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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bilokin Beats Bolton for Belated Birthday Gift; Top Seed Bryde Begins Quest for Adidas Easter Bowl Title with First Round Win; Semis Set for 12s and 14s

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Indian Wells, CA--

Margaryta Bilokin wasn't scheduled to play her opening round match at the adidas Easter Bowl ITF until Tuesday, a bit of luck that allow her to have her 16th birthday celebration Monday with the the stress of a tennis match. The Ukrainian native gave herself a belated present today, beating No. 7 seed and International Spring Championships semifinalist Elysia Bolton 6-2, 7-6(2) at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Bilokin was pleased with her preparation and strategy in the match.

"I tried to keep it deep and play aggressive at the same time, and hit it more to her backhand," said Bilokin, who recently moved from Connecticut to the IMG Academy in Florida. "I did my homework, I was well prepared for the match and I stayed focused."

Even with that mindset, Bilokin was beginning to worry after she failed to convert four match points prior to the the tiebreaker.

"I was getting a little nervous because I wasn't really playing during those points the way I played the whole match," Bilokin said. "But eventually in the tiebreaker, I was able to come back to my game."

Bilokin is playing in her first Easter Bowl this year and the tournament has made a good first impression.  "I like the facility, I like the tennis courts, and everything is well organized."

Bolton was the only seed playing today who failed to advanced to Wednesday's second round. No. 2 seed Taylor Johnson defeated qualifier Chloe Hamlin 6-1, 6-0 and 2016 finalist and No. 4 seed Ellie Douglas beat Jessica Anzo 6-3, 6-0.  Johnson will play wild card Kelly Chen, who she also met in the second round last week in Carson, with Johnson saving a match point in her nearly four-hour 7-6(3), 5-7, 7-6(3) victory.

The top three seeds in the boys ITF draw were in action Tuesday, with No. 3 seed Vasil Kirkov and 2016 champion Gianni Ross, the No. 2 seed, earning straight-sets victories over Alexander Brown and Conrad Russell respectively.  Top seed Trent Bryde defeated qualifier Benjamin Gollin 6-1, 7-6(4), a match he was happy to win after suffering a first round defeat last week as the top seed in the International Spring Championships in Carson.

"I had never heard of him," Bryde said. "I just wanted to play my game, after the tough first round last week, I just wanted to get through it.  I played solid and I was up 6-1, 4-1, a double break, and the balls were getting a little old and he was able to tee off a little more because the balls were a little slower. So it took some adjusting for me. I was down 5-4 and saved a set point, then I was up 6-5, 40-15, but he fought his way back. But in the breaker, I just played really solid."

Bryde won the first ITF single title of his career last month in Brazil, at the Grade A in Porto Alegre, moving his ranking into the ITF Top 10 for the first time. Although Bryde has played on the South American clay numerous times, he admitted his preparation for that tournament was unconventional.

"A couple of months before that and even going to Australia, I wasn't having good results," said Bryde, who trains at Lifetime Fitness in the Atlanta area. "I wasn't too confident in my game at all, actually. I was originally supposed to play the Grade 1 (Banana Bowl) before, but after Australia, I said no, I don't even want to go, I'm playing not good, I just want to train a little bit. So I didn't go in with much expectation and a lot of things went right for me.  I actually didn't train on even green clay before. I trained on indoor hard to get ready for it.  I was hitting with Donald Young, because he had Memphis coming up on indoor hard.  So when I got [to Brazil] it didn't feel bad, the ball felt slower after playing with Donald and playing indoors, so that helped me a little bit. I felt like I had a lot of time."

Bryde said hitting with Young and former NC State star James McGee, who is ranked 212, has benefited him in countless ways.

"Honestly, just hitting against those guys and asking questions, they want nothing but to just help you," said Bryde, a junior who has yet to begin exploring any college options. "They give you a lot of guidance and are really helpful and to see the ball at that high level is really incredible. It's really good for me."

Bryde and Alafia Ayeni are seeded no. 1 in doubles and they opened doubles play today with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Nevin Arimilli and Bill Duo. Girls top seeds Caty McNally and Whitney Osuigwe received a first round bye.

For complete results from today, see the ITF junior website.

Links to the live stream and Wednesday's order of play can be found at the tournament website.

The semifinals are set for the 12s and 14s divisions, with the results from the quarterfinals below.  The doubles finals are to follow the singles semifinals Wednesday.  Complete draws are available at the TennisLink site.

