Wen rallies to capture title

Evan Wen goes airborne to hit winner. (Photo by James Beck)

Evan Wen always wants to dictate the point. He always wants the ball.

That’s his nature. He repeatedly walks toward the net, anxious to get the ball and serve it.

Yet, an observer pointed out on Saturday late in the USTA Boys 12 National Clay Court Championships final, “He hasn’t served many aces.”

That was in the preliminaries. The match was now on the line. Bam, bam, bam. Two aces and a service winner seconds later, and the top seed was sitting on triple match point for a national championship. He had never before even been seeded in a national tournament.

The power-hitting 6-1 giant wasted those three match points, but then hit a pair of forehand winners to finish off a comeback 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over sixth seed Victor Lilov of Raleigh to wrap up the national singles title at LTP Tennis and Swim in Mount Pleasant.

In some ways, it was a repeat performance for the 12-year-old from Morristown, N.J. It had seemed like in every crucial or decisive game throughout his seven-match march to the title, Wen would call on his biggest and best shots to destroy his opponent’s dreams of an upset.

As the smooth and talented 5-5 Lilov admitted after the match, “He started playing better and better, and then he was just too good.”

If not for Wen’s attendance at the 2010 U.S. Open final between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, none of this might have happened.

“He had no interest at all in tennis, but when he was 6 and a half years old, we took him to the U.S. Open final,” his mother, Cathi Wen, said. “He didn’t want to go. But after that match while leaving the stadium, he was begging to play tennis. He said, ‘I want to do that.’”

Since that time, there has been no stopping the online-schooled youngster in his march to what he hopes will be a pro career. He has been relentless, training 35 hours weekly.

Wen already loved his backhand when his coach, Clay Bibbee, told him he wanted him to develop a weapon. One of the biggest forehands you’ll see at any level was the result. And the backhand still remains a potent weapon.

After suffering an early break when he misfired on three straight bombs, Wen dropped a poorly played first set. “I just felt like I had to get a few more balls on the court,” Wen said.

When Wen finally tightened up his game and made his opponent win points, the tide changed, especially when the match was on the line. From 3-4 down in each of the last two sets, Wen took ownership of the court with his big serves and forehands. He finished off the second set with a backhand winner and the third set with a forehand winner.

Gold Ball Singles: Evan Wen (Morristown, N.J.)

Silver Ball Singles: Victor Lilov (Raleigh)

Bronze Ball Singles: Jack Anthrop (Orlando, Fla.)

4th Places Singles: Phillip Deaton (Auburn, Wash.)

Doubles Gold Ball: Anthrop/James Delgado (High Point, N.C.)

Doubles Silver Ball: Braden Shick (Greensboro, N.C.)/Ryan Colby (Alexandria, Va.)

Doubles Bronze Ball: Bruno Kuzuhara (Coconut Creek, Fla.)/John Lasanajak (Lawrenceville, Ga.)

Gold Draw Winner: Kian Vakili (Longwood, Fla.)

Gold Draw Runner-Up: Jiaxi Ma (Alhambra, Calif.)

USTA Sportsmanship Award: Alvaro Pedraza (University Park, Md.)

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.