By Michael Vann
At the age of 16, highly touted tennis player Ryan Thacher â08 felt the grind that professional tennis players feel as he competed in six tournaments in five different states in six weeks.
He helped lead the Southern California section to championships in both 16 and under and 18 and under team events. Southern California defeated all the other 16 regional sections in the nation to win both titles.
âAnytime I get the opportunity to play in a team environment, I really enjoy it because tennis is so individual,â Thacher said.
âI loved playing team sports when I was younger.â
Thacher also reached the round of 16 at the USTA Clay Court Championships for the 18 and under division where he defeated two players in the top 35 in the nation including Bradley Mixson of Florida, who will be attending Florida State next year.
In the round of 16, Thacher lost a three set encounter with the number three player in the nation, Davey Sandgren, who was a redshirt freshman for the University of Tennessee.
âI didnât really have any expectations because the kids are older, bigger, and stronger, so I was very pleased with my performance,â Thacher said.
The pinnacle of junior tennis in America takes place in Kalamazoo, Michigan as 192 players compete in the boys 16 and under hard court national championships.
Thacher entered the tournament as the number two seed and after a first round bye, he won seven consecutive matches, only dropping one set.
The only real scare that Thacher faced was when he dropped the first set to 31st seeded Waylon Chin, but then responded to win the next two 6-3, 6-0.
In the finals, Thacher faced number one seeded Brennan Boyajian of Florida. Boyajian was the favorite as he had defeated Thacher in their previous two meetings of 6-4, 6-2 and 6-3, 6-0. Boyajian came into the finals on an incredible winning streak as he had won his past three national tournaments, including one in the 18 and under division.
However, he was not ready to take Thacher lightly.
âThere are going to be long points, baseline points, but a good match for sure,â Boyajian said.
Thacher and Boyajian took the court in front of over 2,000 fans that had to pay $10 admission to witness the event. There were seven line judges and ball boys for the match, as there were for every match on the center courts at the tournament.
âI was honored to have people come and see me play,â Thacher said.
This time Thacher jumped out to a first set 5-3 lead as he remained patient and didnât get frustrated with Boyajianâs counter-punching style. Boyajian found a way to pull out the first set 7-5 after Thacher failed to close out the set serving at 5-4.
The tides began to turn at the start of the second set as Thacher took the second set 6-2.
Boyajian was experiencing stomach pains, and his frustration began to mount as he cracked a racket and was given a point penalty.
With a 5-2 lead in the third set, the match seemed to be over. However, Boyajian was not ready to give up the match as he saved a match point to break Thacher and bring the score to 5-3.
In the next game, Thacher stormed out to a 40-15 lead on Boyajianâs serve.
On the next point, Thacher was inside the service line and had a sitter forehand to put away, but sprayed the forehand off the side of his frame.
Boyajian saved another match point with a forehand winner before closing out the game and eventually forced a tiebreaker.
After Boyajian jumped out to a 5-1 lead, Thacher fought back to 5-4. With a chance to level the tiebreaker, Thacher double faulted.
After Thacher saved a match point, the match ended on an errant forehand by Thacher to give Boyajian the title.
âI was really disappointed because I had opportunities to win, but the game that I played was one that definitely led me to believe that I could grow as a player,â Thacher said.
For his efforts, Thacher was given a wildcard into the qualifier for the Junior U.S. Open but chose to decline the invitation with one more year of eligibility left for the tournament.