Thursday, April 17, 2014

ITF Announces Masters Events for Top Eight Juniors; The Wild Card Dilemma; Clemson Women Beat Top-Ranked Duke

The ITF today announced a Junior Masters event, scheduled in April 2015, for the top eight boys and top eight girls in the ITF Junior World rankings at the end of this year.

Since the demise of the Sunshine Cup in 2002, which was an 18-and-under team event, the ITF has not had any special events for that age group. Rumors were circulating that this Masters event might be held during the second week of the Sony Open in Miami or the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, but today's announcement means that will not happen, at least until 2018, with Chengdu, China signing a three-year contract to host the event.

Instead of a round robin format as is used in the ATP and WTA year-end events, this tournament will feature single elimination, but three matches are guaranteed, so every player will end the tournament with a position--first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth.

Stefan Kozlov and Ziyue Sun of China are quoted in the release, as is ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti.

This is now the second major junior event introduced this century in Asia. The Youth Olympic Games were held in Singapore in August of 2010 and this year are in Nanjing in August. The ITF is obviously making an effort to grow the game there with these events. It will be interesting to see who will travel to Nanjing this August--the first YOG had a good field, but not a great one. The fields at the Orange Bowl have rarely included the top 18-year-olds recently; perhaps this carrot will help bolster that event and the Mexican Grade A, which was moved from the beginning of the calendar year to the middle of November.

Forbes magazine's Miguel Morales provides this in-depth look at the considerations, conflicts and politics associated with wild cards. I don't have the strong feelings on this topic that many people do--I think wild cards have their place and often serve the greater interests of the sport--but I do believe there's a distinction between winning a wild card in a tournament, like the USTA Har-Tru wild card challenge, Kalamazoo, or the NCAAs, and being awarded one at the last minute when no big name requests one.  This article has input from a tournament director, agents, Robert Lansdorp, and the USTA, and is helpful in sorting out who controls wild cards, who gets wild cards and why.  A couple of quibbles: the Australian Open does have a regional wild card tournament for Asian players which is not mentioned, and Wimbledon does not trade wild cards, as is implied in the paragraph quoting Jose Higueras.

The consensus that this year's NCAA titles are up for grabs gained even more traction today, when the 17th-ranked Clemson women beat No. 1 Duke 4-3 in Clemson, Clemson's first win ever over a top-ranked team.
Sophomore Joana Eidukonyte, who was on the roster at the Team Indoor but did not play in Clemson's three matches in Charlottesville, saved two match points in the second set against Marianne Jodoin at line 6 and went on to clinch the match 6-7, 7-5, 6-0.  The Tigers won the doubles point, and also earned points from Yana Koroleva's 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 win over Trice Capra at line 1, and Romy Koelzer's 3-6, 7-6, 6-1 victory over Chalena Scholl at line 2.

For more on the match, see the Clemson website. North Carolina and Virginia now are in the best position to win the ACC title, with each having just one loss.  North Carolina travels to Clemson for its final conference match, and Virginia is at Florida State and Miami this weekend.

In a match between two Top 10 men's teams last night in the Big 12, No. 6 Baylor defeated No. 7 Texas 5-2 in Waco.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Signing Day; NCAA Rule Change; Kozlov Blogs; Bencic Feature; French Open Entry List

Today is the first day of 2014 that seniors can sign National Letters of Intent (August 1 ends the 2014 signing period), and the Tennis Recruiting Network will be providing signing announcements throughout this week. For those just getting started in the process of college recruiting, TRNet today published a helpful article from the NCAA Eligibility Center that contains links to guides, online courses, videos and Power Point presentations that address most situations a prospective student-athlete encounters.  I can't stress enough how important it is that coaches, players and parents are familiar with the timing and language of college recruiting, and the academic requirements that are so important to every high school student, whether they are studying online or in a traditional school environment.

The NCAA has announced several rule changes that will take effect when expected approval comes from the board on April 24.  Effective August 1, Division I student-athletes "can receive unlimited meals and snacks in conjunction with their athletics participation, the Legislative Council decided Tuesday. The rule, which applies to walk-ons as well as scholarship student-athletes, is an effort to meet the nutritional needs of all student-athletes."

For the NCAA release, click here.