Tuesday, March 28
Boys' 12 Singles (Quarterfinal Round)
Nishesh Basavareddy (Carmel, IN) def. Nicholas Godsick (Chagrin Falls, OH) 6-3; 6-2
Cooper Williams (4) (New York, NY) def. John Kim (Sunnyvale, CA) 0-6; 6-0; 10-3
Lucas Brown (3) (Plano, TX) def. Ethan Schiffman (Rancho Santa Fe, CA) 6-1; 6-2
Kyle Kang (Fullerton, CA) def. Will Mayew (5) (Chapel Hill, NC) 6-4; 6-1

Boys' 14 Singles (Quarterfinal Round)
Maxwell McKennon (1) (Newport Beach, CA) def. Griffin Daehnke (6) (San Clemente, CA) 3-6; 6-4; 6-3
Alexander Bernard (9) (Bonita Springs, FL) def. Noah Gampel (15) (Calabasas, CA) 7-6(5); 6-0
Martin Damm (Bradenton, FL) def. Timothy Li (16) (Valley Village, CA) 6-3; 6-4
Aryan Chaudhary (2) (Santa Clara, CA) def. Alex Lin (7) (Gold River, CA) 7-6(7); 6-4

Girls' 12 Singles (Quarterfinal Round)
Matilyn Wang (1) (Scottsdale, AZ) def. Lamija Avdic (Kirkland, WA) 6-3; 6-4
Eleana Yu (Mason, OH) def. Reese Brantmeier (Whitewater, WI) 7-5; 6-4
Violeta Martinez (9) (Port Saint Lucie, FL) def. Alexis Blokhina (15) (Plantation, FL) 6-3; 3-6; 10-8
Priya Nelson (Sacramento, CA) def. Ava Krug (12) (Lakewood Ranch, FL) 6-3; 6-1

Girls' 14 Singles (Quarterfinal Round) 
Gianna Pielet (1) (El Paso, TX) def. Kimberly Hance (Torrance, CA) 6-2; 6-1
Kailey Evans (6) (Ennis, TX) def. Jennifer Kida (9) (Wilmington, CA) 6-1; 6-1
Connie Ma (14) (Dublin, CA) def. Emma Jackson (4) (LA Grange Park, IL) 6-0; 6-1
Charlotte Owensby (8) (Boca Raton, FL) def. Hina Inoue (Huntington Beach, CA) 6-1; 6-4

Monday, March 27, 2017

Former Champion Claire Liu Takes Wild Card into Adidas Easter Bowl ITF; Upsets in 12s and 16s Divisions; Team USA Developmental Coaches Awards Announced

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Indian Wells, CA--

The wind blew in the desert Monday for the opening day of the adidas Easter Bowl ITF tournament, but the challenging conditions didn't faze 2015 champion Claire Liu, who loves playing in the Coachella Valley.

Liu, the top seed in the tournament after accepting a wild card, defeated Chloe Beck 6-1, 6-1, her first match since her previous trip to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where she reached the final of the BNP Paribas Challenge pre-qualifying tournament and played in the first round of qualifying at the WTA Premier event.

"I think I played pretty well," said Liu, who will turn 17 in May. "I was training for like three weeks after Indian Wells and I did all the things I practiced so I am pretty happy about that."

Liu said she needed a wild card due to a late entry. The points she was losing from reaching the final last year at Carson and her upcoming schedule made playing this week her best option.

"I'm losing points from ISC and I'm not going to play the junior tournaments before the French, so I was going to lose some doubles points from that, so I just wanted to keep my ranking up, and get some more matches."

Liu didn't lack for matches earlier this month at the BNP Paribas Challenge, winning six of them before falling to Maria Sanchez in the final. She said she continued to work on her game in those matches, while enjoying the chance to compete at her favorite venue.

"I always love this tournament because I've done so well here," 2014 16s finalist Liu said, then adding, under her breath, "except for last year. I love this tournament, I love Palm Springs and Indian Wells. Easter Bowl and Indian Wells (BNP Paribas Open) are my favorite tournaments."

Other top girls seeds in action Monday included No. 3 seed Whitney Osuigwe, who defeated Jimena Rodriguez-Benito 6-1, 6-1 and 2016 semifinalist Caty McNally, who got past Sara Choy 6-2, 6-4.

