FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Bjorn Hoffmann describes the 111th annual Southern California Junior Sectional Championships as "the best tournament I've had in my life."
Not only was Hoffmann unseeded in the boys' 16s, but he had to go through qualifying just to make it to the main draw.
Now Hoffmann, who just finished his freshman year at Corona del Mar High, is in the quarterfinals.
He pulled off two upsets Saturday at Fountain Valley Tennis Center. The last one was over his CdM teammate, No. 3-seeded Chaz Downing. Hoffmann led Downing, 6-4, 3-6, 5-2, when Downing had to retire due to cramping in a round of 16 match.
It will be an all-local quarterfinal, as Hoffmann plays No. 8-seeded Newport Coast resident Max Pham in the boys' 16 quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
"Oh my God, I'm so stoked," said Hoffmann, who defeated No. 9-seeded Max Liu of San Diego, 7-5, 6-3, in a round of 32 match earlier Saturday. "I'm so excited to be in the quarters now. To qualify, then take out someone in the main draw, then beat two seeds including Chaz, that's phenomenal for me. It's definitely the best tennis I've been playing.
"My match previous to this one definitely helped. It was a lot of long points, so I had to grind a lot of points out. I thought with that, I got a lot of rhythm coming into this one. I've just been practicing hard with my dad and my coach, and it's all paying off."
Hoffmann has been working hard, both at CdM and with his father, Carsten. That's not a bad coach to have. Carsten Hoffmann, who played at UC Irvine, remains a very high-level doubles player. He has been ranked No. 1 in the nation and represented the United States at the ITF Seniors World Team Championships, held in March in Antalya, Turkey.
Bjorn was steady against his CdM teammate, Downing, breaking his serve late in the first set for the early lead. The match was cordial but still competitive; Downing called for an umpire early in the second set after disagreeing with a line call.
"It's kind of a shame when two teammates have to fight about calls and get an ump," Hoffmann said. "I just had to kind of put that aside and not worry about it so much. We didn't have any problems after that."
But Downing started cramping up midway through the third set. He called a medical timeout, but was soon unable to continue.
Pham, who just completed his freshman year at Fairmont Prep, will be a tough opponent for Hoffmann. He made it to the 14s semifinals last year at Juniors Sectionals, and said he has been playing mostly up in the 16s since then. Pham also won twice Saturday, topping Matthew Miller of San Diego, 6-2, 6-2, before getting past Nicholas Mitchell of Ojai, 6-3, 6-2.
"In the end, he made a few errors here and there, and I think that's what made the match," Pham said of his win over Mitchell. "It feels pretty good. I just turned 15, so it's good to have a result like this."
Newport Harbor's Reese Stalder is yet another local in the 16s quarterfinals. Stalder, the No. 6 seed, beat Brandon Holt of Rolling Hills, 6-3, 7-5, before topping Alex Braksator of Corona, 7-5, 6-2. He will play No. 4-seeded Connor Hance in a quarterfinal match at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
Joseph Di Giulio is the other local player still alive in the main draw. The No. 5-seeded Di Giulio won two boys' 18s matches Saturday. He defeated Stefan Doehler of Santa Ana, 6-3, 7-5, and No. 9-seeded Jayson Amos of Mission Viejo, 7-5, 6-3.
DI Giulio plays No. 4-seeded Henry Craig of Murrieta in a boys' 18 singles quarterfinal match at 11:45 a.m. Sunday, at Los Caballeros Racquet & Sports Club.
No. 6-seeded Alec Adamson of CdM made it to the boys' 18 singles round of 16 before losing to Michael Genender of Los Angeles, 6-1, 7-6. CdM's Pedro Fernandez made it to the same round in the boys' 16 singles before losing to Humberto Lopez of National City, 6-1, 6-0.
Newport Harbor's Annie Radeva lost to Kalani Soli of Carson, 6-3, 6-3, in a girls' 16 singles round of 32 match. Newport Beach resident Ashley Kratzer fell to No. 6-seeded Meredith Xepoleas of Huntington Beach, 6-4, 6-1, in a girls' 18 singles round of 32 match.
Main draw consolation bracket play, as well as separate quarterfinal and round of 16 loser playoffs, continue through Monday in each respective age division. Valuable rankings points are at stake in those matches as well.