Stefan Kozlov has been blogging for the ITF Junior website.  In the three installments, the last of which was published today, the 16-year-old Floridian has written about his training (which is split between the USTA and his father Andrei), his performances in the finals of the Orange Bowl and Australian Open Juniors, his experience hitting with and competing against established pros, and his goals for 2014, which include a junior slam title.

CNN published a feature on Belinda Bencic, the Swiss 17-year-old who, while still the No. 1-ranked ITF junior, has climbed to 91 in the WTA rankings following her semifinal appearance recently at the Family Circle Cup. Just a year ago, Bencic was ranked No. 3 in the juniors and No. 493 in the WTA, proving that teen phenoms are still emerging on the women's side.

Bencic, who won the girls title at Roland Garros last year, will be in the main draw this year. The French Open entry lists have been published, with seven US men and 11 US women receiving direct entry.  The men are: John Isner, Bradley Klahn, Steve Johnson, Sam Querrey, Donald Young, Jack Sock and Michael Russell.  The women are: Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Varvara Lepchenko, Christina McHale, Vania King, Lauren Davis, CoCo Vandeweghe and Anna Tatishvili, who just changed her country affiliation from Georgia to the United States last week.

The men's complete entry list is here.  The women's complete entry list is here.

Stephanie Myles of the Open Court blog has an update on former USTA National Coach Hugo Armando, whom you may have seen in the doubles draw of the Sarasota Challenger, even though the ATP lists him as inactive. Armando has an academy in Bradenton, just north of Sarasota, which is probably all the explanation needed for why he played for the first time since 2008.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ohio State Men, Duke Women Maintain Top Spots in ITA Rankings; Steve Johnson Feature; Har-Tru Pro Circuit French Open Wild Card Challenge Underway

I've missed a lot in college tennis during my past two weeks in California, but nothing has changed at the top of the rankings in either singles or doubles.

The Duke women continue to hold the No. 1 spot, with their final regular season conference matches on the road this week against No. 17 Clemson and No. 27 Georgia Tech, with the ACC tournament following on April 24-27.  Alabama was the big mover this week, with the Crimson Tide rising to No. 3, the highest ranking ever for the program, after beating Georgia in Athens on Friday 4-3. With their win over Tennessee in Knoxville on Sunday, Alabama clinched the SEC conference title for the first time.  Florida, who lost to Alabama 4-3 last month in the doubles-last tiebreak shootout, also made a big jump this week, going from 11 to 4.  Vanderbilt fell out of the Top 10, dropping from 5 to 11, and Virginia fell from 4 to 9.

The women's Top 10:
1. Duke
3. Alabama
4. Florida
5. Stanford
6. Georgia
7. North Carolina
8. Texas A&M
9. Virginia
10. Cal

Despite their 4-1 loss to No. 14 Kentucky in Lexington last Wednesday, the Ohio State Buckeyes retained their No. 1 ranking, and will look to extend their NCAA-record home winning streak, now at 187 matches, against Iowa and No. 63 Nebraska this weekend before the Big Ten tournament the following weekend.  The big match between UCLA and Southern California is at USC Friday, and a win could push either team past Ohio State into the top spot.  The two Los Angeles teams are also expected to meet in the final of the Pac-12 conference championships, held (for the men only, the women do not have a conference team tournament), in Ojai the following week.  The men's SEC conference championships are at Vanderbilt, beginning this Wednesday.  The women's SEC championships are at Missouri, also beginning tomorrow.

The men's Top 10:
1. Ohio State
2. Oklahoma
3. Southern California
4. Virginia
6. Baylor
7. Texas
8. North Carolina
9. Georgia
10. Illinois

There were also no changes in the individual rankings, which now come out weekly, with Jamie Loeb of North Carolina and Clay Thompson of UCLA still No. 1 in singles.  The Tennessee team of Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese stay No. 1 in men's doubles and Robin Anderson and Jennifer Brady of UCLA continue to be No. 1 in women's doubles.

In Division III, Williams has taken over the women's top spot, while Claremont-Mudd-Scripps stay at No. 1 in the men's rankings.

The complete rankings can be found at the ITA website.

The Texas College Tennis blog's men's rankings are here.

