Top Seeds Capture National Titles at Kalamazoo
Tennys Sandgren and Michael McClune arrived in Kalamazoo as the targets, and after ten days and seven matches both top seeds emerged with the coveted title of National Junior Champions.
On a hot but not unbearable day, Sandgren defeated Tennessee rival James (Bo) Seal 6-3, 6-2, in a routine match that ended strangely, while McClune lost his first set of the tournament, but regrouped to outlast fellow Southern Californian Ryan Thacher 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
The usual match point eruption from both the audience of nearly 2000 and Sandgren was absent when the chair umpire ended the match with a point penalty for racquet abuse after Seal flipped it toward the net.
At 5-2, Sandgren, who had had trouble closing out matches all week, was serving for the match but was down 30-40 when Seal let a defensive lob from Sandgren go, only to see it nestle in the corner. His mood already dark from that misjudgment, Seal got no luck on the next point when a clip of the net cord caused his ball to ricochet wide. Almost casually he tossed his racquet toward the net, and seemed almost expecting the penalty, which he got.
"I don\'t think he did it in anger," said Sandgren, who has now won back-to-back National championships. "He didn\'t even seem that mad, and maybe on match point he didn\'t think the umpire would call it. It seemed a little harsh. It would have been nicer to end with a forehand winner, but I\'m sure he feels worse about it than I do, because I won."
Sandgren cited his tough path to the final, which included four three-set victories, as instrumental in his win.
"If you go through a tournament not having any tough matches and you get to a point where you\'re playing someone really good and it\'s really close, you don\'t really have that edge, " said Sandgren, of Gallatin, Tenn.
"Today I felt like I had a little bit of an edge mentally because of all those tough matches I had before. Had he lost a set?" Sandgren asked. When the negative reply came, Sandgren continued.
"I don\'t think that helped him. All those tough matches were tiring, but I think it helped me out in the long run."
The long run for McClune and Thacher was a best-of-five-set match, a tradition in Kalamazoo that helps prepare the winner for their U.S. Open main draw contest in a few weeks.
Neither had ever played a match of that length, but the points were often short in Sunday afternoon\'s final, which took a little over two and a half hours to complete.
McClune started quickly, and afterwards, both players mentioned his serving as a key to his dominance in the first set.
"My served really worked well," said McClune who reached the 120s on the radar gun several times. "Especially in the beginning of the first set. It got me off to a good rhythm--I think I got four first serves in right then. Second set I didn\'t serve so well, but third and fourth I got a better first serve percentage."
Countering an athletic left-hander presents some special challenges, and McClune prepared for the different spins and angles by warming up with the 16s third place winner.
"I warmed up with Evan King this morning," McClune revealed. "So I could get that lefty serve down." But he also had to readjust his expectations on what constituted a winner.
"I knew every ball was going to come back," McClune said. "I knew most balls that most kids wouldn\'t get back, he would get back and get back with a lot of force. So I had to be patient and not go for it too early."
The third set was pivotal and despite an early break, McClune couldn\'t hold it, with Thacher pulling even at 4-4.
"I was pretty comfortable in the third set," Thacher said. "I got broken, but then I broke back and felt like I was playing pretty well. But I missed a couple of volleys today that I wish I had back. It\'s a little bit disappointing when you set up the point the way you want it and dump an easy ball like I did a couple of times. But all in all, I\'m fairly pleased with the way I played."
McClune, who turns 18 in ten days and has been a professional since April, now heads home for some rest before journeying to the US Open, where his win has earned him a place in the main draw. Thacher receives a men\'s qualifying wild card, while Sandgren has assured himself a spot in the US Open Junior draw. But despite those prizes, all three boys will leave Kalamazoo with many of the same memories as the other competitors who didn\'t win quite as often as they did.
"It\'s all about living the dream that very few people get," said Mickey McClune, Michael\'s father, in his remarks to the crowd following the match. "Whether they lose in the first round of the main draw and the first round of the consolation, or whether they get to the quarters, the semis, the finals, they\'re all able to say, I lived the dream, I played at Kalamazoo."
Source: Colette Lewis (Tournament Office)