KALAMAZOO, MI — What Learner Tien lacked in age, he more than made up for in skill, willpower and stamina Monday on the tennis courts at Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Stadium.
The 16-year-old Californian outlasted University of Georgia redshirt freshman Ethan Quinn in a four-and-a-half-hour, four-set match to win the 2022 USTA Boys Nationals Singles Championship 18 .
“It feels good,” Tien said of the 7-6(7), 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-3 victory. “I don’t think it’s really settled yet. I’m still fresh out of the field, so I haven’t really processed it all yet, but it’s definitely been a really cool experience, and it’s a great feeling finally coming out.
For only the second time in the tournament’s 79-year history in Kalamazoo, rain pushed the championship game from Sunday to Monday, resulting in a smaller-than-normal weekday crowd for the U18 national championship game.
Those in attendance were treated to one of the best finals in recent memory, with the first two sets going to a tiebreaker, including a 70-minute opener that saw eighth seed Tien pick up a victory of 9-7 on the No. 2. -Quinn, seeded.
“I think it was really crucial mentally, especially before the second set with that advantage,” Tien said. “After working so hard in the first (set), it was really important for me and it gave me a lot of momentum after winning that first tiebreak. I was able to take a pretty quick lead in the second. set, going 3-1, and I ended up losing my break there, but it was nice to have the confidence to win that first set tie-break, and it really helped my confidence, especially in this tie-break of the second set.
Tien took a two-set lead after winning the last three points in the second-set tiebreaker, and it looked like he would win the national championship in straight sets after breaking Quinn’s serve to go up 5-4 in the third set.
But Quinn rallied and took the final three games to force a fourth set and gain some much-needed momentum.
“I had a few chances in the third set to finish on the straights, and I kind of let it go,” Tien said. “After that, I had a 10-minute break between the third and fourth set, so I was able to reset myself mentally, and I was still ahead 2-1, so I tried to keep at the Mind that I still had the edge and just start over and don’t think about the opportunities that slipped away.
Tien won the first two games of the fourth set, but Quinn came back with three straight games to take the lead.
At that point, it appeared Quinn’s year in a college strength and conditioning program might give him an edge, but Tien maintained his stamina and composure, winning the last three games, including in breaking his opponent’s serve for a match point.
“I felt like if I managed my stress level, my breathing and whatever else would help me stay calm, it would help me not overwork myself and I would be fine throughout the game” , said Tien.
With his victory, Tien earns a place in the main draw of the upcoming US Open, which runs from August 29 to September 11, and he becomes the tournament’s youngest champion since Donald Young in 2004.
At just 16 years old, Tien will also have the chance to become the first three-time 18 singles champion in USTA Boys Nationals history.
Last year’s champion Zach Svajda also won his first crown at 16 and again in his final year at the tournament, but his bid for a treble was disrupted by the cancellation of the 2020 event in due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Knowing he’s so young and shrewd, maybe we’ll look back when he’s a bit older and he’s done some pretty special things, and I can say I took him to four ( sets); That would be pretty cool,” Quinn said. “Those first two sets were really high level. I really wish I could have had one of those; it definitely could have changed the tone of the match, but it was a great experience. to play with Learner again.
While Tien will be back to defend his title in 2023, Quinn competed in his last USTA Boys Nationals tournament, and while he didn’t win the top prize, he came away with a pretty good shot.
With his runner-up finish, the Fresno, Calif. native secured a spot in the US Open qualifying draw, and he will also take the court at Flushing Meadows in the doubles main draw, having won the 18 tournament. doubles with his partner Nicholas. Godsick Saturday.
He also received the prestigious Allen B. Stowe Sportsmanship Award, which is awarded to the competitor who best combines the qualities of exceptional sportsmanship and exceptional tennis ability, as determined by the Committee of Junior and Boys National Championships.
“It’s like a relief, honestly,” Quinn said. “I came here under a lot of pressure, being the No. 2 seed and not doing too well in junior tournaments throughout the year so far, so it was a bit of a relief to finish summer on such a high note.
“Winning doubles, qualifying for singles finals and winning the fair play award feels good as I will soon be settling in and getting ready to go back to school. It’s been a great week.