In the past few weeks, the top three American men in the ATP rankings are four-year college players: John Isner(11), Bradley Klahn(65) and Steve Johnson(68). Johnson has had a remarkable three months in 2014--he was ranked 160 to start the year--and with so few American men to focus on, Johnson was bound to begin getting more attention. After Johnson reached the second round at the ATP Clay Courts in Houston, he spoke with the Tennis Channel's Steve Flink.  Johnson discusses his decision to stay in school, his relationship with USTA coach Craig Boynton, and the state of his backhand in this article at

Johnson is taking a break from tournaments before heading to Europe and because he has secured a spot in the main draw of the French Open, he is not playing the three Challengers that are part of the USTA Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge.  Last year, Alex Kuznetsov won a wild card into the French Open via this method, as did Shelby Rogers.

Below are the tournaments that make up the Wild Card Challenge, with the best two results, in ATP/WTA points, added together to determine the winners.

USTA Pro Circuit Men’s Events:
  • $100,000 Sarasota (Fla.) Open (week of April 14)
  • $50,000 Savannah (Ga.) Challenger (week of April 21)
  • $50,000 USTA Tallahassee (Fla.) Challenger (week of April 28)
USTA Pro Circuit Women’s Events:
  • $50,000 Dothan (Ala.) (week of April 14)
  • $50,000 Charlottesville, Va. (week of April 21)
  • $50,000 Indian Harbour Beach, Fla. (week of April 28)
At the Sarasota Challenger this week, most of the American men have already lost, but Daniel Kosakowski(UCLA) and Donald Young did advance to the second round.

In Dothan, Alabama, American women were more successful.  Wild card Louisa Chirico, Melanie Oudin and Allie Kiick all won their opening matches today, with eight more, including Rogers, seeded No. 2, schedule for first round matches on Wednesday.  Florida recruit Peggy Porter and Danielle Lao(USC) qualified, with Taylor Townsend receiving a wild card. Porter will play Vicky Duval, the No. 8 seed, Wednesday, and the match should be streamed through the USTA's Pro Circuit page.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Visit to UCLA; USTA Honors Coaches at Easter Bowl

After a very long Sunday at the Easter Bowl, today was a "vacation" day for me in Southern California. My husband and I were invited to visit UCLA by men's assistant Grant Chen, and because in my nine previous Carson/Easter Bowl California trips I had never done so, today was the day.

The UCLA men were off today, after returning yesterday from their weekend matches against Utah and Arizona, although a few of them, including freshmen Joe Di Giulio and Mackenzie McDonald, were at the Los Angeles Tennis Center to hit. Sloane Stephens was also there practicing in preparation for the Fed Cup tie with France this weekend in St. Louis, and the women's tennis team was practicing in the perfect Southern California weather.

Chen took us on a insider's tour, as we visited Pauley Pavilion, the Hall of Fame with its 110 NCAA championship trophies, the training room, the weight room and the sports information area. We then walked along Bruin Way, to the original buildings on campus, including Powell library, before stopping at the Ackerman Union for lunch.  It was a great way to decompress from an intense two weeks of covering tennis, and a walk along Marina del Rey, looking at hundreds of boats of all sizes and shapes, also provided some much needed relaxation.

General Manager of USTA Player Development Patrick McEnroe, with Jerry Baskin

Wednesday evening during the Easter Bowl, the USTA honored for coaches for their contributions to tennis in this country: Jerry Baskin, Jack Sharpe, Nick Bollettieri and Robert Lansdorp.  Lansdorp and Bollettieri disagreed often, and even when they did agree, they didn't seem content to leave it at that. Bollettieri said he believed college was an appropriate path for world class juniors now, given the changes in the game and the lack of sponsorship money available to help juniors transition to the level where they can be self-supporting.  Lansdorp disagreed, saying he was all for education, but studying at college and developing as a tennis player were not compatible.

Sharpe and Baskin spoke much less, although Patrick McEnroe attempted to direct more audience questions to them, so they could contribute their knowledge as well.

Joseph Gilbert was honored as the 2013 USOC Developmental Coach of the Year, and the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland was named the 2013 Team USA Developmental Program of the Year.

Next year's honorees are likely to fewer in number than this year's, but if you have nominees, I would suggest submitting them to Kent Kinnear, Director of Player ID and Development, via email at Kinnear(at)

The USTA provided this release on the event, and Steve Pratt, the Easter Bowl media director, wrote this summary for

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tiafoe, Bellis Win ITF Easter Bowl Titles; Stewart and McNally Claim 16s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Indian Wells, California--

Although CiCi Bellis isn't sporting a necklace with a small crown hanging from it as boys champion Francis Tiafoe is, there's no question the 15-year-old Californian is the queen of the Asics Easter Bowl. After her 6-3, 6-1 victory over No. 9 seed Katie Swan Sunday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Bellis has now won two consecutive titles, adding the ITF Grade B1 title to the 16s championship she won last year.

