When Collin Altamirano returns to Kalamazoo next year to defend the USTA Boys 18s National Championship he won Sunday afternoon at Stowe Stadium, he won't be an underdog, and he won't be rooting for one either.
After defeating No. 14 seed Jared Donaldson 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in a best-of-five match that secured him an US Open main draw wild card, Altamirano is in the record books as the only unseeded player ever to win a singles title in the 71-year history of the Kalamazoo National Championships.
"There's a first time for everything, right?" said the 17-year-old right-hander, who lives and trains at the Arden Hill Tennis Club in Sacramento, California. "I've got to root for all the seeds now."
Altamirano secured his place in Kalamazoo history on a partly cloudy and cool afternoon, displaying impressive power, touch and defense against the 16-year-old Donaldson, who struggled on nearly all of his service games.
"He was very aggressive on the return, so I knew he could break me, but I knew I could break him," said Altamirano, who felt his own serve was also a bit erratic. "I wasn't too worried about it. I knew he wasn't holding, so it made me feel like I was going to be ahead in every set."
Altamirano actually lost his first service game in both the first and second sets, saying he was nervous to start the match, but he never trailed by more than one game. After taking six consecutive games to claim the first set, Altamirano broke Donaldson to go up 1-0, but gave it right back. After Donaldson finally saved a break point to hold for the first time in the match, taking a 2-1 lead, but Altamirano continued to play more controlled and error-free tennis on the important points.
Having surrendered only one game to top seed Gage Brymer in Saturday's semifinal, Altamirano was not as pleased with his performance against wild card Donaldson, and several "Gosh darn its" surfaced when he double faulted or committed an unforced error. But he managed to come up with big shots when the occasion called for it, such as the ace he hit on set point in the second set.
Donaldson began to look discouraged at 2-2 in the third set, with two double faults--one to start the game and one to end it--contributing.
"My serve has always been a little streaky," said Donaldson, who had quit tennis for three months back in February, but returned to the game after consulting with a sports psychologist. "It's come and gone throughout this entire tournament, usually actually it's been pretty good. I didn't serve well, I didn't return well. I didn't make that extra ball, win those few key points that I had done earlier in the week. He played really well."
Donaldson expressed disappointment at the result, despite his recent success at Futures and this week against the nation's best juniors.
"You come to tournaments to win," said the Cumberland, Rhode Island resident, who has trained in Argentina the past three years. "You don't come to tournaments to say you had a good tournament or you had good wins. Second place obviously isn't something to be ashamed of, but it's definitely something you don't come here for. Now, if someone had told me, back in February, when I thought I was done with tennis, that if you could take second in Kalamazoo, would you, of course I would say yes, but now that you're here, you always want more."
Donaldson will receive a wild card into men's qualifying at the US Open later this month, and he already had heard that Mackenzie McDonald, who lost in the round of 16 to Brymer, qualified Sunday into the ATP Masters event in Cincinnati, defeating Nicolas Mahut and Steve Johnson to do so.
"Mackie is obviously a really great player and he had a tough one in the round of 16 here," said Donaldson. "Tennis is a funny game. Mackie can lose round of 16 here, and the player he lost to lost 0 and 1 to the guy who won the tournament, then Mackie goes and beats No. 77 in the world and Steve Johnson."
Altamirano admitted that choking crossed his mind when he stepped to the line to serve out the match at 5-4 in the third, but then made every first serve, converting his first match point on a service winner. The 17-year-old, who played junior tennis in Northern California, just as McDonald did, is confident his game can measure up at the US Open in two weeks.
"I know my level's up there," said Altamirano, who is coached by Joseph Gilbert. "I've just got to believe it, and do it day in and day out. I know this tournament's tough, and to win it is huge."