Niemi gets by Kilsdonk for singles championship

ESCANABA – Scott Niemi and Nate Kilsdonk were roommates and teammates at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Sunday they were partners in the doubles division at the 67th annual Michigan-Wisconsin Open tennis tournament.

But Saturday they were opponents in the M-W finals of the Class A men’s singles in Ludington Park. Fittingly, it went into overtime before Niemi emerged with the championship.

After splitting 6-4 (Niemi), 5-7 (Kilsdonk) decisions in matches just as tight as the scores suggest, Niemi won the super playoff tie-breaker 7-5.

“My legs were gone,” Niemi, of Appleton, Wis., said of the mutual decision to forego a third set for the tie-breaker. “It makes it sweet and short. “

A former M-W junior division champion who lost in the Class A title match to Marquette’s Brett Girard a couple years ago, Niemi frequently hit to Kilsdonk’s backhand. “We were both trying to get points pretty quick,” he said.

“I was less nervous” playing against his friend. “I would be just as happy if Nate had won. But it is always nice to have bragging rights.”

Niemi had to get past 2013 M-W runner-up Mark Stinski of Appleton in a rugged earlier match. “It was perseverance for me. I almost lost in the second round,” he said of beating Stinski for the first time. “I was comfortable” playing Kilsdonk and Stinski. “We play familiar games.”

Kilsdonk, of Waukesha, Wis., upset defending champion Girard 7-6, 7-6 in an epic semifinal as they matched powerful strokes on the newly resurfaced court. He was down 5-2 before a strong rally stopped Girard, who had won the past three M-W titles and five of the past six.

“I started picking on his back hand a little more,” Kilsdonk said of the Girard battle. “I kind of got used to his serves. This is definitely one of my bigger wins.”

After surviving that struggle, he “was kind of relaxed” against Niemi. “I know his game and I knew he was gassed, too,” he said.

The title match presented a much different challenge than facing Girard. “It was easier (in a way) because I know him and his game,” said Kilsdonk, agreeing it is difficult facing a friend because it is hard to apply the killer touch. “I am happy for him.”

The Appleton dominance of this tournament also continued in the women’s division, where Patti Stinski won the round-robin Class A title by taking all three matches in the round-robin format.

The former Wright State University player topped runner-up Allison Carlson of Negaunee in her final match, after beating Katie Cuthbertson of Gladstone and Hannah Tresedder of Kingsford. Tresedder, whose sister Abby is a former M-W women’s champion, will play tennis at Concordia, Wis. College.

“I just tried to be consistent and stay focused knowing I had to play three matches,” said Stinski, who gave up tennis for a few years to start a family.

“The first two matches I was able to come to the net more and play more aggressively. The third match she (Carlson) hit the ball deeper and I was not as aggressive. I served pretty good and I was not giving points away.”

Stinski said she hit several slices to take advantage of the top spin used by her opponents. “They have a hard time with it so I kept hitting it,” she said, adding her experience was also a factor. “Mentally I can play a little smarter.”

Carlson, the U.P. Division 1 champion as a junior last fall for Negaunee High School, relished the opportunity to play an accomplished veteran like Stinski.

“I learned to be more aggressive and tried to do more serve-and-volley,” said Carlson. “I tried to be aggressive at one point but I didn’t do good and was scared to be aggressive. I couldn’t beat her at the net and I can usually beat people at the net.”

Stinski started coming here about 20 years ago when she was dating her future husband, Mark. She decided to play in the tournament rather than merely watch, and now they are part of a large Appleton delegation that spends four days in Escanaba for each tourney.

“We make it into a family vacation,” she said. “We like coming up here. We like the town and we can make it a fun weekend.”

The brother-sister duo of Brady and Katie Hicks of Kingsford also won titles. Brady took the Class B men’s title with a 7-5, 6-3 decision over Spike Houle of Marquette. Houle, an Escanaba native, survived a two-and-a-half hour marathon to reach the finals.

Katie Hicks took the combined age 12-15 and 16-18 round-robin singles division. Breanna Dault of Escanaba was second.

Boys 16-18: Caleb Kleiman, Menominee, beat Noah Nowack, Menominee, 6-4, 6-3.

Boys 12-15: Luke Skewis, Negaunee, won the round-robin. Adam Hytinen, Ishpeming, was second.

Men’s 40-55: Jo Kim, Plover, Wis., won round-robin. Mike Osier of Escanaba was second.