The 16-year-old Tiafoe, who like Bellis is a former Les Petits As and World Junior Tennis Team champion, has never had the success he coveted at the Easter Bowl, but he erased some of those bad memories--and the pain of last week's third-set tiebreaker loss in the final of the International Spring Championships in Carson--with a 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2 victory over unseeded Nathan Ponwith in Sunday's final.

"Finally, I got over the hump," said Tiafoe, who had won only three matches at the Easter Bowl in the past three years. "I never thought I would. I'm happy I won the title here and happy to go home with a title."

The silver necklace with a tiny crown attached was a gift from another player's parent at the Junior Tennis Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland, where Tiafoe trains, and was meant to commemorate his Orange Bowl title last December.

"A lot of people have been asking about that, and thinking I'm getting big-headed for it," said Tiafoe, smiling. "He gave it to me, saying, you're the king now. I wasn't going to say no to that, I took pride in that as soon as he said it. We had a bet going in before that I would get a necklace, and I thought it was going to be a cross, but he was like, no, you're going to get a crown. You're the king. So I said, all right, I'll wear it with pride."

Tiafoe looked as if he would cruise to the title after taking a 5-2, two-break lead in the opening set, but Ponwith shook off the nerves of playing in his first Grade 1 final. Ponwith, who will be 16 next week, saved two set points with Tiafoe serving for the set at 5-4, but Tiafoe controlled the tiebreaker, ending it with a forehand cross court winner on his fourth set point.

Ponwith broke Tiafoe in the opening game of the second set and never trailed, swinging freely and using his forehand to keep Tiafoe on defense.

Ponwith served the opening game of the third set, and led 40-15, but Tiafoe kept pressing, saving four game points in total, while Ponwith saved two break points before Tiafoe finally cracked a backhand winner to take a 1-0 lead.

"The first game of the third is always huge, always, and even the second game was pretty long," said Tiafoe. "The majority of the time I usually win those games and I'm happy I did today, because I could have been down 2-0 or up 2-0."

Ponwith acknowledged the importance of that game.

"It was a super long game," said the Scottsdale, Arizona resident. "I had a bunch of game points and saved a bunch of break points. I think on my game points, I didn't play aggressive enough, and I think he stepped up and played well."

Tiafoe kept the pressure on Ponwith's serve throughout the final set, and the new balls gave his forehand some extra zip. He hit an 119 mph ace to get to match point at 5-2, but missed a forehand wide.  A big backhand into the corner gave him a second match point and he converted it, with a good first serve leading to a forehand error by Ponwith.

Despite the loss, Ponwith left Indian Wells in a positive frame of mind, after a wrist injury kept him from playing for two months early this year.

"It was a great week," said Ponwith, who received the tournament's Sportsmanship Award. "I'm going to come back next year and be really excited. It's a great place to play and a great town to play in."

Tiafoe will move to No. 2 in the ITF world junior rankings next week, moving past fellow 16-year-old Stefan Kozlov for the first time.

"If I am two in the world, I'll be very happy," said Tiafoe, who will train in Europe for a few weeks, and play a few Futures in Spain before heading to the French Open Junior Championships.

"That's somewhere I'm really looking forward to being. I've seen it every year on TV since I was about six years old, and having a chance to play there is going to be great. I'm going to get on the grounds early, hit with some of the pros, like Sam, Stevie and Jack, so I can get used to the clay before the juniors start the second week."

Bellis, seeded No. 4 this week, has yet to lose in ITF junior play this year, running her winning streak to 18, and becoming the first girl since Kyle McPhillips in 2010 and 2011 to follow a 16s title with an 18s championship.

Although Bellis and Swan are good friends, and spent time together before their match watching the boys final, Bellis showed no mercy on the court. Despite playing 12 singles matches in the past 14 days, with her title at the International Spring Championships in Carson, Bellis didn't display any lack of energy or focus.

"Yeah, I'm tired," admitted Bellis, who had her knee taped a few days ago, but said it wasn't bothering her anymore. "Two tournaments in a row, it's hard."

