NEWPORT BEACH — You could say Max McKennon has mixed feelings about the group of Asian tennis players that annually comes to the United States each summer to play in The Tennis Club Junior Tournament.
It's a cool cultural experience. On Thursday afternoon, McKennon even played doubles with one of the kids, Tristan Kwok of Hong Kong, who he had only met early in the week.
In terms of winning a singles title at the "War by the Shore," however, those kids have been a deterrent to McKennon.
The top-seeded Newport Beach resident got further than last year in the boys' 12s, when he was seeded No. 2 but lost to a Chinese player in his first match. But this year, he again got tripped up by another Chinese player, Yan Xi Chen, in the semifinals.
Looking at the match, the fact that Chen was unseeded really didn't matter. At 5-foot-7, Chen towered over the 5-foot-2 McKennon. And Chen was able to constantly dictate play, resulting in a 6-1, 6-2 loss for McKennon at The Tennis Club Newport Beach.
"It's kind of tough playing someone kind of like twice your size," McKennon said. "It was hard to control the ball ... It's tough. They take the best Chinese players and they come here and play. It's just hard. It's fun, but it's challenging."
Other locals also did not have success in singles, as none made it to Friday's championship matches. No. 2-seeded Danielle Willson of Newport Beach fell in a girls' 14 singles semifinal to No. 4 Jasmine Rich of San Diego, 6-4, 6-2.
Reece Kenerson of Newport Beach was defeated by another Chinese player, Chui Kei Leung, in a girls' 10 semifinal match, 6-0, 6-0.
Coach Bhagat Singh said he has brought 34 kids from China, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan to the tournament this year. Chen quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set against McKennon, and it did not get easier.
McKennon pointed to the bathroom after the first set ended, indicating to Chen that he needed a break. And McKennon, ranked No. 45 in Southern California in the 12s, did hold serve to open the first set.
"Good hold, Max!" his mother, Donna, shouted in encouragement. But, with the set at 2-2, Chen reeled off four straight games for the victory.
The players could meet again next week at the Costa Mesa Summer Junior Classic tournament, where Max McKennon is again the top-seeded player. McKennon, who is going into the sixth grade at Mariners Elementary, would look forward to that second chance.
"I've been working hard and playing better tennis since last year," he said.
Top-seeded McKennon and Kwok lost to Yan Xi Chen and Jian Yu Tan, 6-1, 6-2, in a boys' 12 doubles semifinal match.
Willson, who will be an eighth grader at Harbor Day School, had a more competitive match against Rich. She also fell behind 3-0 in the first set, before getting it back to 3-3.
But Rich broke Willson's serve at 4-5, giving the San Diego player the first set. Rich charged out to a 5-0 lead in the second set and did not look back.
"My serve," Willson said when asked what gave her problems during the match. "I kept double-faulting a lot. And I wasn't being very patient. I kept going for shots when I wasn't supposed to be doing that."
Willson, however, is still alive in the girls' 14 doubles. She and partner Emilee Duong of Placentia, the top-seeded team, defeated Alana Adamus and Nicole Russell, 6-1, 6-1, in a semifinal match Thursday. They play No. 2-seeded Shweta Kumar and Ashley Teng in the championship match at 3:30 p.m. Friday.