4, 6-4.

"I thought I got my serve back and started making him play as much as I could," Mayo said of comeback. "Got a little lucky maybe, here or there. But I turned it up a little bit, brought up the intensity."

Mayo knew he would have to be sharp to keep Lilov from asserting himself at the net.

"He's tough, he plays aggressive, hits big, volleys well," said the 16-year-old from Torrance California. "So I knew I had to get it at his feet as much as I could, pass him when I had a chance, but make him play, make him put away a volley."

After an ITF Grade 3 title and another final last month in the Dominican Republic, Mayo arrived in Kalamazoo convinced he could excel this week.

"I definitely expected to do well," said Mayo. "I knew I was one of the best players coming in, so I'm not surprised, but I'm happy I'm here, for sure."

Mayo and Finkelstein will be playing for the first time on Saturday.

"I haven't really seen him before, it will be a new challenge and it should be a good match," Mayo said.

While the 18s had the day off from singles, the doubles quarterfinals were played Thursday afternoon.

Top seeds Martin Damm and Toby Kodat defeated No. 12 seeds Leighton Allen and Mark Mandlik 6-3, 6-2 and will play No. 15 seeds Phillip Jordan and Andres Martin. Jordan and Martin defeated No. 8 seed Dali Blanch and Will Grant 6-1, 7-6(4).

The other 18s doubles semifinal will feature No. 3 seeds Brandon Nakashima and Govind Nanda against No. 14 seeds Robert Cash and Cannon Kingsley. Nakashima and Nanda defeated No. 16 seeds Ron Hohmann and Neel Rajesh 6-1, 4-6, 11-9 and Cash and Kingsley downed No. 7 seed Welsh Hotard and Benjamin Koch 6-4, 6-2.

The 16s doubles closed out the action Thursday.

Shelton is not the only son of a Division I coach still in the running for a Kalamazoo title, with Frank Thompson, son of Virginia Tech men's coach Jim Thompson into the semifinals with partner Thomas Paulsell. Paulsell and Thompson, the No. 2 seeds, defeated No. 8 seeds Banerjee and Ozan Colak 7-5, 3-6, 10-7. They will face No. 11 seeds Lucas Brown and Aidan Kim, who defeated unseeded Kurt Miller and Jakob Esterowitz 6-2, 6-1.

The top half semifinal will feature No. 13 seeds Casper and Jameson Corsillo against No. 7 seeds Hashimoto and Benjamin Kittay. Casper and Corsillo beat No. 10 seeds Alexander Karman and Adit Sinha 6-3, 7-5, while Hashimoto and Kittay downed No. 3 seeds Finkelstein and Nathan Mao 6-4, 5-7, 10-7.

The 18s quarterfinals are Friday, beginning with two matches at 11 a.m.  The 16s doubles semifinals and 18s doubles semifinals will follow at Stowe Stadium.  Results, draws and a link to live streaming can be found at ustaboys.com.

The semifinals in the girls 16s and the quarterfinals in the girls 18s are set at the Nationals in San Diego.

None of Thursday's round of 16 matches in the 18s singles went to three sets. Friday's quarterfinal matchups:

Hailey Baptiste[1] v. Abigail Forbes[8]
Emma Navarro[3] v. Lea Ma[33]
Katrina Scott[13] v. Elli Mandlik[10]
Connie Ma[5] v. Katie Volynets[2]

Friday's 16s semifinals:
Valencia Xu[1] v. Eleana Yu[17]
Reese Brantmeier[14] v. Vivian Ovrootsky[2]

At the ITF World Junior Tennis 14-and-under team event in the Czech Republic, the US teams both defeated Japan to advance to Friday's semifinals. The No. 2 seeds boys won over No. 3 Japan 3-0, while the No. 8 seeded girls came back to beat No. 6 Japan 2-1. The girls will play top seed Switzerland next. For more on the US girls win, see this article at the ITF Junior website. The boys will play No. 8 seed Croatia in the semifinals. The article on the boys quarterfinals today is here.


Sam Washington said...

Tennis kids and parents are very lucky the best American athletes play basketball, football, baseball, soccer, etc. Its comical to see all these sons of this coach, that former player, that wealthy parent, etc. all over junior tennis. Fact is if the boys that play basketball played tennis from age 6 instead, none of these kids would be anywhere near the top of the sport.

Another son said...

Another college coach's son Geoff Young's HC Minnesota is seeded in 16s

Max Ho said...

Many sports in the US have eliminated a vast majority of participants because of cost, including Baseball, Soccer, Lacrosse, Water Polo, Golf, Tennis.... Baseball and soccer are now on the list due to the cost of playing for travel teams and private coaching. Most kids due to lack of size have no chance of going anywhere in basketball and football, so they should go for niche sports, especially if they have the resources.