SEAL BEACH — Once you get to Seal Beach Tennis Center in the CIF Southern Section Individuals boys' tennis tournament, everyone is good.
But Palm Desert High junior Austin Rapp was maybe just a bit tougher opponent than No. 2-seeded Corona del Mar senior Alec Adamson would have liked in the round of 16.
The tournament is seeded based on the Southern California boys' 18 singles rankings. Rapp is ranked just No. 110 in the 18s, which is more than a bit misleading. He's still a top junior player who is ranked No. 3 in Southern California, and No. 19 nationally, in the 16s. Last year he and Palm Desert graduate Jack Felich won the CIF Individuals doubles title.
Yet, because of his low 18s ranking, Rapp had to play a round of 32 match Thursday at Whittier Narrows Tennis Center just to make it to Seal Beach.
"I mean, I don't have a ranking [in the 18s]," Rapp said. "Going into [Friday], I knew I was going to get one of the top four kids [first]. I was like, 'Aw man, who is that? Alec and [two-time defending champion] Gage [Brymer] and all of these kids?' I was just thinking, 'Aw man, I've got to play well.'"
Rapp certainly did that.
He pulled off a huge win, upsetting Adamson with a 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 victory to end the CdM team captain's season and high school career.
Rapp went on to defeat Eli Whittle of Arroyo Grande, advancing to Saturday's semifinals where he'll play Victor Brown of Alta Loma. Brymer, of University High, plays James Wade of San Marino in the other singles semifinal. The championship match will follow.
"It's fun to be in singles, because it's just another level," Rapp said. "First round, I get Alec, and he's one of the better kids out here. I mean, it was tough. All of these kids out here are tough.
"I liked [facing Adamson first] because I've played him before and I knew what to expect. I mean, I've never beaten him before. I knew it was going to be a really, really tough. I had to play well to even have a chance at winning. I just played the best I could. Maybe he was a little off, I couldn't really tell, but I just played the best I could. If I was a little off today, I would have lost."
Adamson, who is ranked No. 10 in Southern California in the 18s, got off to a hot start. He was up 3-0 in the first set. Rapp rallied back on serve, but he fell behind love-40 while serving at 4-5.
Rapp somehow saved four set points in the game, finding a way to hold. He then broke Adamson's serve at love to take a 6-5 lead, before Adamson came up with heroics. He saved four set points of his own in the next game, breaking back to force a tiebreaker.
But Adamson never led in the tiebreaker, losing it on a backhand that went wide.
"It was a really close first set, and obviously it could have gone either way," Adamson said. "He just played really well, with a lot of confidence. He played the bigger points a little bit better. Yeah, he just played better than me today."
Rapp continued staying aggressive, coming in to the net whenever he had the chance. He raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set. Down 4-2, Adamson had a break point to get the set back on serve, but he couldn't convert it. Rapp eventually would close out the match.
Rapp has proven to be a CdM buzz kill at CIF Individuals. Last year, he and Felich knocked out the Sea Kings' Alex Murray and Henry Gordon in the semifinals on the way to the doubles title. He did suffer a loss to a CdM player last weekend, when he fell to Chaz Downing, 6-4, 6-4 in a Esme Pearson Memorial Junior Open boys' 16s semifinal in San Diego.
But Rapp stuck to his strategy against Adamson.
"He's more of a defensive player, so I wasn't going to stay back and just play his game," Rapp said. "I knew I had to play my game, come in and attack."
Adamson was visibly upset after the match. CdM Coach Jamie Gresh and his private coach Kareem Gobran tried to calm him down, telling him he'll play thousands of matches in his career and to learn from each one. Adamson said one thing he could have done was try to put more pressure on Rapp by converting more passing shots.
But Adamson, making his first CIF Individuals appearance, still knew it was a great high school career. He was a top player on two CIF Southern Section Division 1 finalist teams, and a high school All-American this year.
"I thought it was a great season from start to finish," Adamson said. "It wasn't how I wanted it to end, obviously, but I thought I had a lot of good wins this year. I was really happy to qualify [for CIF Individuals] through league finals, and also to be an All-American. It was a very accomplished season, I would say."