“Creative” and “unique” are words that Corona del Mar High boys’ tennis coach Jamie Gresh used to describe the game of Kyle Pham.
Pham just shrugged when asked to describe his game.
“I don’t even know,” he said.
The Southern Methodist University-bound Pham has a scrappy style, able to switch quickly from defense to offense depending on the opponent. It served him well Wednesday at Seal Beach Tennis Center, where his first opponent was a good friend.
Pham beat Sage Hill senior Emin Torlic 7-6 (7-1), 7-5 in the round of 16 at the CIF Southern Section Individuals tournament. He then came back with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-1 victory over Jinta Sasamori of Torrance Bishop Montgomery in the quarterfinals.
Pham will play top-seeded Brett Brinkman of West Hills Chaminade in a semifinal at 11 a.m. Thursday at Seal Beach, while Donovan Lilov of Temecula Valley faces No. 2-seeded Ian Freer of La Cañada St. Francis in the other semifinal. The championship match will follow.
“I’ve gotten a little lucky,” said Pham, who saved a set point in the first set against Torlic and in the first-set tiebreaker against Sasamori. “I’m really excited. I didn’t think I’d get this far. Thinking back to the qualifying, when I almost lost the first set to Roshan Morey [of Laguna Hills in the third round], it’s kind of cool that I’m still in the semis [Thursday].”
Pham and Torlic, bound for Loyola Marymount, grinned when they discovered they would be playing each other. They weren’t smiling after a bruising round of 16 match. Pham saved his set point serving at 4-5 and came back to play a strong tiebreaker, playing defensive tennis against the big lefty forehand and serve of Torlic. He also won a close second set.
“I played a little scrappy, I guess, and found a way to win,” said Pham, the Surf League singles champion. “I kind of relied on my defense a little today, especially in the first set. In the tiebreaker, I played more assertive. I focused on every point.”
Sasamori, who also had to play a round of 32 match earlier Wednesday, had a set point at 6-5 in the first-set tiebreaker against Pham. But the CdM senior saved it with a cross-court backhand passing shot. He then won the second set going away, as an obviously fatigued Sasamori faded.
“I thought [Pham] played really well when he needed to,” Gresh said. “It’s not always the prettiest, but it’s sometimes gritty, and that’s what you need to be good at tennis. You need heart and you need to be sharp with your mind if you’re not striking the ball perfectly. I think Kyle does that very well.”
Other local players lost in the round of 16. Newport Harbor’s Josh Watkins and Prescott Cook, the Wave League champions, lost to Nabeel Khan and Stetson Martz of Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula in a round of 16 doubles match, 6-3, 6-2.
Huntington Beach’s Daniel Izmirian and Sebastian Vethan outlasted Andrew Weisman and Ben Stapp of Claremont 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 10-5 in the round of 32. But the Surf League champions would lose to top-seeded Kai Brady and Sean Holt of Palos Verdes 6-0, 6-0 in the round of 16.
Vivek Savsani and Ben Nguyen of Fountain Valley beat Andres Roa and Kyle Gorgonio of Cypress 6-3, 6-7, 11-9 in the round of 32 before losing 6-2, 6-0 to No. 2-seeded David Arkow and Sam Landau of Harvard-Westlake in the round of 16. Barons coach Harshul Patel said Savsani and Nguyen were just the third doubles team in his nine-year tenure to advance to Seal Beach.
They also won two super-tiebreakers against teams from Los Angeles Loyola and Troy in the sectional tournament on Monday.
“I think we’re both pretty happy with how we played, considering that a lot of the teams were really strong teams,” said Savsani, a senior. “That Troy team made the quarterfinals at Ojai, so that’s a really good team. Just to be clutch and win in super-tiebreakers is a big deal for both of us. I think it builds the confidence for [Nguyen, who is a sophomore] the next two years. He wasn’t really fond of playing doubles before, and I hope this might have changed that.”
Daniel Wei of Irvine defeated Sage Hill senior Steven Ferry 3-6, 6-2, 11-9 in a singles round of 32 match.
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