Corona del Mar High’s Kyle Pham thrived in the underdog role throughout the CIF Southern Section Individuals boys’ tennis tournament.
The senior faced set points against him in three straight matches entering Thursday’s singles semifinals, and each time he won a tiebreaker set. The semifinals provided another opportunity for the Southern Methodist University-bound Pham to thrive.
He upset top-seeded Brett Brinkman of West Hills Chaminade 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) at Seal Beach Tennis Center. Upsetting No. 2-seeded Ian Freer of La Cañada Flintridge St. Francis as well in the final proved a bit too tough.
Freer earned a 6-3, 6-2 victory, leaving Pham as the singles runner-up and meaning that he will be honored with a board at the CdM tennis courts for making a section final.
“I’ve been playing some pretty good tennis the whole tournament,” Pham said. “I’m proud of myself for that … I didn’t play terrible [in the final], but I think Ian played really well. He was making all of his shots, playing consistently solid and finishing points when he had to. I’m not really upset about this match too much. I got the [second-place] trophy, that’s all that matters, right?”
Pham became the ninth CdM boys’ tennis player to reach the singles final at the CIF Southern Section Individuals tournament, the first since Bjorn Hoffmann won it in 2016.
That was also the same year that Pham, as a freshman, won the clinching set for CdM in the CIF State Southern California Regional title match win over Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula. The Surf League champion provided more clutch moments in the postseason in his final year.
In the final against Freer, who is bound for Claremont McKenna, Pham had trouble getting going. The match was on serve until Freer broke late in the first set for a 5-3 advantage, then served out the set.
Pham had a long deuce game starting the second set, but he was eventually broken again as Freer raced out to a 4-0 lead.
“He’s definitely mentally challenging to play against,” Freer said of playing against Pham’s scrappy style. “One point you can have a 25-ball rally, and the next point he’s going to hit a big serve and a big forehand. You just don’t know what to expect, so you kind of have to stay patient and wait for your opportunity. I really was mentally focused the whole time, every point. I was happy about that. That’s what it takes to beat a player like Kyle.”
Pham frustrated Brinkman throughout his semifinal win, though he couldn’t convert two match points serving at 5-3 in the second set and three more in the next game.
Brinkman broke Pham’s serve for a 6-5 lead and served for the set, but Pham broke back and took command in the tiebreaker. It ended with back-to-back double faults by Brinkman, who tried to execute drop shots throughout the match. But Pham would usually retrieve them and win the point.
“I kind of like that cat and mouse game,” Pham said. “It fits my game style. I think I handled the drop shots pretty well today. I didn’t try to go for too much, just played it smart when it came to those plays.”
Though Pham did finish as runner-up, it didn’t take away from his impressive run and career at CdM. Pham has been playing at No. 1 singles since he was a sophomore.
“He played a bunch of tiebreakers [in this tournament] and played them really well,” CdM coach Jamie Gresh said. “Some matches hinge upon a point or two here or there, and I think he won those expensive, important points and gave himself a chance to advance through. He reaps the reward of that. Making the final is a huge accomplishment; he’ll get a board up at CdM with his name on it and that’s super-exciting. That’s kind of what kids shoot for.
“Kyle had a really complete season. He was our definitive No. 1 player and he kind of led the way with how he competed on the court, and his results back that up.”
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