JD already burned out at the age of 16...
Top-seeded Gage Brymer has reverted to his Easter Bowl form, winning his quarterfinal and semifinal matches at the USTA Boys 18 and 16 National Championships from a set down. On an ideal day of tennis weather at Kalamazoo College's Stowe Stadium, Brymer overcame No. 5 seed Ernesto Escobedo 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
In claiming the Easter Bowl ITF title in April, Brymer won four of his matches, including the final, from a set down. Until yesterday's 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) win over fellow UCLA Bruin freshman Mackenzie McDonald, Brymer had won his early rounds in straight sets, but he credited the level his competition for his perilous situation the past two days.
"Maybe I came out a little slow, but I thought Mackie came out really aggressive yesterday, and today Ernesto did the same thing," said Brymer, 18. "It was really tough to break either of them. With Ernesto, in the first two sets, he's got a good serve and played aggressive, so it was really tough."
After the 10-minute break between the second and third sets, Brymer didn't change his strategy, only his energy level, but that was enough to build a 4-0 lead.
"In the first two sets, I was playing all right, but I just didn't have as much energy as I needed to," Brymer said. "In the first couple of games of the third set, that was my main focus, come out with a lot of energy, keep balls in play, look for my opportunities and take them when they were there."
Escobedo's serve wasn't giving him as many forehand putaways as usual in the third set, but he was able to hold serve twice before Brymer served for the match. After his backhand winner made it 40-15, Brymer said "one more", and his big forehand forced an error from Escobedo, putting Brymer in the semifinals.
Brymer said his training has given him the stamina to recover quickly from difficult matches, like the one he had against McDonald.
"I'm used to training really hard," said Brymer. "I take pride in my work ethic and I feel like over the summer, leading up to this tournament, I've really prepared myself by doing the extra work and the extra hours. That's really helped me so that the longer matches don't affect me as much as the other players."
Brymer's semifinal opponent is unseeded Collin Altamirano, who also credits his fitness regimen as a key in his success this week.
"I'm wearing guys down over time," said Altamirano, who defeated unseeded Trevor Johnson 7-5, 6-0. "I work out probably about three hours a day on top of hitting. I do it all, anywhere from swimming, to running, to weights, everything."
Altamirano, who, like Brymer, has come back from a set down twice in the tournament, wasn't surprised by the second set score in his match with Johnson.
"The first set was tight, he served very well, he was hitting good shots, but I just kept wearing him down," said Altamirano, 17. "The next thing you know, he kept making more errors and more errors, and in the second, I snuck a break in there early and he was just done after that."
Because Altamirano played only Futures events except for the Spring Nationals at Mobile this year, he wasn't expecting to be seeded, but he didn't feel that was an impediment to his chances to win the tournament.
"I don't play as much as the other kids when it comes to juniors," said Altamirano, who lives and trains in Sacramento, California. "I was expecting not to be seeded. But it's good. I'm doing what I came here for."
Another player who competes very little on the junior circuit is No. 14 seed Jared Donaldson, who reached the semifinals with a 7-6(5), 6-3 victory over No. 6 Luca Corinteli. But Donaldson wasn't sure, back in February, if he was interesting in playing any tennis at all, quitting the game for three months this spring.
"I think it was a combination of a lot of things," said Donaldson, 16, who left Argentina, where he'd been training for three years, in February, returning to his home in Rhode Island.
"I was a little burnt out culturally, not speaking the language that well, and I think I was burned out mentally," said Donaldson, who received a wild card into the tournament. "If you asked me in March if I was going to be in the semifinals of this tournament, or even playing this tournament, I would be very skeptical. I just feel lucky to be here."
Donaldson sought help from a sports psychologist, and decided that the daily achievement that tennis represented for him was something he wanted back in his life.
"When I started playing tournaments again in June, some Futures, and I had good results there, good matches, got some points, and played the qualifying of (an ATP) 250, so I'd won matches and was feeling confident coming in here, but I still hadn't had that one breakthrough in the Futures or even in the juniors really. But I knew I was playing well and felt confident about my game, felt confident it was coming, it was coming."
Donaldson hadn't exactly rolled through the draw, needing a third set tiebreaker to beat AJ Catanzariti in the second round, and trailing No. 4 seed Connor Farren 7-5, 5-2 in yesterday's round of 16 match. But he played well from then throughout the rest of the match, so falling behind Corinteli, who had two set points in the first set with Donaldson serving at 5-6, didn't faze him.
"The tiebreaker was really close, 4-3, 4-4, 5-4, 5-5, 6-5 me," said Donaldson. "And I just got that one second serve at 5-6, and I hit a good return at his feet, because he came in behind it, and I won the point and the first set. That kind of relaxed me, because I didn't feel I was playing that well up until that point, but I felt more confident in the second set."
Donaldson will play No. 2 seed Noah Rubin, who ended the run of unseeded Logan Staggs 6-2, 6-0. Donaldson and Rubin have never met, but it's a match Donaldson has always wanted to play.
"Ever since we were 11, I knew the name Noah Rubin," said Donaldson. "He was always better than me, so it's going to be fun to play a guy my year, to test myself against probably the best kid in United States tennis right now."