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Monday, October 4, 2021

Michelsen, Stearns Fight Back for First Round Wins at ITF JB1 Pan American Closed; Brantmeier, Stearns Post Victories at BNP Paribas Open Qualifying

©Colette Lewis 2021--
Nicholasville, KY--

Seeds had the day off Monday at the ITF JB1 Pan American Closed at the Top Seed Tennis Club, with the 32 unseeded players in each draw vying for the opportunity to face a seed in Tuesday's second round. That made for many ultra-competitive matches, with singles starting at 9 a.m. and not concluding until after 6 p.m.

Alex Michelsen was up against qualifier Nicholas Steiglehner, whom he had beaten 6-2, 6-0 back in August at the Grade 3 in Canada. If the 17-year-old Californian was expecting a similar result today, he quickly learned otherwise, with Steiglehner taking the first set in a tiebreaker, before Michelsen fought back for a 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 victory.

"He didn't make nearly as many balls then as he did today," said Michelsen, who had to deal with the disappointment of letting two set points slip away in the first set. "But I broke him in the first game of the second set, went up 3-0, double break, and it helped a lot, helped the confidence a lot too."

Michelsen came up with a tweener winner in the third set, which came as a surprise to everyone, himself included. 

"That's the only tweener winner I've ever hit in a match," Michelsen said. "That was ridiculous, I'm never doing that again. His ball might have been out, but I wasn't sure, so I just played it, whatever, just hit it.  But I think that helped me too. I broke in the next game I think. It worked out."

As a Southern Californian, Michelsen wouldn't be considered a natural for indoor tennis, but he has embraced it despite little experience with it.

"I love indoors," Michelsen said. "I like to slap the ball and indoors it's easier to do that, because outdoor courts are generally slower. Although these are pretty gritty and slow. It's only my second indoor tournament, but it's great, I've loved every second of it."

Michelsen, a high school junior, is adding more ITF tournaments to his schedule this year with the aim of reaching the Top 100 by the end of the year.

"This is only my fourth ITF, so I'm trying to get as many points as I can," said Michelsen, who is currently 269 in the ITF rankings, but No. 3 in his class at Tennis Recruiting Network. "I'll play Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl, so hopefully that will give me enough points to play the Aussie Open, and play all the slams next year."

Preston Stearns also found himself down a set, but he managed to hold his nerve in a third-set tiebreaker to beat Nathan Cox 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4).

Stearns said he found it difficult to adjust to playing a fellow lefty.

"It changes your whole game style," said the 17-year-old from Ohio. "On the ad side, you like, umm maybe I shouldn't go out wide with a slice serve, maybe they're going to rip a forehand. You don't really know where to go."

In the tiebreaker that decided the match, Stearns played conservatively, until match point.

"I told myself to make a couple of balls to see if he'd make a few mistakes at the beginning of the breaker, and he did," Stearns said. "That kind of saved me a little bit because at the end of the breaker, I finished it with kind of a lucky backhand down the line, on the line. I wasn't exactly aiming there. He hit a good serve and I was jumping in the middle of the air, saying oh, why am I doing this?  I'm a foot in the air, about to hit a down-the-line backhand at 6-4 in the breaker. This could go really good or really badly, and I got a little lucky."

Stearns trains in Cincinnati, so he spends a lot of time on indoor courts, and he too remarked on the gritty nature of the courts at Top Seed. "The ball jumps in certain places like clay, so if I have to grind the points out, I know I can."

Stearns is a senior, and is in the midst of taking his official visits, mentioning Ohio State, Kentucky, SMU, Texas and Notre Dame as possibilities. "I should be making a decision soon, within the next month."

Another match that came down to a third-set tiebreaker was the last singles match of the day, with Ahmani Guichard coming from 5-2 down in the third set to defeat qualifier Akari Matsuno 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(4). Guichard won four straight games from 2-5, and had a match point serving for it at 6-5, but Matsuno forced a tiebreaker and saved two more match points before Guichard finally closed it out.

The first round of doubles, involving the 16 unseeded teams in the 24-team draws, were completed today, with the second round of both singles and doubles scheduled for Tuesday.  The top-seeded boys team is Ozan Colak and Ryan Colby, with the girls No. 1 seeds Kayla Cross and Victoria Mboko of Canada.

Two of the teens who received wild cards into the BNP Paribas Open women's qualifying advanced: University of Texas sophomore Peyton Stearns(Preston's sister) and Reese Brantmeier. Stearns, who turns 20 on Friday, defeated WTA 145 Coco Vandeweghe 6-4, 7-5 and Brantmeier, who turns 17 tomorrow, beat No. 155 Katie Boulter of Great Britain 7-5, 6-2.  Theodora Rabman put up a great fight against WTA No. 132 Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium before falling 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-1.

Other American women advancing today are Alycia Parks, Caroline Dolehide and Usue Arconada.