The USTA SoCal Junior Sectional Championships brings together many of the top prospects in junior tennis.
Sizzling serves, high-octane forehands and deft touch shots have been showcased in abundance.
Laguna Beach resident Jett Cole has faced players that carry those attributes to their game, but he has had one weapon in his arsenal that has kept him in every match.
The 17-year-old has played under control, winning the mental battle as frustrations have come into play in the later rounds of the tournament.
Cole stayed steady on Saturday, defeating Brett Brinkman of Canoga Park 6-4, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the boys’ 18-and-under draw on Saturday at Los Caballeros Sports Village.
For the first time in his career, Cole has advanced to the semifinal round in the USTA SoCal Junior Sectional Championships. He will oppose No. 2-seeded Alexander Petrov of Irvine on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. at Los Caballeros Sports Village.
The quarterfinals presented many a mental challenge. A chair umpire added a component to the potential distractions for players.
In the first game of the second set, Brinkman received a point penalty for ball abuse. That put the five-star recruit in a love-30 hole on his serve, but he was able to dig out of it after battling back to deuce.
“I had a couple of situations [get away] where it was such a bummer, and I definitely got frustrated because those, in my opinion, shouldn’t happen,” Cole said. “It’s part of the game. It’s going to happen. If I want to succeed and continue with this sport, I have to roll with the punches and just keep moving.”
Cole maintained his persistence, playing the role of a backboard from the baseline and making Brinkman work for every point. Eventually, Brinkman started to spray errors off the forehand wing as he attempted to end points quicker.
“I think I just stayed in every single point,” Cole said. “I made him earn every single shot. I ran down everything, and I think he felt almost overwhelmed with what he had to do to get a point. He had to do so much, and I think that was kind of what made him crack first.”
The first set also involved mind games, as the first nine games of the match were won from the same side of the net. Cole ended the trend by holding serve to close out the set 6-4.
“I was a little in my head about that,” Cole said of the pattern. “Every time I would be going over to that side, I would say, ‘Please try to win this game because I haven’t won it at all this match.’
“I eventually just used the frustration to motivate myself to keep pushing and pushing and keep trying and wait for him to break before I do, and I think that worked out in my favor.”
Entering Saturday, two of the top four seeds in the draw had been knocked out of the tournament, including No. 1 seed Max McKennon of Newport Beach.
Asked if he had sensed that an opportunity was on the table to possibly win the tournament, Cole indicated that he did not want to get ahead of himself.
“Those are just distractions,” Cole said of the upsets that had already taken place. “I wanted to focus mainly on this match. I didn’t want to be thinking about how big of an opportunity this is when I’m playing Brett.
“Brett is a really solid player. He has a big serve, a big forehand, and I knew that if I wanted to take it, I was going to have to solely focus on getting my head in the match and really focus.”
Cole also credited coaches Chris Lewis and Andrew Mateljan for helping with his development. He is now two matches away from winning his home major junior tournament.
Lawee Sherif of Huntington Beach advanced to the final of the boys’ 16-and-under bracket with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over AJ Moore of Irvine. He will face the No. 2 seed in Sebastian Gorzny of Irvine in the championship match at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday at Los Caballeros Sports Village.
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