Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009 | midnight
Yannik Mahlangu's prospects were not looking good five games into his finals matchup with Fernando Sunago at the Nate Schulman Masters Series tennis tournament Feb. 1 at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Mahlangu, an eighth grader at Barbara & Hank Greenspun Junior High, was losing the first set 4-1 in the 16-and-younger singles finals.
Sunago, a Palo Verde sophomore, had taken advantage of Mahlangu's unforced errors and looked to be cruising to a victory in the United States Tennis Association tournament.
"I was making a lot of errors," Mahlangu said. "I knew I needed to outlast him and play more consistent."
Mahlangu, 13, recovered and squeaked out a 6-4, 7-5 victory. It was his second straight association tournament win. He also won the 14 and younger Snowball Sectional Championship Jan. 21 in Salt Lake City.
The triumphs elevated him the a No. 2 ranking in the association's Intermountain Section 14 and younger division.
"I played better than I thought I would," he said. "At the national level the age jump is a big difference because a lot of the kids are bigger. They hit a lot harder, so it's not as easy for me."
His father, former UNLV tennis player Richie Mahlangu, said his son has been playing beyond his age.
"By playing more and more tournaments he has gotten the experience that has made him a tougher competitor," Richie Mahlangu said.
Much of Yannik Mahlangu's improvement has come from practicing with his older brother, Green Valley High freshman Nicholas Mahlangu, who is ranked No. 29 in the Intermountain 16 and younger division.
The brothers practice five days a week at ClubSport Green Valley, where their father gives lessons. They travel to tournaments twice a month.
Both brothers are also honor roll students and are accomplished violinists in their school orchestras. After tennis practice, the siblings take violin lessons from their mother, a music teacher.
"It's a regimen and it doesn't change much," said Richie Mahlangu, who immigrated to the United States from South Africa.
Nicholas Mahlangu said the training can be difficult, but it is a routine he is used to.
His game has been improving as well. He took second place with partner Kristofer Yee in the 16 and younger doubles at the sectional tournament.
Sean Ammerman can be reached at 990-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org.