Sandgren and Seal Vie for 16s Title; McClune and Thacher Meet for 18s Championship
The National title in the 16s division will be an oft-fought battle between Tennesseeans, but the two Southern Californians squaring off in the 18s, Michael McClune and Ryan Thacher, are strangers on the tennis court.
"Michael\'s always been a level ahead of me," said the 18s No. 3 seed Ryan Thacher of Studio City, Calif, a 6-2, 6-4 winner over sixth-seeded Mateusz Kecki in one of Saturday\'s semifinal matches. "I\'ll be honest, both tennis-wise and in the tournaments he\'s been playing. He\'s a pro now, playing Futures, playing Challengers, while I\'m still playing National tournaments. I think this is the first tournament I\'ve ever played where he\'s been in the draw."
The athletic left-hander, a finalist in the 16s division last year, admits that he loves to watc McClune play, but on Saturday, that wasn\'t possible as McClune, of Irvine, Calif. was ousting No. 30 seed Ty Trombetta 6-3, 6-1 at the same time Thacher was disposing of Kecki.
After losing the first three games of the match, McClune took control, winning 12 of the next 13 games.
"I wasn\'t feeling too good at the beginning," said McClune, who turns 18 later this month. "I think a little nerves played into it, but I just started bouncing around and tried to get some momentum and it worked out."
In addition to relaxing, McClune also revised his strategy after the first few games.
"He looked more comfortable hitting backhands," said McClune, who had never played Trombetta. "I think I hit him a little too many in the beginning of the match. I changed it up a little bit, just started making some balls and made him hit a few more forehands."
For Thacher, waiting out the three separate medical timeouts that Kecki took was a big challenge.
"It\'s tough. It\'s hard to stay focused when you know your opponent is hobbling around," Thacher said. "I mean he wasn\'t hobbling, he was still doing pretty well, but hurting. Right away you feel you should win the match....you start to press, hold back on attacking because you don\'t want to miss a ball."
Kecki, who experienced shoulder problems during his upset of No. 2 seed Kellen Damico on Thursday, took the court with an elbow brace, and even served underhand once or twice during Saturday\'s match. But none of the delays for treatment could rattle Thacher, who walked around the court with a towel over his head during the medical interludes.
"I tried to focus on the points that were upcoming. It tended to be on my service games, and I did a great job--I was really pleased with the way I served, especially coming out of those breaks," Thacher said.
Breaks of a different type have become familiar to 16s top seed Tennys Sandgren, who has been extended to three sets in four of his six matches this week, including his 6-0, 2-6, 6-1 victory over No. 3 seed Evan King in Saturday\'s semifinal.
The ten minutes between the second and third sets that the 16s division requires have been an opportunity for Sandgren to collect himself and get the advice of his coach and mother Lia.
"My mom gave me a good game plan for the third set," said Sandgren, who turned 16 last month. "She said to stop rushing short balls and be a little calmer on those. That was basically it."
The quality of tennis varied throughout the match, with King making a slew of unforced errors in the first set and Sandgren following suit in the second before he began to get his forehand on track in the third.
Looking ahead to his match up with James "Bo" Seal in the final, Sandgren admitted that it would take a better performance to defeat his rival from Tennesseee.
"He\'s playing really well; he\'s so good off the ground, " Sandgren said. "He has one of the best backhands, so I\'m going to have to be on my game completely and my forehand\'s going to have to be clicking pretty good."
Seal has seen a great forehand and has beaten it already in the tournament, when he took out No. 2 seed Lawrence Formentera 6-4, 6-4 in the other 16 semifinal Saturday.
"He\'s got one of the biggest forehands in junior tennis," said Seal, who was down a break early in both sets. "I was trying to keep away from that as much as possible."
Seal succeeded in neutralizing that weapon in the middle of both sets, going from a break down to a break up and then closing both sets out with holds.
"One thing I\'ve been focusing on is when you get on top of somebody, try to put them away right then when yo can." Seal said. "You never know what may happen later on down the road. You might get a bad break, you might cramp, he might get a lucky let cord, so I try to take care of business at that time."
For Seal, facing Sandgren will be business as usual.
"I\'ve played Sandgren many times," Seal said. "He only lives about two and a half hours away, so I\'ve played him seven, eight times. I\'ve played Tennys two times in about the past four months--he beat me the last time, but I beat him the time before."
Both matches, one in a National Open final in July, the other in a Southern section Designated in March, went three sets, so Sandgren should be prepared for yet another pep talk from mom on Sunday.
Source: Colette Lewis (Tournament Office)