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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Altamirano Plays Rubin for Second Straight Kalamazoo 18s Title; McNally, Hance in 16s Final; Kozlov and Rubin Win 18s Doubles Championship; McNally and Ross Earn 16s Doubles Title

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Kalamazoo, MI--

Defending champion Collin Altamirano is not quite sure why Kalamazoo brings out the best in him, but the 18-year-old from Sacramento will once again play for the USTA National Championship and a US Open main draw wild card Sunday, taking on Wimbledon boys champion Noah Rubin.

"I think it's because of what everybody does here to make this a cool event, one of the best, actually the best junior event, " said the fifth-seeded Altamirano, who defeated No. 4 seed Stefan Kozlov 6-4, 6-2 on a warm and sunny afternoon at Stowe Stadium. "It's fun for me to play here. I don't know, all I know is that I really enjoy it, enjoy being on one of these three courts and playing in front of crowds."

Altamirano got an early break to start the match, and it was all he needed, closing out the first set with two aces. He built a 4-1, two-break lead in the second set and even a Kozlov medical timeout at the changeover didn't put him off his rhythm. Altamirano continued to hit deep and make few unforced errors, while the 16-year-old Kozlov was much more erratic in his play. Kozlov held for 5-2, but again Altamirano displayed only confidence, missing a forehand on his first match point and 40-15, but securing the second on a Kozlov backhand.

"I don't know if I played great," said Altamirano, who is coached by Joseph Gilbert in Sacramento. "It's hard for me to tell out there. I'm trying so hard to just win, to compete out there. I get lost in it, lose myself. But it's good. I'm happy with the result. I thought I kind of took it to him today, did a good job with it."

Third seed Rubin had a much tougher time with his 16-year-old opponent, defeating No. 7 seed Michael Mmoh 7-6(1), 2-6, 7-5 after watching a 5-1 lead vanish in the final set.

Rubin served for the match twice, at 5-1 and 5-3, but was broken at love in his first attempt, and got no closer than deuce in his second.  Normally a drop shot is ill-advised against the speedy Rubin, but Mmoh used it effectively in his comeback, drawing Rubin in and coming in himself, cannily anticipating Rubin's response and putting away volley winners.  After an easy hold for Mmoh to make it 5-all, Rubin went down 0-30 on his serve, eventually saving two break points in the tense five-deuce game. On the first break point, Mmoh overhit a forehand after a long rally; on the second, Mmoh sent a backhand return long, and Rubin held.

In the final game, Mmoh went down 0-30, missing a volley when Rubin was playing with a broken string on the first point. But he came back with a volley winner and an ace to make it 30-all, and when Rubin hit a forehand wide Mmoh was one point from a deciding tiebreak. A great first serve was met by an even greater return from Rubin, and Mmoh was unable to handle the third shot to make it deuce. Mmoh missed a forehand volley wide to give Rubin a match point, but saved it with a huge forehand and an easy putaway of Rubin's weak reply. A big Rubin forehand gave him another match point, and as Mmoh approached the baseline after using his towel, he began to cramp. He shook it off, but missed both his serves, an anticlimactic end to a 2 hour and 55 minute battle.

"He's a good player, a big kid, so his serve was going to be there most of the time so you just have to look for your opportunities," said Rubin, an 18-year-old from New York, who had reached the 18s semifinals in both 2012 and 2013 "I did that to go up 5-1, but to close out the match in a couple of games, I kind of let down. You don't want to lose in the semis for a third year in a row."

Winning that eleventh game provided Rubin with the confidence he needed.

"I had to keep grinding out there," Rubin said. "I finally got my game and I knew after that I had a good chance."

Rubin and Altamirano played in a Futures quarterfinal in Spain in May, with Rubin winning 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

"I beat him once on red clay, it was three sets, close match," said Rubin. "He had a big game, he's a big kid and it's going to be more mental than anything."

Altamirano doesn't believe his shorter semifinal match will give him any advantage in Sunday's final, saying "no, we're young, we're fine." But he is looking forward to his third best-of-five match.

"I like it, I think it makes it more physical," said Altamirano said, offering that he liked to think he has an edge in fitness.

For his part, Rubin is also confident that he can stand the rigors of his first best-of-five match.  "May the most fit man win," he said.

The 16s finals will feature top seed John McNally, who is 63-1 this year, against No. 9 seed Connor Hance, the only player to beat him. McNally defeated friend and doubles partner Gianni Ross  6-2, 7-6(3), while Hance outlasted unseeded Oliver Crawford 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

McNally and Hance met in the final of the 16s Intersectionals early last month, with Hance winning 6-4, 7-5.  McNally got his revenge in the semifinals of the 16s Clay Courts a week later, beating Hance 6-2, 6-3.  They also played one other memorable match, in the 14s final of the 2013 Easter Bowl, with Hance saving a match point in a 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 victory.

