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Austin Di Giulio fights back to beat Andre Saleh in all-Newport match

Austin Di Giulio fights back to beat Andre Saleh in all-Newport match
Newport Beach's Austin Di Giulio makes a forehand return in his match against Andre Saleh in the boys' 18 singles round of 16 match in the Southern California Junior Sectionals tennis tournament at the Los Caballeros Sports Village in Fountain Valley on Friday. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Both Austin Di Giulio and Andre Saleh are top junior tennis players from Newport Beach, and the similarities don’t end there for the two 18-year-olds.

Each of the players has had an older brother who also excelled in the sport. Joseph Di Giulio and Dante Saleh came up through the ranks together. Joseph went to UCLA and Dante to Auburn, each finishing up their college careers last year.

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Joseph, a two-time Southern California Junior Sectionals winner, watched his younger brother compete in the tournament Friday. He’d like to see Austin win it before he heads off to college tennis at Loyola Marymount.

Austin Di Giulio, the No. 3 seed, got a step closer with an entertaining 6-2, 6-7 (0-7), 6-1 win over No. 9-seeded Andre Saleh in a boys’ 18 singles round of 16 match. Di Giulio will play No. 5 Jack Pulliam of Manhattan Beach in a quarterfinal match Saturday at 2 p.m. at Los Cab.

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Friday’s 155-minute match was a clash of styles, as Andre Saleh looked to set up winners with his big forehand while Austin Di Giulio played a lot of defensive tennis behind the baseline. He said that will have to change if he is to claim his first Junior Sectionals title.

Di Giulio rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the second set to force the tiebreaker, but Saleh elevated his game there to force the decisive third set.

“I was just a little mentally weak in the second set,” Di Giulio said. “I was hitting everything short, and he just rolled me for four straight games … but I think in the third set I was steadier and didn’t give him as many chances to attack. Also, in the third he was coming to the net and I was dipping it to his feet, doing a good job of keeping it low.

“I was pretty tired, but [grinding] has been my game style for years … I’m serving well, but my ground strokes have not been too good. I’ve been hitting too short, I’ve been playing too much defense, but I think I can fix that [Saturday]. I need to start being a little more aggressive.”

Saleh also started cramping in the third set. But the match still was a more positive result for him than the last time he played Di Giulio. That match was easily won by Di Giulio, 6-1, 6-2, in a qualifying match at this year’s Easter Bowl.

“He smoked me in that one,” Saleh said. “That was rough. I feel like today I stayed a little bit more patient. I trusted myself a little more. I wasn’t trying to end points in two balls, which is what I was doing at the Easter Bowl. Also, I’ve been working pretty hard at the mental part of my tennis the past couple of months. I feel like that’s paying off quite a bit.

“The difference between the first set and the second set, I was just really trying to work the ball longer until I got the ball I wanted to attack on. In the second set, I was doing that pretty well. The third set, I was trying to, but it was tough. I started cramping. It happens.”

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In other main draw action involving locals Friday at the Junior Sectionals, top-seeded Calissa Dellabarca of Newport Coast defeated No. 9 McKenna Chudy of Rancho Santa Margarita 6-2, 6-0 in a girls’ 14 singles round of 16 match. Dellabarca will play another No. 9 seed, Grace Hakopian of San Clemente, in the quarterfinals Saturday at 2 p.m. at Los Cab.

No. 9-seeded Rebecca Lynn of Newport Beach advanced in the 18s, earning a 6-1, 6-0 win over Lisa Wagner of Calabasas. Lynn will play No. 5 Rena Lin of Northridge in a quarterfinal match Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Los Cab.

In girls’ 16 singles, Kaytlin Taylor of Huntington Beach upset No. 5-seeded Katherine Hui of San Diego 6-1, 6-4 in a round of 16 match. Taylor plays No. 3 Justine Dondonay of Newhall in the quarterfinals Saturday at 2 p.m. at Los Cab.

No. 9-seeded David Duong of Fountain Valley upset No. 4 Michael Seversen of Coto de Caza in a boys’ 12 singles round of 16 match on Friday. Duong plays unseeded Franklin Liu of San Diego in the quarterfinals Saturday at 8 a.m. at Los Cab.

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