Di Giulio, Pham in semis

FOUNTAIN VALLEY — For the second time at the Southern California Junior Sectionals, Newport Beach resident Austin Di Giulio is into the semifinals in his age division.

Di Giulio advanced to the singles semifinals in boys' 10s three years ago before losing. Now he's into the semis in boys' 12s after Saturday's 6-1, 6-1 victory over Evan Shamlian of Los Angeles at Los Caballeros Racquet & Sports Club.

It is a noteworthy accomplishment to make it to the second Sunday at the largest annual junior tennis tournament in the country. Di Giulio, the No. 5 seed, said he is still not satisfied. Not yet.

"It feels good, but I'm not done yet," said Di Giulio, who plays No. 3-seeded Brandon Nakashima of San Diego in the semifinals at 2 p.m. Sunday at Los Cab. "I still have to focus on the next two rounds. I can't get excited yet."

A couple of hours later Saturday afternoon, Newport Coast resident Max Pham expressed a similar sentiment. He is the other local still alive in the main draw. Pham, the No. 2 seed in the 14s, edged No. 8-seeded Hady Habib of Irvine, 7-6 (7-2), 7-5, in a quarterfinal match at Los Cab.

Pham plays Isaiah Strode of El Cajon in a semifinal match at 2 p.m. Sunday. It is also Pham's second time into the semis at Junior Sectionals. He lost in that round two years ago in the 12s and ended up fourth.

"It's not done until my last point is finished," said Pham, who also beat Sangeet Sridhar of Simi Valley, 6-3, 6-1, in a round of 16 match earlier Saturday. "It feels good, but I still have more to accomplish."

Championship matches are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Los Cab. Third-place matches follow at 1 p.m.

In boys' 16s, Chaz Downing of CdM defeated Alexander Loh of Thousand Oaks, 6-0, 6-1, before losing to Ethan Lopez of Oxnard, 6-1, 7-5, in the quarterfinals. Downing will play in a quarterfinal playoff beginning Sunday, when he plays Fabian Schaefer of Ventura in a fifth-place semifinal at 1 p.m. at Fountain Valley Tennis Center.

Di Giulio's quarterfinal win over Shamlian was more difficult than the score might indicate. They had several long games, but Di Giulio found ways to stay on top.

"I think he wasn't as confident as me, and I think I was getting in his head a little," said Di Giulio, who defeated Shamlian for the third time in three meetings. "He was showing some emotion, like throwing his racquet, and I was staying more patient."

Especially in the first set, Shamlian kept trying drop shots. Eventually, Di Giulio started tracking them down.

"After a while, I started just standing closer to the baseline and it stopped working," said Di Giulio, who trains and is schooled through Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine. "He didn't know what to do after that."

Di Giulio has played his semifinal opponent, Nakashima, once before. He beat him, 6-1, 6-0, in a tournament in Las Vegas last year. Di Giulio went on to win the Mike Agassi "No Quit" Championships title.

Still, he said he expects a close match on Sunday. It could get Di Giulio one step closer to his first Junior Sectionals title. His older brother Joseph, who was eliminated in the 18s on Friday, won singles crowns in the 10-, 12-, and 14-and-under age divisions.

Pham's match against Habib was back and forth. Pham served for the set at 5-3 in the first set, but he was broken and it went to a tiebreaker. Pham started strong in the 'breaker, though, winning the first four points and eventually taking it, 7-2.

Pham fell behind 5-4 in the second set before winning the final three games to seal the victory.

"He had a strong forehand, and he wasn't missing that much," Pham said of Habib. "He was making a lot of his shots. I had to keep it away from his forehand, at least not keep it short because he'd put it away. I think I did well. I struggled keeping it deep, but I think here and there he missed a few key shots where he needed to [make them]. That helped me out a little bit in the end."

Pham said he's played his semifinal opponent Strode twice in the past, though both of the matches were a while back.

"Big, power game," Pham said of Strode. "His biggest weakness is probably his fitness. He has trouble lasting through the whole match, but he ends points really quick. He's really good at that. He takes balls high, and he rocks them really hard."

Di Giulio and Pham hope to keep rocking at Junior Sectionals.

Local players still alive in their respective consolation draws include CdM's Henry Gordon (boys' 16s) and Alec Adamson (boys' 18s).


Twitter: @mjszabo

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