"I think he's probably the best player in the tournament, unless I beat him, that is," Hance joked. "I've played him a couple of times so I know how he plays. It just depends on how I play and how he plays. I'm really excited, it's probably the biggest match of my life."

Against Crawford, who has made his breakthrough this year with the help of Furman men's coach Kelly Jones, Hance was required to figure out how to beat an opponent he hadn't encountered before.

"I didn't really know what to expect," said Hance, a 15-year-old from Torrance, California. "He's an up-and-coming player and I've never played him before. But I know he's good, semis of Kalamazoo."

Crawford is not only an outstanding defender, but he approaches the net often to finish points.

"He came in really well, which gave me a lot of trouble the whole match and especially the second set," said Hance. "I think in the third set, he was injured."

Early in the first set, Crawford began to flex his left leg, which Hance believe took a turn for the worse after Crawford scrambled futilely for a perfect topspin lob and went sprawling behind the baseline.

"I think after the lob, he couldn't really move that well anymore," Hance said.

McNally was facing a second set challenge from Ross, with Ross battling back from 4-2 down in the second set to force a tiebreaker. But McNally gave Ross little hope there, taking a 4-1 lead, using his forehand and his serve to dictate play. A forehand winner gave McNally a 6-2 lead and he converted the second match point, with yet another big forehand overpowering Ross.

McNally was subdued however after the match, given his friendship with Ross, who he has repeatedly referred to as "like a brother" to him.

"I won, I'm in the finals of Kalamazoo, but I'm not like really ecstatic about it, because I beat my brother, basically," McNally said. "I started off strong, but it's a tough match to play."

McNally will be attempting to match his 12-year-old sister Caty, who won both the singles and doubles in the Girls 14s National Championships this week.

"I'm proud of her," said McNally. "She's awesome. She's playing very well and I love her, so I'm very happy for her."

McNally had an opportunity to help his friend end the day on a positive note and keep pace with his sister, when he and Ross took the court for the 16s boys doubles final.  The top-seeded pair, who have played together many times, picked up their first gold ball as a team, defeating No. 12 seeds Matthew Galush and Brenden Volk 6-1, 6-2.

McNally and Ross had an opportunity to celebrate the title twice, with McNally serving at 6-1, 5-2, 40-30.  After a serve and return, McNally hit a forehand that forced an error from Volk, but the chair umpire, as well as Volk and Galush had heard a sound from the service line judge right after the serve, and the line judge admitted he had made one, so the point had to be replayed, even though McNally and Ross had thrown their racquets in the air and hugged each other.  McNally and Ross lost the replayed point, but won the next to give themselves a third match point, which they won to set off a second and final celebration.

"I'd rather win twice," Ross said laughing. "We got to practice our celebration," added McNally.

"We have a silver (ball) from the 12s, but this is our first gold," McNally said. "Not a bad place to win it."

Ross said their many tournaments as a team is a key to their success.

"We've played so much together, we've started to see our own tendencies," said Ross. "We know what we like to do and have patterns of our own. We have strengths off the ground and good returns, both have pretty good serves."

McNally thinks their friendship is even more important to their success.

"I don't know if it is anything to do with the tennis," said McNally. "I think our friendship that really makes us a good team....that's something most teams don't have. Our friendship is different from everybody else's."

McNally and Ross now are hoping to receive a wild card into the US Open Junior Championships, although that is not guaranteed as
the 16s singles champion's wild card is.

In the 18s, there's no question about the next doubles match for Noah Rubin and Stefan Kozlov. They will be competing in the main draw of the US Open after the No. 2 seeds defeated top seeds Collin Altamirano and Deiton Baughman 6-2, 6-2 to put their names on the lengthy list of Kalamazoo winners.

"I'm probably not know for my doubles at all," said Rubin. "Somehow I have some results, but probably because I play with good players.  But I think we stepped in the finals, played very well, and it was good to be out there."

Rubin is excited to be in the main draw of a slam for the first time, and doesn't care who they meet. Asking if they would like to draw Wimbledon champions Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil, Rubin laughed.

"So we're getting an easy first round? I don't think they've lost a match in like three months," Rubin said. "There's them, the Bryan brothers...we're just going to have fun out there, it's the men's US Open. It should be good."

