By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
ST. HELENA, Calif. – It wasn’t that long ago that T.J. Pura wondered how he would ever be able to win a match against a college player.
Fast forward to Saturday, and that’s exactly what Pura did, beating Georgia’s Eric Diaz in three sets in one of five wins for the USTA juniors against three defeats at the 12th Annual Audi Napa Valley Classic being played at the Meadowood Resort.
"It’s really cool being here," said Pura, 17, of Pacific Palisades, Calif., who started and finished strong, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. "For awhile, when I would watch college guys, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, how can I compete at that level?' It’s a different level, but it’s one that I realize is attainable right now to compete with these guys, which is really cool, because there was a time not long ago when I thought I’d never reach that level."
Pura, who has committed to Duke and has recently been coached by former Texas A&M star Lester Cook, said energy was the key factor in pulling him through. "I was down an early break in the third set 2-0 but got one back, and that just fired me up," he said.
For 20-year Cal head coach and Audi Napa Classic founder Peter Wright, it was another banner day for his Bears, as his players won four straight-set matches to improve to 8-0 over the first two days.
The final round of round robin-play begins at 8 a.m. on Sunday, with the winner of each pool vying for a spot in the eight-man PlayBrave Shootout later in the day.
Two of Cal’s players battled it out in the final last year, and Wright said his experienced four all have a shot to get to the final round Sunday. "We have an older group that are playing well," he said. "I know the college players are doing a little bit better than the juniors this year, but that’s the natural ebb and flow of this event. It’s been fascinating to watch the level of the juniors against the college guys."
Added Wright: "The number of competitive matches we’ve had with the three setters, regardless of which way they’ve gone, they’re great matches and that’s what this is all about. We just want competitive matches, and for the juniors it’s the same thing. They want to grow and get better. The college coaches are really paying close attention and are really enjoying the feedback they’re getting from these results."
Also winning matches for the USTA junior team on the day were Joseph DiGiuilo (age 17), Konrad Zieba (17), Jack Murray (17) and Dieton Baughman, the youngest player in the field and only 16 year old.
The USTA juniors won one match on the day in three doubles matches played, with Pura and Baughman taking a tight tiebreaker over the Texas pair of Lloyd Glasspool and Soren Hess Olesen in a super tiebreaker, 9-8 (7-5).
Chicago’s Zieba, who announced he would be playing at Northwestern next year earlier in the day, had no problem handling Stanford’s Daniel Ho, 6-2, 6-0. "I just played consistent out there," he said. "I think yesterday I thought I had to do too much out there. I thought these guys were a lot older and that we had to be a little too aggressive, but that wasn’t the case today. I just had to counter-attack."
USTA coach Brian Wilson, a former ATP touring pro and who now directs the USTA Regional Training Center Northwest High Performance Tennis out of Kirkland, Wash., thought his guys came back and played strong after a tough opening day.
"I think we played really well yesterday and had some close matches and the guys felt like they were right there," Wilson said. "Today we started with some good wins, and Joe DiGuilio picked up another win to go with a win each yesterday in singles and doubles."
Wilson has stressed that the juniors need to start with a game plan and stick with it. "It’s about finding a weakness and, whether it be big or small, you have to expose it," he said. "You can‘t just hit the ball big and expect to win. That’s been eye-opening to the juniors."
To follow scores throughout the day on Sunday, follow @ustacollege10s on Twitter.
EVENT FORMAT: Each school is represented by four players to compete alongside the eight juniors, and the 32-man field is split into eight pools featuring three collegians and a junior. Following three matches in pool play, the eight pool winners will compete in a single-elimination, 10-point tiebreak tournament. The winner of the tournament will receive a USTA-sponsored wild card into a USTA Pro Circuit event that is yet to be determined.
The juniors were selected by USTA Player Development based on ATP rankings (if applicable), national rankings and results, and a selection of younger players for developmental purposes.
TWO-DAY TEAM TALLY
USTA Juniors: 7-9
DAY 2: Saturday’s Singles Scores
Llyod Glasspool (Texas) def. Garrett Brasseaux (Georgia), 2-6, 7-5, 6-1
Konrad Zieba (USTA) def. Daniel Ho (Stanford), 6-2, 6-0
Tim Kopinski (Illinois) def. Alex Steinroeder (Harvard), 6-1, 6-2
Joseph DiGuilio (USTA) def. Sudawa Sitaram (Texas), 6-4, 6-3
Chris Konigsfeldt (Cal) def. Daniel Whitehead (Texas), 7-6 (5), 6-4
John Morrissey (Stanford) def. Gage Brymer (USTA), 7-5, 1-6, 7-5
Ben Wagland (Georgia) def. Robbie Bellamy (USTA), 6-2, 6-4
Stephen Hoh (Illinois) def. Shaun Chaudhuri (Harvard), 6-1, 6-2
Nathan Pasha (Georgia) def. Farris Gosea (Illinois), 6-1, 6-4
T.J. Pura (USTA) def. Eric Diaz (Georgia), 6-3, 4-6, 6-3
Mads Engsted (Cal) def. Robert Stineman (Stanford), 6-2, 7-6 (4)
Matt Kandath (Stanford) def. Henry Craig (USTA), 6-4, 6-1
Jack Murray (USTA), def. Casey MacMaster (Harvard), 6-3, 6-0
Ben McLachlan (Cal) def. Denis Nguyen (Harvard), 7-5, 6-3
Riki McLachlan (Cal) def. Brian Page (Illinois), 6-4, 6-1
Deiton Baughman (USTA) def. Soren Hess Olesen (Texas), 6-1, 6-3
Saturday’s Doubles Scores
Brasseaux-Diaz (Georgia) def. Brymer-Zieba (USTA), 8-3
Pasha-Wagland (Georgia) v. Sitaram-Whitehead (Texas), 8-4
Gosea-Kopinski (Illinois) def. Konigsfeldt-B.McLachlan (Cal), 8-5
Hoh-Page (Illinois) def. Chaudhuri-Steinroeder (Harvard), 8-4
Engsted-R.McLachlan (Cal) def. DiGuilio-Craig (USTA), 8-4
Baughman-Pura (USTA) def. Glasspool-Hess Olesen (Texas), 9-8 (5)
Ben McLachlan (Cal) v. Soren Hess Olesen (Texas)
Denis Nguyen (Harvard) v. Deiton Baughmann (USTA)
Nathan Pasha (Georgia) v. Matt Kandath (Stanford)
Daniel Whitehead (Texas) v. John Morrissey (Stanford)
Ben Wagland (Georgia) v. Shaun Chaudhuri (Harvard)
Eric Diaz (Georgia) v. Mads Engsted (Cal)
Farris Gosea (Illinois) v. Henry Craig (USTA)
Chris Konigsfeldt (Cal) v. Gage Brymer (USTA)
Robert Bellamy (USTA) v. Stephen Hoh (Illinois)
Sudawa Sitaram (Texas) v. Tim Kopinski (Illinois)
Alex Steinroeder (Harvard) v. Joseph DiGuilio (USTA)
Robert Stineman (Stanford) v. T.J. Pura (USTA)
Lloyd Glasspool (Texas) v. Daniel Ho (Stanford)
Garrett Brasseaux (Georgia) v. Konrad Zieba (USTA)
Riki McLachlan (Cal) v. Casey MacMaster (Harvard)
Brian Page (Illinois) v. Jack Murray (USTA)
Note: PlayBrave Shootout to follow.
2011 Final Results
Nick Andrews (Cal) def. Ben McLachlan (Cal), 10-7
2010 Final Results
Alexandre Lacroix (Florida) def. Eric Quigley (Kentucky), 10-7