Tennis: Stalder, Di Giulio move on

FOUNTAIN VALLEY — There aren't really any secrets when you get to the top steps of the junior tennis ladder.

So it makes sense why Costa Mesa resident Reese Stalder had confidence in doubles going into the 112th annual Southern California Junior Sectionals with partner Billy Rowe of Coronado. In November 2012, Stalder and Rowe captured the boys' 16s doubles title at the doubles Junior Sectionals.

"I expected us to do really well, because we've done really well in the past and it's pretty much the same guys, just moving up," Stalder said.

To win that tournament a year and a half ago, Stalder and Rowe had to get past teams featuring Riley Smith of Los Alamitos in the semifinals and Austin Rapp of Palm Desert in the finals.

Now, No. 2-seeded Stalder and Rowe have to face both of them.

They set up a showdown for the title with the top-seeded Smith and Rapp, after topping Charles Pei and Timothy Sah of San Diego, 6-2, 6-4, in the semifinals Friday at Los Caballeros Racquet & Sports Club.

The doubles title match is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday, also at Los Cab. It will be the second time Saturday that Stalder stands across the net from Rapp.

They're also meeting in the boys' 18 singles semifinals. No. 6-seeded Stalder got past No. 9-seeded Pei, 6-2, 7-6, in a quarterfinal Friday morning to set up the semifinal match with top-seeded Rapp, at 9 a.m. Saturday at Los Cab.

The other local still alive in a main draw is Newport Beach resident Austin Di Giulio, in the 14s. No. 5-seeded Di Giulio advanced after beating unseeded Jack Pullium of Manhattan Beach, 6-2, 6-1, in a quarterfinal Friday. Di Giulio will face No. 2-seeded Brandon Nakashima of San Diego in a semifinal match Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Los Cab.

Stalder, who will be a senior at Newport Harbor High, and Rowe, an incoming junior at Coronado High, are definitely a formidable team in doubles. They also had success the last time they played together, when they captured the title at the Harper Ink tournament in San Diego in late March.

They made it look easy against Pei and Sah, never suffering a break of serve.

"We didn't even get to deuce on our serves, which was different from the last three matches, when we got broken more than once every match," Stalder said. "This time, we didn't even face a break point, and they're two good returners too. That was by far the best match we've played so far."

After breezing through the first set, the second set was tight. But Stalder and Rowe broke Sah's serve at 4-4 on a winning volley by Stalder. That allowed Rowe to successfully serve for the match.

Stalder and Rowe are now looking forward to the title match. Stalder said that good serving will again be key.

"They're two giants," Rowe said. "They're both 6-foot-5. It'll be fun."

Stalder also expects his singles match against Rapp to be tight. He beat Rapp in February in the quarterfinals of the Fullerton Junior Tournament but the match was close, a three-setter. Since then, Rapp has won the prestigious CIF Singles division title at Ojai and made the title match of CIF Individuals, losing to Michael Genender of Harvard-Westlake.

Di Giulio was happy with his effort after beating Pullium. He broke Pullium's serve seven times in the match, despite the fact that Pullium was a big hitter and aggressive player. The final break came with Pullium serving at 1-5 in the second set. He saved four match points, but Di Giulio eventually won the game and the match.

"He's an aggressive player, but I was staying solid," Di Giulio said. "I was just trying to use his pace on his first serve, block it back and get it deep. It's just like restarting the point from neutral; he doesn't have an advantage. Then, I was serving pretty good."

Di Giulio, who has yet to drop a set at Junior Sectionals, is quite familiar with his next opponent, Nakashima. He said he beat him two years ago at Junior Sectionals in a 12s semifinal. Now, he needs to do the same thing to make it back to the final.

Two more wins and Di Giulio will be the 14s champion at Junior Sectionals, just like his older brother Joseph was in 2009.

"That would be cool," Austin Di Giulio said. "I've just been staying focused and trying to stay calm on the court, not too emotional. Even when I'm down, it's just one point at a time. You can get back in the match.

Newport Beach resident Bjorn Hoffmann, the top seed in the boys' 16s, was upset by No. 8-seeded Sah in the quarterfinals, 6-1, 6-3. He has a quarterfinal consolation playoff match against No. 6 Max Liu of San Diego at 2 p.m. Saturday at Los Cab.

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