"We're a really good team," said Kozlov, who will also be making his main draw debut in a slam. "I knew we had a really good shot before the tournament started and I was really surprised we got seeded 2. We've played in the past and I knew we had high potential," added Kozlov, who wowed the fans with some deft net play in the final. "We kept our composure and won the tournament. But I can't tell you how a slam's going to feel, because I haven't been there yet."

Rubin has already clinched at least a qualifying wild card into the US Open, but Kozlov is not sure of the timing of his trip to New York, although he is planning to play the US Open junior championships.

"Maybe when we get there we'll play some sets," said Kozlov, "but it depends if he wins tomorrow or not. We'll probably both be there around the same time and we'll see when we get there. But I'm not going to fly to New York and practice doubles with him."

In the third place 18s doubles match, Henrik Wiersholm and Tommy Paul won the bronze ball, receiving a walkover from Mmoh and Francis Tiafoe.  Third place in the 16s doubles went to Liam Caruana and Hance, who defeated Robert Loeb and Alex Phillips 6-2, 6-1.

Phillips was named the recipient of the Bobby Kaplan Sportsmanship Award for 16s.

Fifth place in the 18s singles went to Francis Tiafoe, who beat Taylor Fritz 6-7(1), 6-3, 10-5.  Walker Duncan finished in ninth place after defeating Logan Smith 1-6, 7-6(5), 10-8.

The consolation final in the 16s and the third place singles matches in both divisions are scheduled for Sunday at 10 a.m.

The 16s singles final is at 11:30, followed by the 18s singles final at 1:30.  Both finals will be streamed live at ustaboys.com.

At the girls 18s in San Diego, Cici Bellis defeated Tornado Alicia Black 6-3, 6-1 to win the title and the US Open wild card.  Louisa Chirico and Katerina Stewart won the doubles title.  Below is the release from the tournament's media representative Fred Sidhu.


Champion Earns Women’s Main Draw Wild Card Into Upcoming Us Open in New York

San Diego, Calif. – (August 9, 2014) – Fifteen-year-old CiCi Bellis of Atherton, Calif., dreamed of playing at the US Open since she was seven year’s old. Later this month, that dream will become a reality.

The second-seeded Bellis overcame a nervous start and came back to defeat fifth-seeded Tornado Alicia Black, 6-3, 6-1, in one-hour and 45 minutes to win the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championship, earning a wild card into the women’s main draw of the US Open.

On a cool, overcast morning on Stadium Court at the Barnes Tennis Center, Black broke Bellis in the second game of the opening set and went on to establish a 3-0 lead. Bellis rebounded as she began matching Black stroke for stroke from the baseline as the momentum of the match shifted in her favor.

Bellis, the No. 2 ranked junior player in the world, won six straight games to wrap-up the first in 50 minutes. In the second set, Bellis took a 3-0 lead before Black held serve at love to make the score 3-1.

After falling behind 0-30 on her serve in the fifth game, Bellis won the next eight points, as she held serve, then broke Black at love to increase her lead to 5-1. Serving for the match, Bellis fought off a break point and went on to close out the match with a forehand winner on her second match point.

Bellis’ eyes filled with tears of joy after winning the match, as she realized she was going to fulfill her dream of playing at the US Open. “I was so emotional at the end of the match. It feels amazing. I’ve been dreaming about playing there since I was seven years old,” she said. “The fact that I’m going to be playing there in a week and a half is amazing.  I’m so excited.”

In addition to receiving a US Open wild card, Bellis was also award a USTA gold ball following the match. It has been a spectacular summer for Bellis, who compiled a 34-4 record in international junior  competition on her way to winning four International Tennis Federation junior singles titles.

Black received a wild card into the women’s qualifying draw at the US Open. The 16-year-old reached the 2013 US Open Girls’ singles final as an unseeded wild card and was a Wimbledon junior quarterfinalist earlier this year. She is currently ranked 574 in the world and won her second career USTA Pro Circuit title last month. 

In the Girls’ 18s doubles final, top-seeded Louisa Chirico of Harrison, N.Y., and Katerina Stewart of Coral Gables, Fla., defeated Josie Kuhlman of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and Kaitlyn McCarthy of Cary, N.C., 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to win the title. Chirico and Stewart received a wild card into the women’s doubles draw at the US Open.


Texastennismom said...

Colette, When was the last time two siblings won the nationals? The John and Caty McNally double is a striking one, and they seem quite a duo considering his dominance all year and her winning the 14s while playing up.

CiCi dominates again said...

Congrats to CiCi, that girl is doing some amazing things at a very young age. The one to watch.....