Aug. 9, 2003
August 2003
Aug. 9, 2003
August 2003

Court Two Produces Twice the Drama in Kalamazoo Semifinal Classics

August 9, 2003
Kalamazoo MI

Court Two Produces Twice the Drama in Kalamazoo Semifinal Classics
by Matt Hammond and Colette Lewis

There were only two tennis matches played on Court Two at Stowe Stadium on Saturday--a singles semifinal match in 16s, followed by an 18s contest. But fans were treated to five and a half hours of nail-biting tennis, with 3rd seeds Gary Sacks and Jamil Al-Agba earning spots in Sunday's final.

16 Singles

The opening scene in the Court Two drama on Saturday saw 3rd seed Gary Sacks of Calabasas Hills CA returning from the mandatory ten minute break between sets with a simple plan. "My coach told me, ?Focus on holding serve and you?ll get a lucky break. You?ll just need one.?"

As it turned out, that was easier said than done. In the first two sets, Sacks served for a 5-3 lead but had to settle for 4-4 ties after 5th seed Timothy Smyczek of Hales Corners WI refused to wilt. Sacks was able to regroup and claim the first set 6-4 but could not contain Smyczek?s rejuvenated serve and volley game in the second, with the 5th seeded fifteen year old taking the second set, also at 6-4.

Sacks found himself in familiar territory halfway through the third set, again tied-- this time at three. He broke Smyczek?s serve for a 4-3 lead, then at 30-all used a passing shot and service winner to claim an advantage he would not relinquish. Smyczek saved two match points on his own serve, but Sacks served it out for the 6-4 win.

Smyczek?s passionate intensity won him a great deal of admirers in the stands and was in marked contrast to Sacks' more stoic personalilty. As Sacks good-naturedly admitted afterwards, "I had five supporters to about five hundred for him."

In the other 16s singles semifinal, 4th seed Matt Bruch of Lake Forest IL used his win last month over 16th seed Marcus Fugate at the 16 Clay Court Championships as a confidence builder in his climb back from myriad injuries. Bruch won that match in three sets, and was well prepared Saturday afternoon for their 16 singles semifinal rematch. He wasted little time and few opportunities en route to his 6-2, 6-1 win over the 16th seed. "My coach and I had a strategy," Bruch commented after the match, "and we took the openings he gave us."

18 Singles

Court Two was also the scene of the tournament's best match last year, when Kean Feeder of Portland OR played in an instant Kalamazoo classic --his upset of then 7th seed Wayne Odesnik 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) in the fifth round. On Saturday, Feeder once again starred in a Court Two gem, this time against 3rd seed Jamil Al-Agba of Tarzana CA. The match had the feel of a lengthy showdown from the beginning, as both players used the maximum time allowed between each point. Feeder in particular stuck to a pre-service ritual that his opponent described as "sort of like Sergio Garcia."

Al-Agba earned back a late break in the first set to force a tie breaker, which he won 7-3. Feeder responded by playing solidly in his service games and forcing a late break to take the second set at 6-3.

At the beginning of the final set, Feeder quickly ran out to a 2-0 lead over Al-Agba, holding three break points in the third game. But Al-Agba rose to the challenge, using his quick defense and all-court savvy to eventually even the set at two. The two players traded service holds for 3-3 and then service breaks for 4-4. The long rallies and dramatic swings of momentum were eerily similar to Feeder?s triumph in 2002.

"I did think a lot about that (match)," the lefthander admitted.

It must have been a comforting thought because, when serving down 5-4, Feeder saved two match points, then won the game with a fearless forehand winner. In the next game, four errors from Feeder?s forehand gave Al-Agba a 6-5 lead. In Feeder?s last service game--three hours and seven minutes after the match began--Al-Agba converted his third match point with a crisp volley winner for a 7-5 set win.

After the match, a remarkably fresh looking Al-Agba was asked if he had ever played a longer match. "Maybe when I was thirteen and hitting moon balls," he quipped. And while a dejected Feeder failed to repeat his 2002 Court Two heroics, Al-Agba still has a chance to duplicate a triumph from last December. "At the California Bowl, I beat Feeder in the semifinals and Yim in the final," he noted.

In the other semifinal, fourth seed Robert Yim of Glendale CA faced a big deficit late in the first set of his semifinal match against 5th seed Chris Kwon of Boca Raton FL. Serving at 4-4, Yim trailed 0-40 on his serve. "I told myself to stay calm and fight for every point," Yim explained afterwards. He reeled off five straight points to hold for 5-4, and after that recovery, "I just relaxed and played my game," he said. The compact lefthander then took the last seven games of the match, winning 6-4, 6-0 to advance to Sunday's championship match.

Sources: Colette Lewis (Tournament Office) & Matt