FOUNTAIN VALLEY — It took slightly more than two tense hours, but the collar finally loosened around Nick Varvais' neck.
Varvais, The Times' area high school player of the year, survived the first round of the Southern California Junior Sectional tennis tournament Wednesday at Los Caballeros Sports Village with a 6-7 (7-2), 6-2, 6-3 victory over J.R. Chidley of Riverside.
Varvais, who was 48-0 in sets at Royal High this spring, is seeded seventh in the boys' 18-and-under singles division in the biggest junior tournament in the United States.
The top 10 players in each division figure to earn berths in junior national tournaments later this summer.
If Varvais beats Ryan Hollis of Orange today at 10:30 a.m., he will play in the quarterfinals Friday.
"I just gotta win this one," said Varvais, after he surprised Chidley on match point with a winner to Chidley's forehand. "If I beat Hollis and then beat the next guy, that would make the whole year. It would be a big bonus."
Reaching the second round is a bonus for Varvais, who was upset in three sets in the first round last year when he was seeded second in 16 singles. In 1993, he won a three-set struggle in the first round that resembled Wednesday's match against Chidley.
Varvais, 15, rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the first set before losing the tiebreaker. Varvais attacked in the second set to get even. Chidley led, 3-1, in the third set before Varvais rallied again.
"I thought, 'I can't lose this again in the first round,' " Varvais said. "I was tight, but then I started moving him off the court."
In another boys' 18 opener, top-seeded Jason Cook of Woodland Hills defeated Adam Gross of Pacific Palisades, 6-1, 6-1.
Eighth-seeded Pete Webb of Ventura lost to Brett Masi of Riverside, 7-6, 6-3, and David Brown, a student at Harvard-Westlake High, lost to No. 3 Kelly Gullett of Fullerton, 6-2, 6-3.
In girls' 18 singles, top-seeded Krissy Hamilton of Agoura Hills defaulted to Elana Gold of La Jolla. Hamilton's father, Craig Heinberg, said she had foot surgery Tuesday.
In other matches, Romy Mehlman, a recent Harvard-Westlake graduate, defeated Julia Feldman of Encino, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. Brandi Braverman of Encino defeated Amy Medlin of Santa Ana, 6-1, 6-1, and Monique Allegre of Camarillo advanced by default.