The 16-year-old tennis phenom holds his own with a win at the 2022 USTA Boys Nationals at the US Open

KALAMAZOO, MI — What learner Tien lacked in age, he more than made up for in skill, determination and stamina on Monday on the tennis courts at Kalamazoo College’s Stowe Stadium.

The 16-year-old Californian outlived University of Georgia redshirt freshman Ethan Quinn in a four-and-a-half-hour, four-set match to win the 2022 USTA Boys Nationals 18-singles championship.

“It feels good,” Tien said of his 7-6(7) 7-6(3) 5-7 6-3 win. “I don’t think it’s really kicked in yet. I’m fresh off the pitch so I haven’t processed it all but it’s definitely a really cool experience and it’s a great feeling to finally get through.”

For only the second time in the tournament’s 79-year history in Kalamazoo, rain pushed the league game back from Sunday to Monday, resulting in the weekday U18 league game being in the presence of normal crowds.

Those in attendance were treated to one of the best finals in recent memory, with the first two sets going into tiebreaks, including a 70-minute opener that saw eighth-seeded Tien claim a 9-7 tiebreak win over the No 2 won seeded Quinn.

“I think it was really crucial mentally, especially going into the second set with that point advantage,” said Tien. “After working so hard in the first (set) it was really great for me and gave me a lot of momentum after winning that first tiebreak. I was able to go 3-1 up pretty quickly in the second set and I ended up losing my break there but it was good to have the confidence to win that tiebreak in the first set and it really helped my confidence, especially in the tie-break of the second set.”

Tien took a two-set lead after winning the last three points in the tiebreak of the second set and looked set to win the national championship in straight sets after breaking Quinn’s serve to go in the decider to take a 5-4 lead.

But Quinn bounced back and used the final three games to force a fourth set and gain some much-needed momentum.

“I had a few chances to finish it off in straights in the third set and I kind of missed it,” said Tien. “After that I had a 10 minute break between sets three and four so I could reset mentally and I was still 2-1 up so I was trying to remember I still have the advantage Just start fresh and don’t think about the opportunities you missed.”

Tien won the first two games in the fourth set, but Quinn came back with three games in a row to take the lead.

At this point, Quinn’s year in a collegiate strength and conditioning program seemed to give him an advantage, but Tien maintained his stamina and composure, winning the last three games, including the break of his opponent’s serve to match point.

“I felt that being in control of my stress levels, breathing and things that would help me stay calm would help me not to overexert myself and I would be fine throughout the game ‘ Tien said.

With his win, Tien secures a major spot at the upcoming US Open, taking place from August 29 to September 11, and becomes the tournament’s youngest champion since Donald Young in 2004.

At just 16, Tien also has a chance to become the first three-time 18-singles champion in USTA Boys Nationals history.

Also last year’s champion Zach Svajda won his first crown at the age of 16 and again in his last tournament yearbut his bid for a Dreipeat was interrupted by the cancellation of the 2020 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Knowing that he’s so young and smart, maybe we’ll look back when he’s a little older and has done some pretty special things, and I can say I’ve gotten him to four (sets); That would be pretty cool,” Quinn said. “The first two sets were at an extremely high level. I definitely wish I could have gotten one of these; It definitely could have changed the tone of the game, but it was a great experience playing Learner again.”

While Tien will be back to defend his title in 2023, Quinn played in his last USTA Boys Nationals tournament and although he missed the grand prize, he walked away with a pretty decent haul.

His second-place finish secured the Fresno, California native a spot in the US Open qualifier draw, and he will also appear in the doubles main draw at Flushing Meadows after winning the 18-doubles tournament with partner Nicholas Gotteskrank won on Saturday.

He also received the prestigious Allen B. Stowe Sportsmanship Award, which goes to the contestant who best combines the qualities of outstanding sportsmanship and outstanding tennis ability, as determined by the National Junior and Boys Championships Committee.

“Honestly, it feels like a relief,” Quinn said. “I came here with a lot of pressure as I’m No. 2 in the seed and haven’t done too well in junior tournaments all year so far so it was a kind of relief to end the summer on such a high note.

“Winning the doubles, reaching the singles final and winning the sportsmanship award just feels good as I’m settling in and getting ready to go back to school soon. It was a great week.”

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