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Friday, August 8, 2014

Donaldson Retires Putting Altamirano in Kalamazoo 18s Semis Against Kozlov; 16s Top Seed McNally Survives Third Set Tiebreaker to Earn Semifinal with Ross

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Kalamazoo, MI--

Top 16s seed John McNally looked down and out against No. 6 seed Sam Riffice, trailing 4-0 in the third set before recovering for a 0-6, 6-2, 7-6(5) victory.  Top 18s seed Jared Donaldson appeared to be in the opposite situation, leading defending champion Collin Altamirano 4-1 in the first set, before suddenly retiring from their semifinal leading 4-2 in quarterfinal play at the USTA Boys 18 and 16 Championships at Stowe Stadium.

McNally couldn't find the court in the opening set against Riffice, a 15-year-old from Roseville, California. Usually precise and powerful, McNally looked lethargic, and at least a step slow, but he attributed that to Riffice's outstanding play.

"It was a little bit of nerves, and he came out and played really well," said McNally, who has lost only one match this year against 62 wins, two of them over Riffice. "I wasn't happy with the way I was playing."

McNally lost his first service game to open the second set, but he started to play better, while it was Riffice who began to spray balls.

"I had to stick to my guns," said McNally, who will be 16 in October. "It just wasn't working in the first set. In the second set I got a little bit lucky, I broke him when he missed a couple of easy balls. That kind of gave me some confidence, and my shots started going in and my game started to work."

After the 10-minute break between the second and third sets, McNally spoke with one of his coaches, John Cook, but the player who returned to the court for the third set looked more like the one who had started the match.

"I was down 4-0 pretty quick," admitted McNally, who said he drew confidence when he broke and held to pull to within 4-3.  Riffice saved a break point in the eighth game to take a 5-3 lead, but another easy hold from McNally meant Riffice would have to serve out the set.

Riffice won the first point, but McNally won the next four, letting out some of the emotion with a roar when he made it 5-5.  McNally again held quickly, but Riffice followed suit to reach the tiebreaker that would decide the semifinalist.

"It would have been great to win six games in a row, but that's so tough to do," said McNally, from Cincinnati, Ohio. "I got it to 6-all and I was fine with that. I've played so many tiebreakers--the Easter Bowl final (where he won a second set tiebreaker for the match)--and you have to play smart, because one point can change the whole thing."

McNally never trailed in the tiebreaker, but leading 5-3, he hit a forehand wide to give back his mini-break. Serving at 4-5, Riffice came in on an adequate if not excellent approach, only to see McNally's forehand pass whiz by him.

The next point was full of big hitting with neither playing holding back, and Riffice saved the first match point with a huge forehand putaway. McNally didn't let him get in another rally on the second however, hitting a first serve that Riffice couldn't get back in play.

McNally said it never occurred to him that he might lose the match.

"I never think about that," he said. "If it happens, it happens. You can't really worry about losing, you just have to try to play to win. Even if you're down 5-0 40-love, there's still a chance, anything can happen, one point, a kid could get hurt or something. But no, I never thought I was going to lose."

Defending champion Collin Altamirano can testify to McNally's claim that anything can happen. Although his opponent Donaldson had his abdomen wrapped prior to the start of the match, he had warmed up for nearly an hour earlier in the day.  But Donaldson, who was hitting the ball with great authority early, asked for a trainer after the third game and he received treatment at the changeover at 4-1.  When Altamirano held serve for 4-2, Donaldson approached the net and retired, stunning the large Friday afternoon Stowe Stadium crowd, as well as his opponent.

"I was very surprised," said Altamirano, an 18-year-old from Sacramento, California. "I thought maybe he was just a little bit nervous at the beginning and he was going for a little more. When he called for an injury timeout, I didn't know if it was for a blister, or if it was hard for him to stay in rallies."

Altamirano didn't notice anything was amiss, other than Donaldson's pace of play.

"He was playing really fast," said Altamirano, the No. 5 seed. "He was going for forehands. I would hit like a pretty deep shot and he was trying to crack winners. It kinda got me at the beginning, he's playing pretty fast right now, he snuck a break from me and I never felt like I got my teeth into it right away. After the injury timeout, I played a good service game, longer rallies and I kind of felt, I don't know, if he didn't feel good enough to continue."

