Stalder wins in doubles

NEWPORT BEACH — Reese Stalder has great hands for a tennis player.

The redhead from Costa Mesa could constantly be seen around the net Friday afternoon during the boys' 14s doubles final at the 21st annual The Tennis Club Junior Tournament.

Stalder seemed to always have the right slice, the right angle for a great shot.

"I'm pretty comfortable volleying," he said.

The result was great, too, at The Tennis Club Newport Beach. Stalder and Nick Valko of San Clemente won the tournament by defeating Alex Kuperstein of Palm Desert and Timothy Sah of San Diego, 6-4, 6-3, in the final.

Stalder, 13, and Valko, 14, have played a few tournaments together but this is their first title.

"This is our first one," said Stalder, who is going into eighth grade at The Pegasus School of Huntington Beach. "We've done well in the past, but we haven't won any."

Valko, going into his freshman year at San Clemente High, gave much of the credit to his partner. After Stalder and Valko won the first set, neither team could hold serve to open the second.

There were four straight breaks of serve to open the set. Sah and Kuperstein are just 10 and 11, respectively, but they were playing their opponents tough.

But then Stalder held for a 3-2 lead in that second set.

"Reese held," Valko said. "That changed it. Once Reese held, then we got momentum."

Stalder and his older sister Samantha, who will be a sophomore at Newport Harbor High, have been regulars at junior tournaments like the "War by the Shore" in recent years. Reese is up to No. 80 in Southern California in the United States Tennis Assn. boys' 14s rankings.

He had a successful tournament overall, getting to the boys' 14s semifinals before falling to eventual champion Patricio Zarazua of Mexico. Stalder got his revenge in the doubles, as he and Valko topped Zarazua and Evan Nguyen of Huntington Beach, 7-5, 7-5, in the semifinals.

Stalder said he and Valko were down 5-2 in the first set of that match before rallying.

With Stalder's hands, it was easy to see why they could get it done. He and Valko plan to keep playing tournaments together.

Valko is the comedian of the duo.

"I know him inside and out," he said of Stalder with a straight face. "You have to add that he's amazing."

The latter part wasn't as much of a joke. Opponents aren't laughing.

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