WATERVILLE VALLEY — It took the better part of three hours, but on Sunday the 33rd New Hampshire Open produced the tennis tournament’s youngest champion, Rhode Island native Matt Kuhar, who bested Dartmouth College’s Brandon Tannenbaum, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Kuhar, who earlier this year graduated from Smithfield High School, and who this fall is off to nearby Bryant University where he’ll major in finance while exploring his tennis options, came into the Waterville Valley Tennis Center this past weekend on multiple high notes, among them having just captured a third boys’ high school state title in the Ocean State.
He turned 18 last month and Sunday Kuhar got a belated birthday gift in capturing the New Hampshire Open title, which came with $1,000 cash and three vacation packages.
In the first set, it looked touch-and-go for Kuhar who got broken by Tannenbaum, a rising junior at Dartmouth where this past year he played No. 1 doubles as well as Nos. 5 and 6 singles, before breaking back himself. In turn, Tannenbaum, who like Kuhar was competing in his first NH Open, broke and then consolidated the break by holding his serve to go up 3-1.
Tannenbaum, who is physically larger than Kuhar and has a booming serve, pushed his opponent deep to force some errors on his way to another break and to take what looked like a commanding 4-1 lead that he built to 5-1 on his serve before Kuhar found his mojo.
Kuhar first held at 2-5, then broke Tannenbaum to make it 3-5 before holding again at 4-5. Tannenbaum, however, closed the set out when Kuhar drove a return deep.
The second set was all Kuhar’s beginning with a 3-0 run, before Tannenbaum, with an ace down the middle at 40-love, held at 1-3. Kuhar held to make it 4-1, but Tannenbaum delayed the inevitable by winning his serve, which prompted Kuhar to win love games at 4-2 and — to even up the match at a set apiece — again at 5-3.
In the third, Kuhar had an even more audacious start, twice breaking Tannenbaum and twice holding serve before Tannenbaum got on the board at 1-4. After exchanging holds to make the set score 5-2, Kuhar, down 30-40, served to deuce and eventually won the match when Tannenbaum hit a return wide, with the ball coming to rest on the eastern bank of the sunken Rod Laver Arena court at the WVTC.
“He’s got a great serve and in the beginning I was unable to handle it,” said Kuhar, who was the tournament’s No. 4 seed. Kuhar added that he gradually figured the serve out and felt “pretty good” in hitting it.
Kuhar said he’ll probably be back to defend his New Hampshire Open title in 2015, and that in the meantime he’ll continue to enter a variety of competitions to get a sense of how his skills are developing and what his tennis future may hold.
Tannenbaum, who defeated Kuhar a month ago in the Round of 16 at the Hampshire Hills Open in Nashua, thought his opponent was “a little tight” in the early going, but noted that as Kuhar got looser, he also cut loose with a variety of winning shots.
“Once we go to the baseline points, he was ripping it,” said Tannenbaum, adding that he wasn’t able to control the play nearly as much as he had hoped.
“He (Kuhar) just played too good today,” said Tannenbaum, who nonetheless did walk away with a title on Sunday at the New Hampshire Open when he captured the doubles crown with partner Conor Haught.
Tom Gross Jr., who is the WVTC’s director, USTA pro and who on Sunday did triple duty as tournament director, chair umpire and emcee, said the three-day event went off very well. Goss said Kuhar’s accomplishment will go down in New Hampshire Open history. “Nobody’s won it right out of high school,” said Gross. “That’s remarkable.”