Tough loss for Stalder

FOUNTAIN VALLEY β€” One year later, everything appeared the same for Reese Stalder at the 111th annual Southern California Junior Sectional Doubles Championships.

Stalder, a junior at Newport Harbor High, won the boys' 16s title as the No. 5 seed last year. Along the way, he and partner Billy Rowe of Coronado beat top-seeded Taylor Fritz of Rancho Santa Fe and Riley Smith of Long Beach in a tight three-set semifinal match.

Fast forward a year, and the two teams met again Saturday, this time in an 18s semifinal. After Stalder and Rowe broke Fritz's serve to begin the third set, a repeat seemed likely.

But Fritz and Smith flipped the script.

They rallied for a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory at Los Caballeros Racquet & Sports Club.

Other locals also couldn't make the finals Saturday. No. 2-seeded Newport Coast resident Max Pham and partner Brandon Lam of Westlake Village were upset by No. 9 Gui Gomes and Jay Min of Irvine, 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 10-3 in a boys' 16 doubles quarterfinal match. And Newport Beach resident Max McKennon and partner J.J. Henderson of Palm Desert, the No. 4 seeds, fell to top-seeded Stefan Dostanic of Irvine and Zachary Svajda of San Diego, 6-1, 4-0 (retired), in a boys' 12 doubles semifinal match.

CdM resident Alexander Reyna and partner Alfonso Blancafort-Corona, the No. 9 seeds, fell to No. 3-seeded Cody Lin of Thousand Oaks and Kento Perera of Santa Barbara, 6-2, 6-2, in a boys' 14 doubles quarterfinal match.

The way Stalder and Rowe exited made it a tough loss to take.

"We kind of played a little looser, I guess, toward the end of the third [set]," Stalder said. "They played better toward the end ... It happens."

Stalder said that in the match last year, Fritz and Smith were up a break in the third set. This time, they returned the favor.

Stalder and Rowe had three break points on Smith's serve at 0-2 in the third set, but were unable to break. Eventually Smith and Fritz, who is ranked No. 4 in the nation in the boys' 16s singles and No. 1 in Southern California in doubles, came alive.

They were able to break Rowe's serve to level the match at 4-4 in the third set. After Fritz held easily, it was up to Stalder to serve to stay in the match.

At 30-all, a fairly routine volley by Rowe sailed long. On the first match point, Stalder double-faulted.

"It happens," Stalder said. "I had only double-faulted once [in the match], but I just clipped the tape."

Stalder, who turns 17 on Tuesday, has still been playing well overall. He recently aged up to the 18s division. Last month, he won the J.P. Yamasaki Junior Open doubles tournament with Austin Rapp, as well as reaching the semifinals of a United States Tennis Assn. regional tournament in Rancho Mirage with partner Konrad Kozlowski, who plays for University High.

Stalder and Rowe defeated No. 3-seeded Kent Mukai of Rolling Hills Estates and John Lieu of Fountain Valley, 6-2, 6-3, earlier Saturday in a quarterfinal match. But the semifinal loss likely will be hard to take. Last June at Junior Sectionals, it was Stalder and Rapp who fell to Fritz and Smith, 6-4, 3-6, 10-8, in a round of 16 match.

"We probably didn't reach expectations, I guess," Stalder said of this weekend's showing. "It's the exact same thing as last year. We won the tournament last year, and it was a pretty similar draw and everything. [But] it was a good tournament."

McKennon had to default near the end of his match, after he fell down and hurt two fingers on his left hand. McKennon, a sixth grader at Mariners Elementary, is left-handed.

Last year he and Henderson won the tournament in the 10s, but now they're playing up.

"It's a very big step up," McKennon said. "We just wanted to see how our draw was and see how it went. In the quarters, we had to play a guy who neither of us has beaten before [Hellman Zhao] and another guy who's really good [Mustafa Ansari]. It was a tough match, but somehow we pulled it out."

Pham and his partner, Lam, battled back after losing the first set against Gomes and Min. Gomes also served for the second set at 5-4, but he was broken, and Pham and Lam prevailed in the tiebreaker. In the third-set super-tiebreaker, however, Gomes and Min were just too strong.

"I felt like it really could have gone either way," said Pham, a sophomore at Fairmont Prep in Anaheim. "I didn't feel like it was a major upset or anything; they're a good doubles team."

Pham also has been seeing good results recently. He won the J.P. Yamasaki 16 singles championship last month.

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