Sunday, August 12, 2018

Brooksby Claims USTA National 18s Title and US Open Wild Card, Damm Wins 16s in his Kalamazoo Debut; Osuigwe Earns 18s Championship in San Diego

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Kalamazoo MI--

A Kalamazoo veteran and a Kalamazoo rookie won USTA National Championships Sunday at Stowe Stadium, with 2016 16s finalist Jenson Brooksby claiming the 18s title with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win over Brandon Nakashima and Martin Damm earning the 16s singles championship with a 6-2, 7-6(7) win over Zane Khan in his debut.

Damm, the No. 15 seed, came out firing to start the 16s final shortly before noon on a warm and sunny day at the Kalamazoo College courts.  Using his big lefty serve, which clocked 120 mph on the radar gun several times, Damm took a quick 3-0 lead, while Khan, the No. 4 seed, was not consistent enough to apply any pressure of his own.

"I wasn't too nervous," said the 6-foot-6-1/2 inch 14-year-old. "Zane is a very intimidating player....he hits the ball as hard as he can, he stands on the baseline on my first serve, which I'm not used to. I had to stay with him, because if he got away, I'd have a really hard time getting back in it."

After Damm closed out the first set with his second break, he had little trouble holding serve in the first half of the second set, but Khan had begun to serve better himself. At 3-all, Damm had to save two break points, the first he had faced since the first game, but he got a break, after Khan had been up 40-15 in the next game, giving Damm the chance to serve out the match. Up 40-0, Damm let three match points slip away, with Khan needing to hit only one winner in that stretch.

"I thought until 6-2, 5-3, I don't think I could have played better," said Damm, who lives in Bradenton and trains at the IMG Academy. "Zane's been killing every single person he's faced, so I knew I had to be on my A game and when it came that game, I felt calm. I went for a second serve ace, because I wanted to end it, which was really dumb. I went for dumb shots, because I was nervous."

Khan saved two more match points serving in the next game, with Damm missing a forehand and Khan hitting an ace on the fifth match point, a call Damm did not agree with.

Two more holds sent the match to a tiebreaker, and Damm saved a set point at 5-6 in the tiebreaker with a 123 mph ace. He hit a backhand volley winner for his sixth match point, but missed a return long, but he earned his seventh and last match point with a forehand on the baseline that forced an error from Khan, the first loss of serve by either play in the tiebreaker.

This time Damm didn't falter, hitting an ace and immediately falling to the ground in celebration.

"I was happy I was finally there," said Damm, who turns 15 next month. "It was a crazy last 15, 20 minutes. I felt like I was calmer in those bigger points, that I didn't panic. He was going for shots at deuce, 30-all that maybe he shouldn't have gone for, and I just stayed composed."

Khan was not happy with his play throughout the match.

"A little bit of it had to do with nerves, but I was playing bad," said the 16-year-old Khan, who like Damm, received a wild card into the tournament.  "My feet were bothering me a lot, and my shoulder, but he deserves the win. I need to work harder, improve, because my level's not there and I have a lot of things to work on."

Damm is looking forward to playing in his first junior slam next month at the US Open, with the wild card he receives from winning the 16s title.

"Our main draw is during the second week, so I'm going to be around the best players in the world, and my dad won that tournament," Damm said of his father Martin, who won the 2006 US Open doubles title with Leander Paes of India. "It's all going to be special for sure. Hopefully I can do well, play like I did in this final, if not better."

Khan is scheduled to complete at the ITF Grade 1 in College Park week after next, but said he will take a few days off and see how the blisters on his foot feel before deciding whether to play there.

In the 18s final, Brooksby came into the final with a recent win over Nakashima, having beaten him en route to the ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl title.  But the 17-year-old from Sacramento had to fight off four break points in his first two service games to hold on to his 3-1 lead.

"He held serve and had two break points right away," said Brooksby. "That could have been a tough situation to get out of. Repeatedly, he had a lot of break chances, but I was able to fight my way out of those with good serves."

Serving for the set at 5-4, Brooksby was down 15-40, but hit a lob winner and a good first serve to get back to deuce and eventually held when Nakashima hit a forehand long.

Brooksby got an early break in the second set, but gave it right back, the only time he lost serve in the match.  Brooksby broke Nakashima again to go up 3-2, saved yet another break point serving at 4-3, and closed out the second set,with his third break of Nakashima in the set.

