The only upset of the day was recorded by Henrik Wiersholm, the No. 12 seed, who defeated Aron Hiltzik, the No. 3 seed, 6-1, 6-4. Wiersholm, a 15-year-old who is making his debut in Kalamazoo this year because he represented the USA in the ITF World Junior Tennis team competition last year, had a three-set victory in his first match, but has been happy with his play since then.
"Part of it was was a little bit of nerves, it's Kalamazoo," said Wiersholm. "I was kind of looking around, seeing what's going on. I got through that match and have been playing some better matches since."
Wiersholm approached the match with Hiltzik in a positive frame of mind, with what he called "good results" in their three previous meetings. In the first set, Hiltzik made too many unforced errors to stay in the rallies, and it wasn't until the second set that the match gained a competitive feel.
"He started solidifying his game, and I relaxed a little bit," Wiersholm said. "I was up a break from the beginning, but then gave him the break back, so it got a little bit close, but I was able to stay on him, and I served well."
Wiersholm's opponent on Friday will be William Griffith, the No. 15 seed, who defeated unseeded Catalin Mateas 7-5, 6-2. Wiersholm recalls the last time they played, in a National Open last summer.
"I think we had a four-hour match when we played," said Wiersholm. "Will's a very smart player, he's super solid. His whole game is centered around I'm going to make you beat me, hit as many balls in the court as I can until you miss. If you hit a winner, good job."
Rhyne Williams & Jared Donaldson
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....
Rhyne Williams & Jared Donaldson
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."
Rhyne Williams & Jared Donaldson
The draws for the WJT are out. USA is in group A with Great Britain, Switzerland, and Chinese Taipei (a very kind draw IMO).
What are your expectations for Team USA (Michael Mmoh, Francis Tiafoe, and William Blumberg)?
For me, I'll be happy if they can make it to the play-off rounds. I don't expect much since this is clay after all (if I'm not mistaken, it has been contested on clay for the last 14 years - same site). Michael had some decent red clay results this summer, but the other two I don't think had much opportunities to play on clay. Anyway, good luck to the boys; let's fight hard, play smart! .
Rhyne Williams & Jared Donaldson