Altamirano will continue his pursuit of his second consecutive title Saturday against No. 4 seed Stefan Kozlov, who defeated a hobbled Taylor Fritz 6-2, 6-2.  Fritz, who twisted his ankle in his fourth round win over Dan Kerznerman on Wednesday, completed the match but limped throughout it.

"My key was just to keep focused and doing the right things," Kozlov said. "I knew what to expect from him normally, but since he was injured, it was tough. But I played a solid match, 2 and 2. I'm really happy with my performance."

Kozlov knew that Fritz was likely to be even more aggressive than usual with his shotmaking.

"I knew he was going to hit balls," said Kozlov. "He's a hard hitter, and it's not like I wasn't expecting it. He missed a lot today and that was good. If he starts making those, it might be a little closer, but I still think I played really well today."

Kozlov and Altamirano have never played in a tournament, but each knows the other's game.

"We've played plenty of times in practice," Altamirano said. "In my mind he plays a little similar to Jared, maybe he doesn't hit quite as hard; he can, but I think he just chooses not to. So it will be entertaining. I'm looking forward to it."

The practice matches were this spring in Spain, when both Kozlov and Altamirano were competing in Futures tournaments with a group of other young American players.

"I know he's a good player, kind of a counter puncher, makes a lot of backhands, dictates with the forehand, a good serve, competes well, obviously," said Kozlov, who is two years younger Altamirano. "I have a pretty good feeling about his game."

McNally will meet longtime Midwest sectional rival and friend Gianni Ross, who defeated No. 7 seed Zeke Clark 6-4, 6-3.

At 4-all 30-15 in the first set, Ross scraped his knee and the chair umpire required he take a medical timeout so a trainer could address the bleeding.

After nearly 10 minutes, Ross returned to the court, lost the point, but won the game and then broke Clark for the set.

In the second set, Ross got up a early break for a 3-0 lead, but after Clark took a medical timeout, Clark won three of the next four games, only to be broken serving at 3-4. Ross, who hit a backhand winner to take the first set, came up with another at 5-3, 40-30 to seal the match and set up yet another encounter with McNally.

"He's really good," Ross said of McNally, who is his doubles partner this week. "He's really good," Ross repeated. "But I just hope I come out and play well, I've got to play a wonder match. I don't care if he beats me nine times out of ten, that one time I want it here."

McNally described Ross not as a friend, but "like my brother." He is not going to let that friendship impact the match however.

"I love the kid," said McNally. "We'll be nice to each other before the match, on the court it's a whole different thing. You'll see us after the match joking around with each other, hopefully getting ready for the doubles final."

The top seeds will be doing just that, after defeating No. 3 seeds Alex Phillips and Robert Loeb 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-5 in the semifinals Friday afternoon.  McNally and Ross will face No. 12 seeds Matthew Galush and Brenden Volk, who beat No. 8 seed Liam Caruana and Connor Hance 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Three of the four players in the 18s doubles final are still alive for both US Open main draw wild cards the USTA awards the 18s champions.

No. 2 seeds Stefan Kozlov and Noah Rubin defeated No. 4 seeds Michael Mmoh and Francis Tiafoe 6-4, 7-6(3), saving seven set points with Rubin serving in the second set at 4-5.  Altamirano and Baughman, the top seeds, defeated No. 3 seeds Henrik Wiersholm and Tommy Paul 7-6(3), 6-2.

The other singles semifinals Saturday will feature No. 3 seed Noah Rubin against No. 7 seed Michael Mmoh in the 18s and No. 9 seed Connor Hance against unseeded Oliver Crawford in the 16s. The semifinals begin at 9:30 for the 16s, followed by the 18s.

Other results from the Nationals, all but G18s are finals:

Boys 12s: Zane Khan(3) def. Faris Khan(6) 7-5, 3-6, 6-2

Girls 12s: Katie Volynets(1) def. Sedona Gallagher(6) 6-0, 6-3

Boys 14s: William Woodall(5) def. Bill Duo(17) 6-1, 6-3

Girls 14s: Caty McNally(6) def. Taylor Johnson(3) 6-3, 6-2

Girls 16s: Kylie Mackenzie(9) def. Kayla Day(2) 6-1, 6-4

Girls 18s semifinals:
Tornado Alicia Black(5) def. Louisa Chirico(1) 6-0, 4-6, 6-4
CiCi Bellis(2) def. Sofia Kenin(15) 6-3, 2-6, 6-3