In the 16s semifinals, played Saturday morning, local favorite and No. 2 seed Paul Oosterbaan fell to No. 32 seed Sasha Gozun 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. Gozun, a 16-year-old from Sarasota, Fla., felt the pressure of being from Kalamazoo might have kept Oosterbaan from performing at his best.
"I don't know if it added pressure to Paul, because he's hometown boy," said Gozun, who moved to Florida from Moldova, a small country between Romania and Ukraine, four years ago. "Everybody thinks he has to win it. But I respect him, he's a very good player, it was just my day today."
The first set opened with some nervous and sloppy play by both Oosterbaan and Gozun, and after four holds, there were five consecutive breaks of serve. Serving for the set at 5-4, it looked as if a sixth straight break might be coming when Oosterbaan fell behind 0-30. But although his serve gave him trouble later in the match, it came through for him at 30-all, with a service winner, and he earned the first set with a forehand passing shot.
In contrast to the first set, the second was all holds, with Gozun holding more easily than Oosterbaan, who needed to save break points in two of his service games. Serving at 5-6, Oosterbaan fell behind 15-40 when Gozun hit two forehand winners. He saved one when Gozun netted a second serve return, but double faulted to lose the second.
The 10-minute break didn't help Oosterbaan and it didn't hurt Gozun. Gozun took a 3-0 lead, and although he was broken for the first time since the last game of the first set to make it 3-2, he got the break right back, feasting on Oosterbaan's second serve.
"I didn't really serve well the whole match," Oosterbaan said. "He started serving better as the match went on. Mentally he stayed tough and I broke down. It was awesome to have the crowd out there helping me all week, it helped me get through a lot of matches, but not today."
Gozun, who as the No. 32 seed would be the lowest seed to ever win the 16s tournament in its 70 years in Kalamazoo, acknowledges that he is just beginning to tap his potential.
"Everybody's telling me I play much better than I am ranked, but it's also mentally," said Gozun. "It's one thing to have good ground strokes, another thing to be prepared mentally. I was relaxed here, didn't feel so much pressure."
Gozun's opponent in Sunday's final will be No. 12 seed Henrik Wiersholm, who defeated top seed Mitch Stewart 7-6(2), 6-2 in a battle between two friends from the Pacific Northwest.
Stewart fell behind 3-1, and as he had done in his quarterfinal match with Logan Staggs Friday, he fought back to take the lead, winning four straight games. But he was unable to serve out the set at 5-3, and Wiersholm dominated the subsequent tiebreaker.
"He wasn't missing," said Wiersholm. "But for a while there, I wasn't missing either. When he got the break and I went down 5-3, I told myself I was just going to go out there and start making balls, getting positive energy flowing, get a little bit in-your-face in how I'm going to come back and win this set. He got a little bit tight, I have to say, made some key errors, but I also started going for a little more, taking it to him. I really took it to him in the tiebreaker."
Stewart is known for his mental toughness, but he met his match in Wiersholm.
"I think it's a really good trait, but most guys don't expect when they're up--they expect people to cave in," said Wiersholm who won the 12s national championship in 2009. "But when I'm down, I start playing better, taking it to them more, and that's what I did today."
Wiersholm didn't lose focus when he lost the first game of the second set, breaking right back, and although he could hold his 3-1 lead, when he broke Stewart for the third time in the set to go up 5-3, he didn't falter in the final game, closing it out quickly, a rarity in the two and a half hour match.
Gozun has a recent win over Wiersholm, having beaten him 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in the first round of the Orange Bowl 16s, played on the Har-Tru courts in Plantation last December.
"Sacha's a great player," said Wiersholm. "He's a big guy who's going to hit a lot of big balls. I'm just going to be solid and find a way."
Wiersholm found a way to his first gold ball of the tournament later in the day, when he and Daniel Kerznerman, the No. 4 seeds, beat top seeds Aron Hiltzik and Oosterbaan 6-2, 7-5. Hiltzik and Oosterbaan were on their heels most of the match, but fought back from 5-2 down to save five match points before Hiltzik was broken serving at 5-6 to deliver the victory to Kerznerman and Wiersholm....