In boys first round action, 2015 finalist Sam Riffice, the No. 4 seed, defeated Robert Maciag 7-6(6), 6-0, No. 6 seed Patrick Kypson advanced with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Nevin Arimilli and No. 8 seed Alafia Ayeni beat Robert Baylon 6-3, 6-4.

The boys 12s division lost its two top seeds in today's third round. Nicholas Godsick, the son of Mary Joe Fernandez defeated top seed Learner Tien 6-4, 6-1 and Kyle Kang beat Jelani Sarr 6-2, 2-6, 10-8.

In the boys 16s, Carson champion Siem Woldeab, the No. 3 seed, retired from his first round match with Nicholas Garcia trailing 6-2, 3-2. Woldeab said after winning the title last week that was suffering back issues during the tournament.

In the girls 16s, top seed Briana Crowley lost to Fiona Crawley 6-2, 7-6(3) in the first round.

See the Easter Bowl website for links to all the draws, as well as the live streaming of the stadium court.

Team USA Coaches Reception and Panel Discussion
photo by Dave Kenas for the adidas Easter Bowl

On Sunday night, the USTA held its annual Team USA coaches reception, honoring outstanding developmental and legendary coaches and programs.  See the release below for more on this year's winners:


Smith Tennis in Indianapolis Recognized as Developmental Program of the Year

USTA Northern California Named Player Development Section of the Year

Billie Jean King, Rick Macci, Dan Magill Honored as Team USA Legendary Coaches

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., March 27, 2017 – The USTA today announced that Mike Gennette, coach of top juniors Claire Liu and Austen Huang, and Henner Nehles, coach of rising American 17-year old Kayla Day, were named as the 2016 Team USA Developmental Coaches of the Year as part of USTA Player Development’s annual Team USA Coaching Awards. Smith Tennis in Indianapolis was recognized as the 2016 Team USA Developmental Program of the Year, while USTA Northern California was named the 2016 Team USA Player Development Section of the Year. Tennis icon Billie Jean King, renowned coach Rick Macci and University of Georgia legend Dan Magill were also honored with Team USA Legendary Coaching Awards. All honorees were recognized at an awards reception on Sunday at the Easter Bowl junior tournament in Indian Wells, Calif.

Mike Gennette has been the primary coach for one of America’s most promising juniors in Claire Liu. Liu won the girls’ doubles title and reached the singles quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2016, and followed that by sweeping the singles and doubles titles at the Grade 1 ITF International Hard Court Junior Championships in College Park, Md. She peaked at No. 8 in the world junior rankings in the fall. Gennette also worked with Kayla Day through June 2016, and also coached Austen Huang, who ascended to the No. 1 USTA Boys’ 18s national ranking – one of 10 players Gennette has coached to a No. 1 USTA national ranking in his career. Gennette completed his 23rd season as head men’s tennis coach at NCAA Division III Cal Lutheran University in 2016 and continues to run the Total Tennis Academy in Southern California, where he lives in Newbury Park.

"Mike Gennette is one of the premier junior coaches in Southern California, and the list of great juniors he has taught and coached over the years more than speaks for itself," said USTA Player Development General Manager Martin Blackman. "The relationship between Mike and our National Coaches is strong; his and Henner Nehles’ work with Kayla Day is a great example of collaboration between a private-sector coach and a USTA National Coach.”

Henner Nehles, a USTA National Coach based out of the USTA National Campus at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla., coached one of the world’s fastest-rising teenagers in Kayla Day in 2016. Day reached the world No. 1 junior ranking this past fall after winning the girls’ singles title and reaching the doubles final at the US Open and advancing to the girls’ singles semis at Wimbledon. She also won the USTA Girls’ 18s National Championship to earn a wild card into the US Open women’s draw, where she advanced to the second round, and then captured the USTA Pro Circuit’s Australian Open Wild Card Challenge to earn a main draw wild card into January’s Australian Open. She finished the year as the youngest player in the WTA Top 200. Additionally, Nehles assisted Lou Belkin in coaching former Eddie Herr Girls’ 18s champion Kylie McKenzie, and coached Easter Bowl Girls’ 18s champion Alexandra Sanford.

“Henner Nehles has done a tremendous job of working with our country's top private sector coaches and is an asset to American tennis as a National Coach who exemplifies what it means to be part of an inclusive Team USA,” Blackman said. “Henner has had a positive developmental impact on many of our top junior girls.”

