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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Top Eight Seeds Reach 18s Quarterfinals at Kalamazoo; Unseeded Pham Beats No. 3 Seed Kypson in 16s Division

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Kalamazoo MI--

Wednesday was a day without rain and a day without upsets, or even much drama, in the 18s fourth round at the USTA National Championships.  Temperatures in the 70s and partly cloudy skies made for ideal conditions and the top eight seeds took advantage, with none of them dropping a set in advancing to the quarterfinals.

No. 2 seed Ernesto Escobedo, a quarterfinalist last year as a 17-year-old, has been somewhat under the radar this week, with much of the talk about the field centering on last month's three Wimbledon boys semifinalists, as well as 16-year-old Francis Tiafoe, who made his ATP main draw debut last week at the Citi Open, and top seed Jared Donaldson, who qualified at that same tournament.

But Escobedo, who defeated unseeded Kalman Boyd 6-1, 6-3 on center court and has lost only 15 games in his four victories, doesn't mind the lack of attention he's received.

"I just go out on to the court and play my game with a smile on my face," said Escobedo, of West Covina, California, who plays soccer and throws a football with his coach as part of his prematch routine. "I don't think about the other stuff at all."

Escobedo, whose ATP ranking is 515, said the biggest difference in his game from last year can be wrapped up in one word.

"Just confidence," Escobedo said. "Just going out there and trusting my shots."

Escobedo cited playing under the pressure of the No. 2 seeding as an important part of his experience in returning to junior tennis. "My main goal is to win it, but just coming here, playing my best, and hopefully I get the wild card to the US Open."

Escobedo will play No. 7 seed Michael Mmoh in one of the two quarterfinals that will be played on Thursday, after Mmoh dismissed No. 19 seed Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-2, a scoreline that Mmoh was anticipating.

"I was expecting to go away from that 4 and 2 against Reilly, with his serve," Mmoh said. "Basically, I'm very surprised."

Mmoh did admit his return of serve was a major reason for his victory.

"That's the one thing today that I was doing really well," Mmoh said. "I was returning really well off his first serve, and on his second serve I started returning better throughout the match. But he wasn't playing too well from the back. And with my returns, and I was serving really well today, so I didn't give him that many chances to get adjusted into the match."

An injury kept Mmoh from playing in Kalamazoo last year, so he is getting his first taste of the tournament at age 16.

"It's pretty sick, when you think about it," Mmoh said. "Because of that I was very nervous playing my first round match, but now I got used to it. I'd heard the atmosphere was good, but this is almost as good as it gets," Mmoh added. "A lot of people come to watch--not maybe today because it's early in the morning--but other days."

The second 18s quarterfinal Thursday is a rematch of last month's Wimbledon juniors third round, where Noah Rubin defeated Francis Tiafoe 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3.

Rubin, the No. 3 seed, lost a big second set lead over unseeded Mitchell Stewart, but recovered in time to post a 6-1, 7-5 victory.  Tiafoe, the No. 6 seed, got a break in the opening game of the first set against No. 9 seed Deiton Baughman, a qualifier, and held on to it for a 6-4 first set advantage. In the second set, Tiafoe served for the match at 5-4, was broken, but broke again, and with his second opportunity closed out the 6-4, 7-5 victory.

A rematch of the 2013 18s final will take place on Friday, after top seed Jared Donaldson and No. 5 seed and defending champion Collin Altamirano won their fourth round encounters.  Altamirano downed No. 31 seed Yancy Dennis 6-2, 6-0 and Donaldson negotiated a tricky first set against No. 11 seed and qualifier Logan Smith to post a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

Friday's other quarterfinal will feature No. 4 seed Stefan Kozlov against No. 8 seed Taylor Fritz, with Fritz fortunate to have the day off Thursday after spraining his ankle in a 6-1, 7-6(2) victory over No. 15 seed Dan Kerznerman. 