After falling behind 2-0 in the first set, Bellis won six of the next seven games to take the set, and continued to dictate points with her forehand in the second set, while Swan's serve began to become less effective. Swan called for a trainer at the end of the first set, with her shins the source of the discomfort.

"Yesterday both my shins started to hurt. I think the tissue is rubbing on the bone," said Swan, a 15-year-old from Bristol, England, whose family now lives in Wichita, Kansas. "But it will be okay soon."

Swan had nothing but praise for Bellis.

"She's such a great player," Swan said. "It's great to play against someone like that, so I know the level I need to get to. She's just looking always to dominate, and has a great forehand. She's just an amazing player."

Bellis will head to Europe for the Italian ITF junior swing, which ends with the Grade A Italian Open, before going on to the French Open Junior Championships, and after winning the ITF World Junior Team Championships last year on the red clay in the Czech Republic, she is excited to get on the surface again.

But first, Bellis will take a few days off, leaving the racquet in the bag for two or three days.

"I'm just going to be relaxing," said Bellis, of Atherton, California. "It's going to be nice to just hang out for the next few days, and let my body rest and recover until getting back to training again."

While Bellis had nothing but good memories of Easter Bowls past, boys 16s champion John McNally, who also won the title last week in Carson, had to again relive his loss to Connor Hance in the 2013 14s final. McNally had a match point he failed to convert then; and this year against No. 2 seed Zeke Clark, McNally was serving at 6-3, 5-4, 40-0 only to lose those three match points and another one, before pulling out a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory.

"This year, I've grown a lot as a tennis player," said the ninth-seeded McNally, a 15-year-old from Cincinnati. "Just being able to close that match out is a huge sigh of relief. I'm still shaking from the match."

Clark, a 15-year-old from Tulsa, stayed with McNally throughout the tiebreaker, with the first eight points going to the server.  Clark surrendered the first mini-break, when a McNally forehand forced a short ball that McNally put away to make it 5-4.  On the next point McNally went for the sideline and caught a part of it according to the line judge and the chair umpire, but Clark was not convinced.

With his fifth match point, McNally finally converted, with another forehand forcing a forehand from Clark that sailed over the baseline.

"It was getting hard to breathe after those match points," said McNally, who learned tennis from his mother, the former Lynn Nabors, who played at Northwestern University with Katrina Adams, the USTA first vice president, who was in attendance at Indian Wells. "I was pretty worried. I think I said last year in my interview that all the best players blow match points and bounce back, and I bounced back this year."

McNally credited his serve with his effectiveness against Clark, who he dubbed a "pit bull."

"I think I lost my serve just once, in the second set," said McNally, who hit back-to-back aces in the tiebreaker to win the sixth and seventh points. "It was awesome to see my serve speed--I hit one 120. That was unbelievable. Against Zeke you have to make first serves, because if you give him a second serve, the point's going to last 40 balls. You want to try to end the points as quickly as possible."

The only downside to the win for McNally was the fact that last year the Easter Bowl was a gold ball event, while this year it is not.

"I'm a little disappointed it's not a gold ball," McNally said. "But it's still nice. Back-to-back weeks in California, it has been a great two weeks, two huge tournaments, and I won them both."

Girls 16s champion Katerina Stewart, the No. 1 seed, lost only eight games in her first five matches, but the 16-year-old from Coral Gables, Florida had her hands full in the final, eventually prevailing over unseeded 13-year-old Claire Liu 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

Up 5-0 in the first set, Stewart couldn't be blamed for envisioning her ninth 6-0 set of the tournament, but Liu took three straight games before Stewart finally served it out.

"Basically up until 5-0 it was all about nerves, who could control it better, I think," said Stewart, who lost in the 14s Easter Bowl final in 2011. "At 5-0, we both started relaxing, and she started playing her game more, and it became more of a battle, like it should have been. She was playing really well in the second set, and I kind of pulled back a little bit. I stepped in there and regrouped in the third set."

Stewart, who turns 17 in July, will now play the 18s Clay Courts and Hard Courts this summer, in hopes of winning a wild card into the US Open junior championships.

"It's my last 16s tournament, so it's a good way to end," Stewart said.

In the girls 14s final, No. 3 seed Rachel Lim defeated Ashley Yeah 6-1, 7-6(2).

