Aug. 16, 2022
August 2022
Aug. 16, 2022
 

16-Year-Old Learner Tien Boys 18 Champion

Sixteen-Year-Old Learner Tien Defeats Ethan Quinn for USTA National Boys 18s Title in Rare Monday Final; Junior Wheelchair Tournament Results

©Colette Lewis 2022-
Kalamazoo MI--

Day 11 - Monday, August 15 

After saving four match points in his round of 16 match with Nicholas Godsick Thursday, Learner Tien made use of that good fortune to diffuse any high pressure situations he faced in subsequent matches, including in Monday's 7-6(7), 7-6(3) 5-7, 6-3 win over No. 2 seed Ethan Quinn in the USTA Boys 18s National Championships final at Stowe Stadium.

"It always comes to mind whenever I feel like I'm getting tight," said the 16-year-old left-hander from Irvine California, seeded No. 8. "I just tell myself, should I even still be in this tournament? and the nerves kind of subside a little bit."

Although the usual attendance for the Sunday final was reduced due to the Monday morning start time, competing for a place in the tournament's 79-year history--and a US Open main draw wild card--was bound to generate stress, regardless of the size of the crowd witnessing it. 

Up an early break in the first set, Tien lost it, but passed his first stress test when he made a forehand error to go down 6-4 in the subsequent tiebreaker. He saved both set points, the second on a let-cord pass, then missed out on his own set point at 7-6, but when Quinn missed a forehand wide and double faulted, Tien had secured the 70-minute set.

The second set was similar to the first, with Tien going up 3-1, losing the break, and then going down 2-0 in the tiebreaker. Tien was reassured however, when he recalled what he faced in the opening tiebreaker.

"Having the confidence of coming back in that first set tiebreaker really helped me in that second set tiebreaker," Tien said. "Even though I was down a mini-break, I had come back from a similar deficit in the first set, so it didn't really affect me, mentally at least."

Tien is the definition of unflappable, and Quinn said he knew,  even when Tien couldn't convert his match point serving at 5-4 in the third and lost his serve at love at 5-6 to lose the set, Tien would retain his composure.

"He always stays so cool and calm throughout the entire match, whether he is up or down," said Quinn, who lost to Tien in the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 in San Diego in March. "That's what makes him hard to beat, you can't really get him riled up, get in his head, so it makes him really tough to play."

After two days of rain and drizzle and with a commitment to play the final outdoors added an extra day to the tournament, the conditions for Monday's final were ideal, with temperatures in the upper 70s and light winds. But if the physical demands were not as pronounced as they could have been, competing in a fourth set was a new experience for both players. After gaining some momentum with a flurry of winners in the last three games of the third set, the 10-minute break between the third and fourth sets was ill-timed for Quinn, who was broken immediately at the beginning of the fourth set.

"Learner definitely had a better game plan coming into that fourth set," said Quinn, who has been a student at the University of Georgia since January, but has yet to play a match for the Bulldogs. "He just started taking second serves early, cutting off that wide serve on the deuce side so I couldn't serve and volley."

Tien is coached by Eric Diaz of Top Tier Tennis Academy in Irvine, who is the son of University of Georgia head coach Manny Diaz, and both were there providing advice to their respective players during that ten-minute break.

Throughout the match, Quinn's blistering forehand and superior serve were effective for stretches, but Tien returned well and made very few unforced errors to counter Quinn's power advantage.

Fresno California native Quinn said Sunday that he thought a long match in the final would favor him, as he has trained at Georgia for the past eight months and played professional tournaments throughout the summer. But although Tien did occasionally look tired in the fourth set of the four-hour match, leading to a few more unforced errors, Quinn was unable to capitalize. Quinn did get the break back in the fourth set, but he was broken again at 3-all and Tien held easily to go up 5-3.

Quinn had four game points serving at 5-3, and saved a second match point when Tien missed a second serve return. But it was Tien who stepped up on the big points, coming up with a drop shot winner, a short angle cross court backhand pass and perfect return at Quinn's feet when he decided to serve and volley, saving three of the game points, while Quinn made a forehand error on the fourth. After the fifth deuce, Quinn made two tired looking errors, missing a forehand long and backhand wide, and Tien, who did not celebrate, had earned his first USTA gold ball in singles.

"I was so focused on this match, I haven't fully grasped the completion of the tournament and me winning it yet," Tien said. "I haven't fully processed it, so I'm not really thinking about the US Open too much yet, but I'm sure it's going to be a really, really cool experience."

After he asked who he might like to play in New York, now that he has secured a main draw wild card, Tien weighed the possibilities.

"I'm not sure yet," said Tien, who has played only 13 matches on the USTA Pro Circuit and has never faced anyone in the top 300. "If you play one of the top guys, it's a really cool thing. But on the other hand, you really want to play someone that's a much more winnable match rather than someone top 5 in the world."

Tien, the first player born in 2005 to play in the main draw of a slam, plans to go home to California for a week or so, then travel to the USTA campus to train in preparation for his New York debut. He intends to play the US Open Junior Championships the second week, as does Quinn.

Quinn had an eerily similar summer to last year's Kalamazoo 18s finalist Ben Shelton, winning the $25,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Champaign prior to Kalamazoo, claiming the doubles title and finishing runner-up in singles. 

"I just need to start making the final in every Challenger and I'm in," Quinn joked. "But I need to get back to Athens and get in the training room, do as much recovery as possible. The body's getting tired. It's been a long week."

Quinn was awarded the Allen B. Stowe Sportsmanship trophy, which is reserved for those in the 18s division.

Ozan Baris won the bronze ball in 18s singles via a walkover, with Martin Damm not competing in the third place match.

Junior wheelchair athletes(left to right):
Tomas Majetic, Max Wong, Mathias Krodel, Charlie Cooper
photo courtesy YourGameFace.com
 

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the first junior wheelchair event to be held at any national championship was played, consisting of round robin singles matches and exhibition doubles matches. The order of finish in round robin singles:

1. Charlie Cooper, La Quinta CA
2. Max Wong, Flushing NY
3. Tomas Majetic, Boulder CO
4. Mathias Krodel, Cincinnati OH

Source: Colette Lewis (Zoo Tennis)