Billie Jean King is the personification of a visionary, innovator and champion. Born in Long Beach, Calif., King won 39 Grand Slam titles – 12 singles, 16 doubles, 11 mixed doubles – between 1965 and 1980 and defeated Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes in 1973, which is widely considered one of the most significant moments in American sports history. She was one of the original nine women’s players who broke away from the tennis establishment in 1970, which led to the founding of what is now the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour. She also founded the Women’s Sports Foundation and co-founded Mylan World TeamTennis, where she played and coached for many years. Her name graces the home of the US Open – the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and in 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. As a coach, King led the U.S. to four Fed Cup championships and a 22-5 record over nine years as captain, and coached Lindsay Davenport, Gigi Fernandez and Mary Joe Fernandez to Olympic Gold Medals in 1996. She also served as a personal coach to both Martina Navratilova and Tim Mayotte in the 1990s.

Rick Macci has coached and influenced a veritable “who’s who” of tennis stars on both the men’s and women’s tours, including Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Jennifer Capriati , Andy Roddick, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Mary Pierce, Anastasia Myskina, Christian Ruud, Karim Alami and Byron Black, along with current up-and-comers like Sofia Kenin, Vicky Duval and Tornado Alicia and Hurricane Tyra Black. A seven-time USPTA Coach of the Year and USPTA Florida Hall of Fame inductee, Macci is renowned for his technical, strategic and mental expertise, and regularly does motivational speaking and media appearances. A USPTA Master Professional, Macci owns and operates the Rick Macci Tennis Academy out of Boca Raton, Fla., where he continues to coach students of all ages and levels.

Dan Magill is regarded as one of the most influential people in collegiate tennis history. During a 34-year career as the University of Georgia’s head men’s tennis coach, Magill became the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I tennis history, leading the Bulldogs to a 706-183 record, two NCAA team national championships and a combined 21 conference titles (13 outdoor, 8 indoor). He helped produce five national collegiate individual champions, including back-to-back NCAA champion Mikael Pernfors. Magill was also a longtime Sports Information Director at Georgia, and his name graces both the Dan Magill Tennis Complex and the press box inside Georgia’s football stadium. Magill has been inducted into the UGA Circle of Honor, National Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame, State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and Southern Tennis Hall of Fame.

"What more can possibly be said about this year's Legendary Coach Award recipients – three true experts of our game,” Blackman said. “Billie Jean King's achievements as a player, pioneer and activist have transcended tennis and her resume as a coach – as U.S. Fed Cup Captain and coach for World TeamTennis and for Martina Navratilova and Tim Mayotte – deserves its own celebration.

“Rick Macci is one of our sport's greatest coaching minds, proven by the almost surreal list of champions he has coached and influenced,” Blackman said. “Rick's expertise and passion for teaching continues to keep him as one of the world's foremost instructors.

“Dan Magill’s accomplishments at Georgia assured that his legacy will never be forgotten,” Blackman said. “Dan is on the Mount Rushmore of college tennis; the longevity of his teams' and players' success is matched only by the lasting impact he made on those who played for him."

Jeff Smith, Bryan Smith, and Stephanie Hazlett, of Smith Tennis in Indianapolis – currently a USTA Certified Regional Training Center and a TEAM USA Host Site for both TEAM USA Sectional and Regional camps – are the primary coaches for a number of players who had exceptional results in 2016, including: Rajeev Ram, who reached a career-high No. 56 in singles, won a Silver medal in mixed doubles at the Rio Olympics, reached the Wimbledon doubles semis and the ATP World Doubles Championship finals, in addition to the US Open mixed doubles final; Brooke Austin, who was the NCAA women’s doubles champion, an ITA All-American and SEC Player of the Year at the University of Florida; Ronnie Schneider, who was an ITA All-American as a junior at North Carolina and MVP of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships; Lukas Greif, who was the USTA Boys’ 16s National Hard and Clay Court Champion and also reached the 16s final of the Easter Bowl; Emily Desai, a USTA Girls’ 14s National Championships semifinalist; and Nishesh Basavareddy, one of the top 12-and-under players in the country. Smith Tennis also assisted in coaching Sara Daavettila, who was the ITA’s top-ranked freshman, at North Carolina, and sent 22 players to the USTA National Championships in August. Bryan serves as the Midwest Coaches Commission Chair, and all three coaches are active in the Midwest Section and TEAM USA.