"I think I played really well overall," said Lim, who trains at the USTA's National Tennis Center in New York. "She's a really good player, so I had to hang in there and stay tough because she was really consistent and driving the ball really well."

"In the first set, I came out playing really well, I was stepping in and being aggressive, then in the second set I kind of got a little tight, especially when I was up 5-3. I didn't really hit the ball as I'd want to, as I did in the first set, but I hung in there for the tiebreak and I feel like it paid off."

The boys 14s champion is top seed Steven Sun, who defeated No. 2 seed Keenan Mayo 6-0, 4-6, 6-1.

"I think I got too excited in the second set," said Sun, who was down 6-1, 3-1 in his semifinal match with Andrew Fenty on Saturday before posting a 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 victory. "I went back to my game plan, got things under control."

Sun, who won the USTA Clay Courts in the 12s last year, said he believes this title was more difficult to secure.

"This one was a lot tougher," said Sun, who trains at the Sly Black Academy in Boca Raton, Florida. "Better opponents, just a lot tougher."

The girls 12s title went to No. 9 seed Kacie Harvey, who beat No. 6 seed Katie Volynets 6-2, 6-1.

"She was a really good runner, so I had to be smart with my shots, move it all around," said the 12-year-old Harvey, who trains in Braintree, Mass. with Calin Mateas, father of Maria and Catalin Mateas. "I couldn't go to the same spot every time, and she's really good at running side to side, so I had to go behind her a lot, and I usually had to hit a couple of extra shots more than I'm used to, so it took a lot of energy."

For Harvey, the Easter Bowl represented a big step forward.

"I usually have lost third round in every other tournament," Harvey said. "So I'm pretty excited that I finally won."

Harvey is also eager to get back home to New England, because her parents were not able to travel to California with her.

"I'm excited to see them," said Harvey. "I wish they were here to watch me, but they keep texting me and calling me, and saying good luck. I haven't talked to them yet, but I'll call them soon."

Unseeded Daniel Sharygin won the boys 12s title, beating No. 16 seed Ronan Jachuck 7-6(4), 6-2.

The 12-year-old left-hander from Indiana said he was not surprised that he wasn't seeded in the tournament.

"Since I've been playing a lot of 14s tournaments, my ranking kind of dropped in the 12s," said Sharygin, who will turn 13 in October. "I kind of expected that, but I didn't really worry about the seeds too much."

Sharygin was well aware of the Easter Bowl's history and importance, with his coach Stephanie Hazlett, who went on to earn All-America honors at the University of Florida, the 16s champion back in 1995.

"She's an excellent coach," said Sharygin, who admitted he was nervous when he took the court for the final after learning of the significance of the tournament from Hazlett.

A veteran of the 12s Spring Nationals, which were played in Delray Beach, Florida prior to this year, Sharygin, who didn't lose a set in the tournament, said he preferred the Easter Bowl.

"I actually like this tournament better," said Sharygin. "It's a much better environment--it's California."

For complete 18s results, see the TennisLink site.

For complete results from the younger age divisions, see the Tennis Link site.

The doubles finals:

Boys 12s: 
Nathan Arimilli and Connor Fu(2) def. Eliot Spizzirri and Billy Suarez(4) 9-7.

Boys 14s:
Paul Barretto and Timothy Sah (5) def. Cody Lin and Kento Perera 8-2

Boys 16s: 
Caleb Chakravarthi and Evan Zhu def. Mark Vasat and Brenden Volk 8-4

Girls 12s:
Carmen Corley and Amber Hochstatter def. Isabella Harvison and Jillian Taggart 8-6

Girls 14s:
Malkia Menguene and Natasha Subhash def. Kolie Allen and Meg Kowalski (6) 8-4

Girls 16s:Katie Chang and Claire Liu (3) def. Abigail Chiu and Elizabeth Porter(4) 8-3

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bellis Faces Swan, Tiafoe Meets Ponwith for ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl Titles Sunday

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Indian Wells, California--

Francis Tiafoe and CiCi Bellis will once again spend a Sunday in search of a major ITF title.  Top seed Tiafoe, a finalist at the International Spring Championships, and No. 4 seed Bellis, the girls champion at Carson last week, earned their places in the Asics Easter Bowl Grade B1 championships in contrasting styles Saturday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Bellis trailed top seed Sofia Kenin 4-2 in the final set before reeling off four straight games to post a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory, while Tiafoe eased past No. 13 seed Robert Levine 6-2, 6-2.