"He definitely played pretty well on those critical points in the first set," said the 17-year-old Nakashima, who won the Kalamazoo 16s title last year. "I had a lot of opportunities to break him back, but I just couldn't close out those points. There were quite a few in the second set too, where I had chances to break back, but I just couldn't convert."

Brooksby again got an early break in the third set, and this time he did not give Nakashima any opportunities to mount a comeback, although he did fall behind 15-40 serving for the match at 5-1.  At 30-40, Brooksby hit a drop shot winner, then a forehand winner gave him his first match point, which he converted when Nakashima's forehand went wide.

Brooksby has now won five straight sets from Nakashima since April, and believes his own disciplined play is responsible for his success against Nakashima.

"I can't really give details, but I feel like I can move him around," said Brooksby, who has verbally committed to TCU for 2019. "I feel I have discipline on every point, which is helpful, because he is a disciplined player as well. I was confident in my play and I was dictating play better and [I] focused."

"He makes a lot balls and doesn't give you too much," said San Diego resident Nakashima, who receives a men's qualifying wild card as the runner-up. "Against him, you have to play solid; he's always going to play pretty well. He doesn't give you free points, gets a lot of balls back in play, making you work for each point."

Brooksby has trained with Joseph Gilbert at the JMG Tennis Academy in the Sacramento area throughout his junior career, and Gilbert has seen the growth, both physical and mental, in his game since his loss in the 2016 16s final.

"The biggest thing is he's gotten more physical," said Gilbert, who continues to coach Collin Altamirano, who won the Kalamazoo 18s title in 2013. "In the last six months he's put on quite a few inches, he's almost up to 6' 2", which is a huge difference. It helps him with the physicality. And he was definitely more comfortable here, comfortable with the crowds, the scene. He likes playing in front of the crowd; it fires him up and excites him."

"The crowds every match are unbelievable, that's by far the best thing about [Kalamazoo]," Brooksby said. "And ball kids on all these front three courts. The atmosphere I feel is the best of any junior tournament, clearly."

Next up for Brooksby is the US Open main draw, and a chance to play a top professional.

"I'd love playing against one of the best guys in the world, or someone pretty good as well, like 50, whatever," said Brooksby, who said if he had to choose a favorite player he might encounter in New York, it would be Rafael Nadal. "They are all very good and that would be amazing. There's a little bit of pressure at this tournament, especially in the early rounds, but there it's so exciting, there's absolutely no pressure on me there. I just hope I can show them what I can do, be totally loose."

After he makes his US Open main draw debut, Brooksby will stick around for his junior slam debut the second week.

"I'm extremely excited to play at the US Open, come cheer me on if you can," Brooksby said.

Stefan Dostanic, seeded No. 26, finished in third place in the 18s via a walkover from Drew Baird, the No. 6 seed. Dostanic receives a main draw wild card into the US Open Juniors finishing third, and said he plans to play in New York next month, his first junior slam.

In the 16s division, Alexander Kiefer, the No. 45 seed, won the bronze ball, when No. 1 seed Keshav Chopra was unable to play in the third place match due to illness.

The consolation finals, for fifth and sixth place, were also played Sunday, with No. 3 seed Alex Lee beating No. 10 seed Spencer Brachman 2-6, 7-6(5), 10-7 in the 16s division Feed-In final.  Eric Hahn, the No. 50 seed, took fifth place in the 18s Feed-In tournament, beating No. 34 seed Noah Schachter 6-2, 6-4 in the final.

Two of the tournament's sportsmanship awards were presented Sunday, with Hahn receiving the Dr. Allen B. Stowe Award for 18s and Ryan Fishback receiving the Bobby Kaplan Award for the 16s. Earlier in the week, Boris Kozlov was named the recipient of the Wes Richards Sportsmanship Award for Feed-Ins.

For more from the Kalamazoo winners, see the tournament's Youtube Channel.

At the USTA Girls 18s Nationals in San Diego, No. 2 seed Whitney Osuigwe defeated top seed Kayla Day 7-5, 6-3 to claim the US Open women's main draw wild card. The 16-year-old Osuigwe, who lost in the semifinals last year, came from 5-1 down in the first set then took a 4-2 lead in the second before closing out the 2016 National 18s champion.  Osuigwe and Caty McNally, the top seeds in doubles, defeated Peyton Stearns and Elli Mandlik, the No. 7 seeds, in this evening's 18s doubles final, 6-4, 6-3.  Osuigwe and McNally will receive a wild card into the US Open women's doubles main draw.