Amherst's Kahan tops No. 1-seed Ballou
Kahan shirks pressure to advance to singles quarterfinals
KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Amherst senior Mark Kahan had nothing to lose Thursday afternoon. And he did not lose.
Kahan, a resident of Unionville, Conn., had twice before faced senior Nicholas Ballou of Cal Lutheran, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division III individual tournament, so when they met in the Round of 16 Thursday at Kalamazoo College, Kahan was more relaxed than usual. He had never won so much as a set from the Ballou, his latest straight-sets loss to him coming in last year's national quarterfinals.
"I had played him twice before and he beat me both times, but I was a little more relaxed this time,” Kahan said. “It's my senior year so I tried to not put so much pressure on myself. I knew that it was his match to lose, so I just wanted to be competitive and see what happens.”
What happened was that Kahan beat Ballou as Ballou had beaten Kahan in their previous meetings, in straight sets 6-4, 6-0.
“He is a very physical player, a very hard hitter,” Kahan said. “I tried to stay within myself and play within my comfort zone and it worked for me. The scores might not look that way, but this was definitely a close match. We played a lot of tough points and it didn't feel like a 4-0 match. It was a real battle.”
When he took a 5-2 lead in the first set, Kahan began to think he could actually win his first set against Ballou, but he did not allow himself to look even one point beyond that first set.
“I lost a few games after I got up 5-2 in the first set, but I said, 'Hey, this is the first time I can take a set from this kid. I can play with him.'”
It was not until he was up 3-0 in the second set that Kahan allowed himself to think about actually knocking off the No. 1 seed.
“When I got up 3-0 I felt like I had a good chance to win this thing,” he said. “He was fighting the entire time though. He's a great competitor and he fought really hard.”
Kahan is now scheduled to face No. 5-seeded Paul Burgin of Kenyon in Friday's quarterfinals. They met once previously, in the fall of 2010.
“He's a very good player too,” Kahan said of Burgin. “He competes hard and he is a good ball striker. He likes to take the ball early, but he likes to keep you out there for a while too.”
It may have been two and a half years since they met, but Burgin still remembers that he beat Kahan 6-3, 0-6, 7-6.
“It was a long battle, but it was a long time ago too,” Burgin said. “He is very solid on both sides and he has very good timing. He has a good all-around game and no definitive weakness, so it is going to be a tough match either way.”