At 4-1 in the first set, Fritz rolled his right ankle and wasn't too concerned when he first went down.

"I do it all the time when I kind of twist it a little bit, but I kind of walk it off," said Fritz. "But when I got up, this was a really bad one, and I was kind of worried."

Fritz made to his chair and received treatment, but he was obviously favoring the ankle, although he said he was trying not to show it.  Fritz won the next two games to take the set, but again had treatment on the set break. 

He fell behind 5-2 in the second set, but a bottle of Advil tossed to him from the stands a few games in by friend Kalman Boyd allowed him to consider a comeback.

"I took a lot and it kicked in around 6-5-ish, feeling like I could move a little bit, put a little more weight on it," said Fritz, who singled out his serve as the shot causing him the most pain. "I put up with so much pain from the ankle in the second set, I don't know if I could have done a third set. But I tried to make it seem that it wasn't as bad as it was."

Fritz got the break back when Kerznerman's forehand let him down, but Fritz was required to save three set points serving at 5-6 in the second set.

A good first serve, though not at Fritz's usual pace, and a first-strike forehand winner saved the first set point. An ace saved the second, and a forehand winner saved the third set point. An error on the backhand from Kerznerman gave Fritz his first game point and he took it with another forehand winner, then played a near-perfect tiebreaker, ending the match on a blistering forehand winner.

"When I twisted the ankle in the match, I went from playing aggressively to playing even more aggressively," said the 6-foot-4-inch Fritz. "That was really all I could do. What I was thinking though in the match, was that when I was 13 or 14 I couldn't move at all anyway, so it wasn't too new to me. Speed still isn't the strong part of my game."

Kozlov defeated No. 24 seed Trevor Johnson 6-4, 6-0 to set up his first meeting with Fritz.

In the 16s, the day's big surprise was unseeded Victor Pham's 6-1, 6-3 win over No. 3 seed Patrick Kypson.  Pham, who turns 17 next month, was seeded No. 15 last year and reached the fourth round, but said school and playing 18s were responsible for the decline of his ranking.

"I haven't been playing as many 16s tournaments and it was also my junior year of high school so I was hitting the books a lot," said Pham, who has committed to Columbia University for 2015.

Pham was happy with his game and pleased to reverse the outcome of the last time he played on court 1 against the No. 3 seed two years ago.

"I played Logan Smith, who was the No. 3 seed, on the same court, but I lost that time," said Pham. As for what led to his win today, Pham said:

"I served really well and my serve allowed me to get a lot of good second balls so I could use my ground strokes to finish the point. Overall the way I thought and my ball selection was very smart, and I didn't make that many unforced errors, so it was much easier to hold serve and easier to capitalize on that."

Pham will play Connor Hance, the No. 9 seed, in a Thursday quarterfinal after Hance defeated No. 5 seed Alex Phillips 6-2, 6-3.  The other quarterfinal in the 16s is unseeded Oliver Crawford against No. 14 seed Alexander Keyser.  Crawford beat unseeded Kyrylo Tsygura 7-6(6), 6-2, while Keyser defeated No. 32 seed Anudeep Kodali 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 in an over three-hour marathon.

The semifinals in the top half of the 16s, which will be played Friday, will feature No. 1 seed John McNally against No. 6 seed Sam Riffice and No. 4 seed Gianni Ross against No. 7 seed Zeke Clark.  McNally downed a stubborn Brandon Holt 6-4, 6-4, while Riffice defeated No. 13 seed Evan Zhu 6-3, 6-2.  Ross was a 6-3, 6-4 winner over No. 22 Trent Bryde and Clark won his third consecutive three-setter, defeating No. 31 seed Kyle Seelig 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.

The doubles quarterfinals in both age divisions are Thursday afternoon. The No. 1 18s team of Altamirano and Baughman and the No. 1 16s team of McNally and Ross are among those advancing to the quarterfinals.

For complete draws, see the tournament website.