“Smith Tennis had an amazing year at every level of the game - juniors, collegiate and professional.  Their players won trophies and medals at the Olympics, Grand Slams, NCAAs, USTA National Championships and at the Easter Bowl,” said Kent Kinnear, Director, Player ID and Development, USTA Player Development. “Jeff, Bryan and Stephanie have created an incredible training environment and have built up tremendous competitors as well as sportsmanship winners. They also are true leaders in the Midwest Section and nationally with their role as a USTA Regional Training Center and their support and involvement with TEAM USA Sectional, Regional and National Camps, as well as the Midwest Coaches Commission. They are true team players and we want to congratulate them on a tremendous 2016, and thank them for the impact they are making not only in the Midwest Section but also nationally as part of TEAM USA."

Players developed in the Northern California Section had outstanding results in 2016: Mackenzie McDonald won the 2016 NCAA singles and doubles titles at UCLA; Stefan Leustian won the prestigious Les Petits As 14-and-under event in Tarbes, France; Katie Volynets won the 16s singles titles at both the Eddie Herr and Metropolia Orange Bowl junior tournaments. Northern California is also the home Section of CiCi Bellis, who finished the year at No. 91 in the world, the youngest player in the Top 100. Player Development Manager Summer Verhoeven led the Section in executing all of its Early Development Camps (EDCs), a TEAM USA Sectional and Regional Camp at Stanford University and two EDC Coach Training Workshops.

“The Northern California Section had an incredible year providing opportunities to their players and coaches, which was proven by the success on the court by their players regionally, nationally and internationally last year,” Kinnear said. “CiCi Bellis, Mackie McDonald and Katie Volynets are just a few of their players who had tremendous success at the highest levels of the game.  And on top of their players' success in tournaments, they also invested a tremendous amount of effort into their youngest players between the ages of 7 and 13 with their leadership in Early Development Camps, ‘Train the Trainer’ Workshops for 10-and-Under coaches and their TEAM USA Sectional and Regional Camps that they hosted. A big congratulations to Steve Leube, Summer Verhoeven, Beth Workeneh, and their entire team for an outstanding 2016."  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Rotsaert Claims International ITF Grade 1 Spring Championships Boys Title, Branstine Sweeps Girls Titles; Easter Bowl Grade B1 Qualifying Complete

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

Carson Branstine and Alexandre Rotsaert were competing in their first Grade 1 finals Sunday morning at the International Spring Championships, and both left the Stubhub Center with their first titles. No. 2 seed Branstine defeated top seed Taylor Johnson 6-4, 6-3, while No. 10 seed Rotsaert took out No. 3 seed Gianni Ross 6-3, 6-3.

Rotsaert's record in important finals was not a good one, with the 17-year-old Floridian settling for the silver ball in the 18s Clay Courts the past two years and the Kalamazoo 16s in 2015.

"I was trying to go out and just play well," Rotsaert said.  "In those last finals, one of those against Sam (Riffice), I started out well but the others I started out pretty bad, so I went out there with the mentality of playing my game and playing aggressive."

Rotsaert worked through his nerves in the first game, held in the second game, and after saving a break point in the sixth game, won the final three games of the set, ending it with a forehand volley.

"I've been practicing coming in and stepping forward," said Rotsaert, who didn't lose more than four games in any set his six victories and was not broken in the final. "I think at 1-all in the second, I had two break points against me, and I hit two really good volleys, one a reaching drop shot volley I was really happy with.  What was good, was when I got a bit nervous, and started making a couple of unforced errors, I was able to calm myself down and use my techniques to really let myself play."

Rotsaert's level was such that Ross was not particularly disappointed in his own play.

"He played really well, it was a good day for him," Ross said. "He hit me off the court, finished points, did well at the net, served well, it was a very solid match from him.  It was tough for me to pressure him. He was always on me, always making me play one extra shot. I'm not going to say I played bad, maybe a little bit too many errors, but I played well."

With the title, Rotsaert has boosted his chances of playing in the junior slams this summer, in his final year of eligibility.

"We'll see in the rankings, I didn't really calculate," said Rotsaert. "But this was pretty much my last tournament, this  and Easter Bowl was my last chance, so I'm really happy I stepped up this tournament. If I wasn't going to be in the main [draw], I wasn't going to go to Europe, I think I was going to maybe focus on Futures, so I'm really happy to have the opportunity and honor to play those tournaments."

