Zillman finishes strong

NEWPORT BEACH — Justin Zillman watched his son struggle in junior tennis tournaments earlier this year.

James was not winning the close matches, something that had rarely been a problem before. In the War by the Shore, he was in two big battles on Thursday and Friday.

Nobody could say James Zillman didn't finish strong this time. Not after he outlasted Teague Hamilton of Laguna Beach, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, to capture the boys' 16s singles title at The Tennis Club Newport Beach on Friday.

The Costa Mesa resident was coming off another three-set win in the semifinals. James appears to have his mojo back.

"It was a good experience," James Zillman said. "I haven't been winning that much lately, so it was good for my confidence."

Justin Zillman, who also serves as James' coach and is a teacher at Woodbridge Tennis Club in Irvine, said James would usually be in the 18s draw at a tournament like the War by the Shore. But because of his recent struggles in the bigger tournaments, he was entered in the 16s.

James, who is ranked No. 42 in Southern California in the 16s, was the top seed. He's also the top seed at next week's Costa Mesa Summer Junior Classic.

"It's a lot of pressure, because every match you're supposed to win," Justin Zillman said. "I really want him to just get through that. I don't think you can escape that, because eventually if you go college or pro, it's all going to catch up [to you]. You're going to have to beat those guys that you kind of feel like you should beat, but you're a little scared because they're good players. This was a good test. Hopefully he can continue the type of play that he's had and move on from there."

Hamilton, who will be a junior at Laguna Beach High, did give James Zillman a good test. The No. 3 seed has been playing well lately, helping the Breakers reach the CIF Southern Section Division IV championship match this spring with his strong play at No. 2 singles. Hamilton was undefeated in the CIF postseason for Laguna and has also won two tournaments since May.

After the players split the first two sets, Hamilton got an early break in the third set. But Zillman immediately broke back. Eventually, he was serving for the match at 5-3.

"He's been hitting flatter and that was working when he was young," Justin Zillman said. "Now that he's getting bigger, he was having trouble controlling the power. We've added on a little bit of spin, and it's helping. He's still getting used to it, but I thought he did really well."

Hamilton broke James Zillman's serve to pull within 5-4, but Zillman answered with yet another break of serve to close out the match. He won it on a forehand passing shot that went screaming up the line.

James said winning at Costa Mesa next week would be sweet too. Last year he lost in the semifinals of both of the back-to-back tournaments.

He said he's trying to get enough points this summer in K-Swiss Grand Prix tournaments to gain entry to the K-Swiss Grand Prix Masters Championships, set for October at Lakewood Tennis Center. The War by the Shore was a K-Swiss Grand Prix event, and Zillman earned 200 Grand Prix points by winning.

Mostly though, his confidence is back.

"He looked great," Justin Zillman said. "You could see that he wasn't going to fold mentally. Maybe physically he was feeling a little tight, but mentally he was right there. I think that was a big step for him."

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