Kyle Pham held down the No. 1 singles spot for the Corona del Mar High boys’ tennis team each of the last three seasons.
That’s not an easy thing to do at such a prestigious program, one that constantly faces the top teams around the CIF Southern Section. CdM was at least a Division 1 quarterfinalist in each of Pham’s first three years. This season, the Sea Kings were the eighth and final team selected for the new Open Division.
The Southern Methodist University-bound Pham, who was last year’s Daily Pilot Dream Team Boys’ Tennis Player of the Year, proved up to the challenge.
Pham certainly ended his high school career in memorable fashion, after advancing to the CIF Southern Section Individuals singles title match at Seal Beach Tennis Center on May 23. Pham upset top-seeded Brett Brinkman of West Hills Chaminade 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) in the semifinals before falling to No. 2-seeded Ian Freer of La Cañada Flintridge St. Francis 6-2, 6-3 in the title match.
Pham became the ninth CdM boys’ tennis player to reach the CIF Individuals singles final, the first since Bjorn Hoffmann won it all in 2016. He will get a board at the CdM tennis courts for his efforts.
“It was a really good way to end my high school career on a good note,” said Pham, the Surf League singles champion, adding that he had a goal of reaching the quarterfinals at CIF Individuals. “I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
The fact that Pham joins Hoffmann isn’t insignificant. He said he tries to keep in touch with those seniors from his freshman year of 2016, players like Hoffmann and Pedro Fernandez del Valle. Pham played No. 3 singles behind those two players as a freshman, yet he also had significant moments himself. He won the deciding set to help the Sea Kings capture the CIF State Southern California Regional title match, 4-3 over Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula.
Since then, Pham has impressed CdM coach Jamie Gresh with his sportsmanship. Maybe that’s why Pham seems so well liked. He said he considers himself good friends with Brinkman as well as his round of 16 foe at CIF Individuals, Emin Torlic of Sage Hill.
“He always did it the right way, competing with honestly and integrity and great sportsmanship,” Gresh said. “Kyle is a great player on the court, but also has a great character.”
In terms of his tennis, Pham also has made strides. He went 35-11 this year, more than respectable against the Sea Kings’ challenging schedule.
“He added a lot of variety and creativity,” Gresh said. “His serve definitely picked up, and his forehand improved. His backhand was always his steadier shot, but his forehand definitely improved. He made that a weapon at times – definitely not a liability – and he just had variety in playing different types of points.
“His opponents were sometimes thrown off, like, ‘What is he going to do? Is it he going to slow-ball it here, and then next point he’ll hit a big serve and a big forehand?’ It was a little bit of the unknown, just some unpredictability, I guess.”
Pham was able to adapt. He won tiebreakers in four straight matches on his way to the CIF Individuals final.
He saved a set point in his 7-6 (7-1), 7-5 round of 16 win against Torlic, as well as in his 7-6 (8-6), 6-1 quarterfinal win over Jinta Sasamori of Torrance Bishop Montgomery.
“I was definitely nervous,” Pham said. “Against Emin I had the set point down 4-5, 30-40. When I stepped up to the line, I was thinking, ‘Don’t play too tentative.’ I hit a big serve and big forehand down the line, and it saved me.”
Pham almost became a soccer player at CdM, not tennis. He was a club soccer midfielder for several years leading up to high school for Slammers FC until his coach, Allan Russell, left. Russell, a retired soccer player from Scotland, is now the England national soccer team striker coach.
Pham said he had to miss the Slammers’ State Cup quarterfinal match in 2014. The reason? He was playing in a tennis tournament.
“I still feel bad,” Pham said. “I’m happy I chose tennis. Soccer could have been fun, too. Who knows what would have happened?”
Tennis certainly has worked out.
Born: March 27, 2001
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 5 feet 10
Weight: 150 pounds
Coach: Jamie Gresh
Favorite food: Poke
Favorite movie: “The Interview”
Favorite athletic moment: Helping CdM win the CIF Southern California Regional title as a freshman.
Week in review: Pham won three matches to advance to the CIF Southern Section Individuals boys’ singles title match, including an upset of top-seeded Brett Brinkman of West Hills Chaminade in the semifinals.
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