Bellis, who turned 15 on Tuesday, was up a set and 2-0 in the second, but with Kenin's history of comebacks, Bellis knew better than to consider the match won, saying she told herself after winning the first set that she had two more sets to go.

"She's a fighter," said Bellis, who beat Kenin in three sets the last time they played. "She's really good and she doesn't stop trying until literally, the match is over."

At 2-2 in the second set, Kenin's father was warned by the chair umpire that he could not talk to her, but if that had any impact on Kenin, she gave no indication of it. Although Kenin lost the next game, she broke right back for 3-3, and broke Bellis again serving at 4-5 to even the match.

After a ten-minute heat break, which was given even though the temperatures had moderated into the 80s on Saturday, Bellis went up a break at 2-1.  But again Kenin, who was making almost no unforced errors, fought back, taking the next three games. After losing her serve to go down 4-2, Bellis, who is normally reserved on the court, yelled "it's the worse tennis I've ever seen," after getting broken for the second straight time.

Bellis composed herself, broke Kenin at love and held for 4-4. In the next game, Kenin had a game point, but Bellis hit a forehand winner, then got her second break point of the game when Kenin netted a backhand.  A return winner converted it, but serving out the match is no easy task against Kenin, who had won three consecutive three-setters.

Up 40-15, Bellis missed a nervous-looking forehand into the net, and Kenin saved her second match point by outlasting Bellis in a cross-court backhand rally.  A good first serve gave Bellis a third match point, and this time she converted it, defending a Kenin forehand on the baseline and watching the next Kenin forehand fly past it.

Bellis, who now has a 17 match ITF junior winning streak, has been in the Easter Bowl final each of the past three years, losing in the 14s final to Emma Higuchi in 2012 and beating Caroline Dolehide in the 16s final last year. With all the time she's spent on the courts in the Coachella Valley, Bellis has grown to love the event.

"It's literally my favorite tournament ever," said Bellis. "I don't know why I like it so much, but maybe because it's around my birthday."

Bellis will play Katie Swan in the final, after Swan defeated No. 7 seed Michaela Gordon 6-0, 6-4.

Swan, who is from Great Britain, just received clearance to play the Easter Bowl last week, after her father was transferred from London to Wichita, Kansas.

"I moved to the United States just over a year ago, and we've been applying for a green card for a while," said Swan, 15. "To play this tournament we needed the receipt to show we are applying for one, and it came in just a week before this tournament. So it's pretty lucky, and I'm really happy that it came."

Swan and Bellis have never played but they are friends, having met last year in the January tournaments in Bolton and Les Petits As and cementing their friendship at the ITF's World Junior Tennis 14-and-under team competition in the Czech Republic, which the United States team won.

Tiafoe was playing Levine for the first time, but he appeared to have the match under control after dominating the first set.  Levine, a 16-year-old from Bedford, New York, had other ideas however, and he was up 2-1 and serving only to lose that game and the next four to give Tiafoe the win.

"At the beginning of the second set I was pretty lackadaisical," said Tiafoe. "He had chances to go up 3-1, and I knew if I could squeeze that game out, I was going to put my foot on the gas again and start rolling, and that's what I did."

Tiafoe's opponent in the final is unseeded Nathan Ponwith, who beat Aron Hiltzik, also unseeded 7-6(5), 6-4.  After a 70-minute first set, Hiltzik led the second set 4-1, but suffered a right shoulder injury, and Ponwith took the last five games of the match.

"I think it was at 4-2, or 4-3," Ponwith said. "He must have hurt it bad. He couldn't hit a forehand. It's tough to play someone who is injured, because you think you should win. It's tough, because you have to create everything. He was just slicing short and low."

By the last two games, Hiltzik was doing anything he could to end a point early, hitting slices, drop shots, serving and volleying. Nothing worked, and Ponwith had reached his first Grade 1 final.

The 15-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona hasn't been mentioned much with Stefan Kozlov, Michael Mmoh and Tiafoe getting the bulk of the attention for the 1998 birth year.

"It's obviously tough, because you have Mmoh and Kozlov and Francis and they're so good, it sets expectations so high," said Ponwith. "I'm just trying to do everything I can to get better."

