FOUNTAIN VALLEY — With nearly five hours of combined match action between singles and doubles, it was certainly a long day on the court Saturday for Costa Mesa junior tennis player Reese Stalder.
That didn't matter to Stalder. The day was also great, or call it breakout. Stalder delivered two huge wins at a huge tournament, the 112th annual Southern California Junior Sectionals.
Both were comebacks. The No. 6-seeded Stalder upset top-seeded Austin Rapp of Palm Desert, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, in a boys' 18 singles semifinal at Los Caballeros Racquet & Sports Club.
Later, Stalder won hardware. He and partner Billy Rowe of Coronado, the No. 2 seeds, beat top-seeded Rapp and Riley Smith of Los Alamitos, 5-7, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, to win the boys' 18 doubles title.
Stalder, a senior-to-be at Newport Harbor High, called the win over Rapp in singles "up there" as one of the biggest of his career. He will play unseeded Kalman Boyd of Rancho Santa Fe for the first time in the boys' 18 singles final on Sunday at 11:30 a.m.
"I've never been to the finals of sectional singles," Stalder said. "It's the biggest win of the year. I'm very happy, very pleased with that one. I've been playing really good this tournament."
Facing Boyd, who is unseeded because he has been playing mostly International Tennis Federation tournaments recently, will be tricky in the final. But so was the semifinal match against Rapp.
Stalder was down a break of serve, at 2-0 in the third set, before rallying. He immediately broke back.
"I think everyone, after they get a break, their next service game is the most vulnerable," Stalder said.
Rapp is a UCLA signee, and UCLA men's tennis coach Billy Martin watched as Stalder again broke Rapp's serve in the seventh game of the set to take a 4-3 lead. Rapp slammed a tennis ball into the fence in frustration. After both players held serve, Stalder was able to successfully serve for the match, finishing it off with an ace out wide.
Stalder and Rowe also brought their "A" game against Rapp and Smith in doubles, though they lost the first set and fell behind, 5-2, in the second set. But they eventually forced a tiebreaker. Down, 4-2, in the 'breaker, they won five straight points to force a third set. Stalder personally won the last four points of the tiebreaker with a winning volley, forehand winner, service ace and another volley winner.
There was a moment of controversy with Smith serving at 2-3 in the third set. A Stalder forehand down the line was called out, and the chair umpire did not overrule. It agitated both Stalder and Rowe, who clearly thought the shot was in.
Smith held serve in the game, tying the set score at 3-3. But from there, Stalder and Rowe won the last three games to close out the match.
"Without that close call, it could have been a different story," said Rowe, whose mother, then known as Sue Ellen Stedman, went to Corona del Mar High and whose grandparents still live in CdM. "That fired us up. We were in every single return game. It was just a matter of time until we would break ... We've been returning well all tournament."
Rowe's serve was broken three times in the first set, but never after that. Stalder had his serve broken just once, in the third set. It was a solid performance against Rapp and Smith, who both stand 6-foot-5.
And playing well under pressure Saturday could help Stalder on Sunday, as well as Rowe, who is in the boys' 16 singles title match.
Newport Beach resident Austin Di Giulio, the No. 5 seed in the boys' 14s, fell to No. 2-seeded Brandon Nakashima of San Diego, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, in a semifinal.
Di Giulo will play Govind Nanda of Redlands for third place Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at Los Cab.