Sweeney defends title at McHenry County Classic

Sam Sweeney formerly of Crystal Lake returns a shot during the championship match Sunday for the Men’s Open title at the McHenry County Tennis Classic at Crystal Lake Central High School.
Sam Sweeney formerly of Crystal Lake returns a shot during the championship match Sunday for the Men’s Open title at the McHenry County Tennis Classic at Crystal Lake Central High School.

CRYSTAL LAKE – In the local version of breakfast at Wimbledon, Sam Sweeney won his seventh consecutive Men’s Open singles title Sunday at the McHenry County Classic.

Sweeney defeated John Cincola, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), in the championship match.

The match was close throughout with Sweeney breaking Cincola’s serve at 6-5 to win the first set with the only service break. Sweeney said Cincola was putting him in uncomfortable positions by keeping the ball deep in the court and getting to the net.

“[Cincola] was really keeping me off balance,” Sweeney said. “He wasn’t letting me play my game.”

Cincola broke Sweeney in the first game of the second set, but Sweeney broke back and the pair were on service most of the second set. The second set tiebreaker hinged on an important point that could have given Cincola a two-point edge.

Up 5-4, Cincola got to the net and hit a good, flat volley to Sweeney’s forehand that stayed low. Sweeney hit a blistering shot down the line that curved in to knot the tiebreaker at five.

“It was big,” Sweeney said of his return. “I was trying to keep the volley low. I had a pretty good look at the ball down the line.”

Sweeney recently took a position at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and flew in to defend his title at the Classic.

In addition to his instructional duties, Sweeney also will hit against top players.

He recently played against Japan’s Kei Nishikori, the 20th ranked player in the ATP world rankings.

“[Nishikori] was very good,” Sweeney said. “I’m just trying to improve my ranking.”

Ryan Kohl, a junior at Prairie Ridge, won the Boy’s 18 division championship with a 6-2, 6-4 win against Elisha Hougland, a junior at Hampshire.

Kohl played familiar opponents in both the semifinals and finals. He also beat Hougland at the Fox Valley Conference boys tennis tournament in the semifinals at No. 2 singles. In the Classic semifinals, Kohl defeated Owen Russell, 7-5, 6-1. Kohl also defeated Russell in a Cary-Grove Sectional quarterfinal to qualify for the IHSA State finals this past season.

The experience against Hougland was an advantage, Kohl said.

“It helped me to know what to do,” Kohl said. “I felt more confident.”

Kohl said being able to keep his emotions in check was important in the match.

“I tried to hold my composure and not get upset,” Kohl said.

That might have been aided by the presence of Sweeney, his high school coach at Prairie Ridge, on the adjacent court. Sweeney nicknamed Kohl, “Iceman”, for his even temperament during matches.

While Sweeney couldn’t talk to Kohl on changeovers, like he did during high school matches, Kohl said the presence of his coach was good moral support.

“It felt a little bit like [high school],” Kohl said. “Having [Sweeney] on the next court was nice.”

Also at the Classic, Keith Leuthold won the Men’s 55 division, defeating Mark Artner, 6-4, 6-1. Leuthold might not have reached the finals without the sportsmanship of Harlan Miller. In Saturday’s semifinals, Miller was up on Leuthold, 7-6, 5-2, but was battling a groin injury in the second set. Miller knew the injury he would keep him from playing in the finals, so he defaulted.

In the Men’s Intermediate division, Kevin Butler repeated as champion. He defeated Amir Heydari, 6-3, 6-2, in the championship match.

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