Ponwith and Tiafoe haven't played since the semifinals of Les Petits As in 2012, with Tiafoe winning 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.

"I've wanted to play Francis for a while," Ponwith said. "He's obviously a really, really tough player, and it's going to be a really tough match. I'm looking forward to it."

The doubles titles were both decided in match tiebreakers.

No. 7 seeds Kaitlyn McCarthy and Mary Haffey recovered from losing five straight games in the second set, beating unseeded Gabby Smith and Mira Ruder-Hook 7-6(5), 5-7, 10-3.

With Ruder-Hook serving at 2-5 in the second set, McCarthy and Haffey had a match point on a deciding point, but were unable to convert it, and the next time Ruder-Hook served, she and Smith also won a deciding point to send it to the match tiebreaker.

McCarthy and Haffey found their form early in the match tiebreaker, which they attributed to their ability to forget the string of lost games in the second set.

"On the changeover we just said, we have a tiebreaker to play," said Haffey, a 16-year-old from Naples, Florida. "Focus on the future, future points, and I think we were just mentally strong, focusing on each point and every point."

"We stayed in the present," said McCarthy, a 16-year-old from Cary, North Carolina. "If you focus on what has happened you can get driven crazy, so you might as well stay in the moment."

McCarthy and Haffey had only played together before in one tournament last year at the Grade 1 in Canada.

"We played pretty well the last time we played together, so it made sense, it was part of the decision," McCarthy said. "We gel together well," said Haffey. "We're the total opposite, but we work well together, said McCarthy said."

Henrik Wiersholm and Tommy Paul added the Easter Bowl ITF title to the one they collected last week in Carson, with the No. 2 seeds beating top seeds Jordi Arconada and Daniel Kerznerman 6-2, 1-6, 10-7.

After two lopsided sets, the match tiebreaker came down to just a few points, and Paul won a big one with Kerznerman serving at 7-8.  After Paul and Arconada traded lightning quick backhand volleys, Paul angled his for a winner and two match points.  They only needed one, with Arconada netting a volley when forced by a Wiersholm approach.

"Tommy came up with some crazy shots," said Wiersholm, a 17-year-old from Kirkland, Washington. "I think that was a pretty big point," said Paul of the point that ended with his volley winner.

Even when down 5-0 in the second set, Wiersholm and Paul believed the could regain their form.

"We thought we could still get back in the set," said Wiersholm. "We were not comfortable, but confident that we could come back," said Paul, a 16-year-old from Coconut Creek, Florida.  "If not the set, a least a game, so we can get a little momentum going into the tiebreaker."

"And that's what we did," said Wiersholm.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

The finals in the younger age divisions will also be held on Sunday.

In the boys 16s, No. 9 seed John McNally will be seeking to add an Easter Bowl title to the International Spring Championship 16s title he won last week, against No. 2 seed Zeke Clark. McNally advanced with a 6-3, 7-6(1) win over No. 11 seed Alexander Keyser and Clark beat No. 3 seed Matthew Gamble 6-4, 6-4.3

In the girls 16s, top seed Katerina Stewart will play unseeded Claire Liu. Stewart won her third 6-0, 6-0 match of the tournament over unseeded Maria Mateas, and Liu defeated No. 7 seed Makenna Jones 6-0, 6-2.

The girls 14s final will feature unseeded Ashley Yeah against No. 3 seed Rachel Lim.  Yeah beat No. 5 seed Taylor Johnson 6-3, 6-3 and Lim outlasted unseeded Hannah Zhao 6-1, 1-6, 6-2 in Saturday's semifinals.

The boys 14s championship will be decided by the top two seeds. Steven Sun, the No. 1 seed, defeated unseeded Andrew Fenty 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-2 and Keenan May, the No. 2 seed, beat unseeded Kento Perera 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

In the boys 12s final, unseeded Daniel Sharygin will play No. 16 seed Ronan Jachuck. Sharygin defeated No. 6 seed Jeremie Casabon 6-1, 6-4 and Jachuck downed No. 2 seed Blaise Bicknell 5-7, 6-0, 10-8.

The girls 12s final will be between Katie Volynets, the No. 6 seed, and No. 9 seed Dacie Harvey.  Volynets beat No. 11 seed Amy Huang 6-1, 6-2 and Harvey downed No. 12 seed Amanda Chan 6-2, 6-1.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.