By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
CARSON, Calif. – The way Mitchell Krueger see it, life as a pro tennis player probably won’t be much different than the way he’s spent the past six weeks.
The top-seeded player in the boys’ 18s at the eighth annual USTA International Spring Championships, Krueger beat USTA training and doubles partner and No. 5-seeded Alexios Halebian of Glendale, Calif., 7-6 (5), 6-2, on Friday at the Home Depot Center to reach the semifinals.
After shadowing ATP Pro Janko Tipsarevic at Indian Wells in March, Krueger then paired with two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin of Russia in the Zurich Open in an event that teams former ATP Tour stars with top-ranked juniors. It was then back home to hit with 2005 ISC winner Sam Querrey on the clay at the Dallas Country Club in his home state of Texas and then to California for the present two-week junior swing of the USTA ISC and Easter Bowl.
The nation’s top collegiate recruit, the 18-year-old Krueger is set to attend Texas A&M in the fall.
Krueger said he put it out of his mind that he was playing one of his best friends. "You have to," he said. "We know each other so well, but when you’re out on the court you just have to play. No matter the outcome we’re still good. There’s no bad feelings."
The match was intense and tight from the outset with both players returning extremely aggressive in the first set. "I was up a break twice but was broken back," Krueger said. "It was a tight first set. I was happy to finally be able to hold serve when I needed to."
Up 6-5 in the tiebreak, Halebian double-faulted giving Krueger the first set. Following a break point won by Krueger for a 4-2 second-set lead, Halebian smashed his racket and was issued a point-penalty. "Right then I knew the momentum was all mine," Krueger said.
Momentum continues for two 1998-born players who are playing well beyond their years this week. Fourteen-year-old Stefan Kozlov, theNo. 12 seed, joined Krueger in the 18s semifinals with a hard-fought three-set win over Mackenzie McDonald, the No. 4 seed from Piedmont, Calif., 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
"I’m happy I’m playing so well," said Kozlov, who has been training at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla., for the past six months. "My game has really improved since I’ve been there. The results are starting to show."
In the boys’ 16s, Kozlov’s fellow 1998-born Francis Tiafoe advanced to the finals with a three-set win against Sameer Kumar of Carmel, Ind. He will play qualifier Roman Safiullin, a Russian who is currently living in San Diego.
The top-seeded player in the girls’ 18s, reigning Australian Open Junior champion Taylor Townsend of Stockbridge, Ga., came back to beat Stephanie Nauta of Bradenton, Fla., 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. Townsend next gets No. 7-seeded Allie Kiick in the semis.
Jennifer Brady, the No. 8 seed from Boca Raton, Fla., pulled off a nice win over No. 2 and UCLA-bound Kyle McPhillips, 6-2, 6-1. Brady will play the third Floridian of the final as she meets No. 3 Chalena Scholl of Pompano Beach, Fla., in the other semi.
In the girls’ 16s final, Emma Higuchi of Los Angeles will face Jessica Ho of Wexford, Pa.
All finals except the boys’ and girls’ 18s singles will be contested on Saturday.
Boys' 18 Singles (Quarterfinals)
Mitchell Krueger (1) Aledo, TX def. Alexios Halebian (5) Glendale, CA 7-6(5), 6-2
Noah Rubin (3) Rockville Centre, NY def. Ronnie Schneider Bloomington, IN 5-7, 6-0, 6-4
Stefan Kozlov Pembroke Pines, FL def. Mackenzie McDonald (4) Piedmont, CA 6-4, 3-6, 6-4
Luca Corinteli Alexandria, VA def. Ernesto Escobedo West Covina, CA 6-3, 7-6(3)
Boys' 18 Doubles (Semifinals)
Thomas Colautti / Josh Hagar def. Lucas Gomez / Ricardo Medinilla (4) 6-3, 7-6(6) Mackenzie McDonald / Trey Strobel (2) def. Carter Lin / Mohd Merzuki (8) 6-4, 6-3
Boys' 16 Singles (Semifinals)
Francis Tiafoe College Park, MD def. Sameer Kumar Carmel, IN 4-6, 7-5, 6-3
Roman Safiullin San Diego, CA def. Logan Smith Carlsbad, CA 6-1, 6-3
Boys' 16 Doubles (Semifinals)
Augustus Ge / Jean Thirouin def. Tommy Paul / Aron Pierce (3) 3-6, 6-4, 10-4
Yancy Dennis / Francis Tiafoe def. Carsten Fisher / Anudeep Kodali 6-1, 6-7(3), 10-4
Girls' 18 Singles (Quarterfinals)
Taylor Townsend (1) Stockbridge, GA def. Stephanie Nauta Bradenton, FL 2-6, 6-3, 6-3
Alexandra Kiick (7) Plantation, FL def. Mayo Hibi Irvine, CA 7-5, 6-0
Jennifer Brady (8) Boca Raton, FL def. Kyle McPhillips (2) Willoughby, OH 6-2, 6-1
Chalena Scholl (3) Pompano Beach, FL def. Christina Makarova (6) San Diego, CA 6-3, 6-2
Girls' 18 Doubles (Semifinals)
Gabrielle Andrews / Taylor Townsend (1) def. Alexandra Kiick / Ayaka Okuno (3) 2-6, 6-3, 10-5
Stephanie Nauta / Chalena Scholl (2) def. Samantha Crawford / Josie Kuhlman (4) 6-2, 7-6(2)
Girls' 16 Singles (Semifinals)
Emma Higuchi Los Angeles, CA def. Raquel Pedraza Claremont, CA 6-2, 6-2
Jessica Ho Wexford, PA def. Andie Daniell Douglasville, GA 5-7, 6-4, 6-1
Girls' 16 Doubles (Semifinals)
Yuki Asami / Ilana Oleynik def. Nicole Frenkel / Ndindi Ndunda (1) 2-6, 6-3, 10-8
Natalie Da Silveira / Ena Shibahara def. Kenadi Hance / Alexis Pereira 6-4, 7-5