Henrik Wiersholm, a 15-year-old playing in Kalamazoo for the first time, will return next year never having tasted defeat in the tournament known for its blueberries and cream, after he capped his week with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Sasha Gozun to take the 16s title.
Conditions were ideal for tennis Sunday, with a manageable northerly breeze and temperatures in the low 70s as Wiersholm and Gozun took the court. Wiersholm, the No. 12 seed, had lost to Gozun, seeded 32, in their previous meeting on clay back in December, but he had a different strategy this time against the much more physically developed 16-year-old.
"Alex can hurt you if you give him the right ball, especially with the forehand," said Wiersholm, from Kirkland, Wash. "I was doing a really good job of whipping the ball up to his backhand or deep, making him move to his forehand, or even sometimes keeping it short, away from his forehand."
The first set was close, with both players holding until 3-all, when Wiersholm got a look at his first break point. He converted it with a dramatic winner, and that one shot buoyed his confidence.
"He hit a good serve, I barely got the ball back and he hit that inside in ball," said Wiersholm, who still sports braces on his teeth. "I did an on-the-run winner for the break and that's where I kind of got it going and kept the momentum through in the second."
Gozun, who is from Moldova and has been in the United States for four years, had saved three match points in his third round win over Korey Lovett and had three times come back from a set down to win during this tournament, including over No. 2 seed Paul Oosterbaan in Saturday's semifinals. So a comeback was certainly possible, but all the positive energy he had used in those victories was nowhere to be found Sunday.
"Henrik did a very good job keeping everything away from my powerful game, and I wasn't realizing what was happening," said Gozun, who was playing in his first USTA National championship final. "You've got to raise your level every time you play, and you can't have a day off, when you're not prepared. You always have to be on top of your game."
Gozun fell behind 4-1 in the second set, and had only one brief chance to get one of the two breaks back, but Wiersholm saved a break point with a good first serve and swung freely in the rallies, eventually forcing errors to make it 5-1.
Gozun double faulted twice in the last game, and two more unforced errors gave Wiersholm his second gold ball of the weekend and a ticket to the US Open Junior Championships next month in New York.
"I really wanted to go, really wanted to go," said Wiersholm, who hasn't been to New York since he was four years old. "Winning gives me the means to get into main draw, and that feels good."