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Boys' Tennis: Max steps up

Welcome to high school tennis, Max McKennon.

The Newport Harbor High freshman, a highly regarded tournament player, earned the first singles sweep of his high school career on Friday. It came at a good time, with the Sailors battling rival Sage Hill.

In a tight match with many close sets, McKennon stepped up in the second round. He rallied from a 5-2 deficit to earn a 7-5 win over Sage Hill's top player, senior Adam Langevin.

McKennon also finished well, as his 6-4 victory over Sage freshman Rohun Krishnan in the final round was the clinching 10th set.

Newport Harbor earned the 11-7 win at its home courts, its fifth straight triumph.

It was definitely a team win for the Sailors (6-2), who got a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 doubles sweep from senior David Sharp and junior Andy Myers. And it also felt good to beat a rival, Sharp said. The Sailors lost to the Lightning twice last year, in a tournament and in the teams' annual nonleague match.

"It feels great," Sharp said. "We've played them every year, and it's always been tough. We wanted to win, and we all fought hard for this ... This was our chance to take it back."

McKennon, a lefty who became the top-ranked junior tennis 14-year-old in the country after winning the USTA National Winter Championships in January, has been dealing with a left wrist injury early in the season. He played doubles with Sharp last week against Tesoro, then one singles set against Sunny Hills and two against Crean Lutheran.

Baby steps for sure for McKennon, who hopes to compete in the prestigious Easter Bowl tournament later this month. But he's also enjoying high school tennis.

"I love being a part of the team," he said. "Whatever I can do to help is great. Against CdM I couldn't play, and that felt terrible, but I'm glad that I can be back just in time for league."

Seniors Mark Schaefer and Sam Leaman won two of three doubles sets for Newport Harbor, and senior David Lee won twice in singles. He almost swept, but Langevin rallied for a 7-5 victory in the third round for the Lightning.

The Sailors took a 4-2 sets lead after the first round against Sage Hill (4-1), but the match was close throughout. It was almost 6-6 after two rounds, but instead it was 8-4 after Newport Harbor rallied for two close wins.

On the third singles court, Lee won the last three games for a 7-5 win over Sage Hill's Emin Torlic. And there was also McKennon's win over Langevin, which was even more impressive as he won the final five games.

McKennon had a break point with Langevin serving at 5-3, but his shoelaces ripped as he slid on the court to try to reach for a shot near the net. The set was delayed for about five minutes, as Max's mom Donna switched out the shoelaces on one of his shoes. It didn't seem to bother McKennon, who won the "deuce plus one" point and broke serve to pull within 5-4.

Three games later, McKennon was serving for the set, and he won another "deuce plus one" point — and the set — after his winning lob over a charging Langevin. The Sailors were in control, with an 8-4 lead in sets.

"They've always had two or three really strong players, and they set up their lineup really well," Langevin said. "We went out and played our best. A lot of close matches. This could have gone either way, looking at how a lot of these matches went 6-4, 7-5. Often times, a one-break difference is what determined the win and loss today for each match.

"It really came down to a handful of points. Even though it was a 5-2 lead [against McKennon], we both knew it was a one break difference and anything could happen. He came back, and the momentum carried him through. They weren't mistakes. They were points where I wasn't making mistakes, but he was hitting great shots."

Langevin won twice in singles for Sage Hill, while Krishnan and Torlic won once each. Ian Huang and Steven Ferry won twice at No. 1 doubles, while Arya Nanda and Han Chin won a tiebreaker set at No. 3 doubles.

Cory Smith and Julian Hernandez won once in doubles for Newport Harbor, which plays away against St. Margaret's on Monday. The Sailors begin league at home against Marina next Thursday.

Luckily for them, they finally appear to be at full strength.

"I'm so proud of Max for how he's handled his injury," Newport Harbor Coach Kristen Case said. "He's continued to be an influential team player, while struggling with that own personal injury. He's been at every match, doing everything he can within his limits ... He's done a phenomenal job of being patient and serving his role the best way he can."

And he definitely seems to be embracing the team aspect of high school tennis, if the gestures to his teammates during his set against Langevin were any indication. After it was all over, they mobbed him.

"These boys do such a phenomenal job of tying in the team element to our more individualized sport, and it really helps us rise to certain occasions like today," Case said. "In matches like this, it takes a team effort to get it done. It can't just be one guy."

matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo

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