Ross is defending champion at the Easter Bowl, and he knows that carries extra weight.

"I'm a little depressed right now, obviously when you lose," Ross said. "But I'll be better by Easter Bowl. I'll learn from my mistakes in this match and move on. I'm defending a lot there, so I'll be playing with a little more pressure, maybe I'll play better with that pressure. It's a new tournament."

Rotsaert, after finishing in first, not second as he did in those other major finals, is determined to go into the Easter Bowl unfazed by this week's title.

"I don't really feel different," Rotsaert said. "When you think of winning a tournament, you think it's going to be amazing, but it doesn't change anything, and it's the same when you lose. Your life doesn't change, that's something I learned. So I'll go to Easter Bowl, try to take tomorrow off--I think I'm getting a Tuesday start--and hopefully take it match by match and try to start again."

Branstine was not only playing in her first Grade 1 final, but also her first tournament as a Canadian.  The 16-year-old Orange California native, whose mother is Canadian, accepted Tennis Canada's offer of assistance last year, and the paperwork was recently completed, resulting in the Maple Leaf flag next to her name.  Her rivalries will still be with US juniors however, given her Southern California roots, and she was playing her friend Taylor Johnson for the sixth time today.

Branstine had won all five previous encounters on the ITF Junior Circuit, with all but one of those matches going three sets, and it looked as if another one would go the distance when Johnson took a 3-1 lead in the second set.  But Branstine reeled off the final five games of the match, using her serve and forehand to maximum advantage.

In the opening set, neither player faced a break point until Johnson faced a set point serving at 4-5 30-40.  Johnson had served and volleyed regularly and effectively, no doubt determined to try a different strategy to get a win over Branstine.  But she missed a volley to drop the first set, and by then Branstine had begun to adjust her game.

"She probably wanted to keep the points short as much as she could," Branstine said. "I thought that was smart. It's something she's really, really good at and has mastered in her game. She does it better than most girls that play tennis, I think. So it definitely wasn't easy, but I kind of figured out how to get the point started, and to break her."

"That's kind of my game style, so I have to stick to it during the match," Johnson said, although she had not used it as consistently in her previous matches this tournament. "I didn't serve as well in the second set, as I did in the first, so it was easier to break."

Johnson, a 16-year-old left-hander from nearby Redondo Beach, couldn't cite any specific reason why Branstine has won so many of their meetings.

"She's just a good player all around," said Johnson, whose rivalry with Branstine goes back to the 12s division. "We've gone back and forth, back and forth. She's come out on top the last times, and today, I think she just played too good."

Branstine can be her own harshest critic, but she didn't find much to fault in her performance Sunday.

"I'm happy with the way I played," said Branstine. "There's of course a few things I'd like to improve on, but that's every match. I thought I served well."

Johnson agreed that facet of Branstine's game was a key factor in the result.

"Carson was serving really well, I have to give her a lot of credit," said Johnson, who is coached by former WTA star Rosie Casals, and had Billie Jean King watching her semifinal and final performances. "She came out firing and she played really well."

Johnson moves on to the Easter Bowl, but Branstine, although eligible to play the  ITF B1 Closed event next week in the desert, is returning to Montreal to train.  She'll do so having won both girls championships, closing out the tournament by taking the doubles title with Ellie Douglas.

The top seeds, playing together for the first time, defeated No. 5 seeds Emiliana Arango of Colombia and Elli Mandlik 6-1, 6-1 in the final, needing just over 50 minutes.

Douglas and Branstine were dominant all week, losing only 20 games in their five wins, with nine of those games coming in a 7-6(1), 6-3 quarterfinal win over Annette Goulak and Dominique Schaefer of Peru.

"Honestly, I think we just have great energy on the court," said Branstine, who reached the doubles final last year with Johnson. "We really get along, hit the ball pretty big, so it works really well."

"This is definitely my favorite partner that I've ever had," said Douglas, a 16-year-old from Texas. "She has a great serve and I love my volleys, so it's a good combo. And she's just so fun to play with. We had a great time."

Douglas and Branstine are planning to play together next at the Grade A Italian Open in May.

See the ITF junior website for complete draws.

The Easter Bowl begins on Monday, and although the draws are not yet posted on the ITF junior website, the qualifying is complete. Those results are below.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Johnson, Branstine Meet in International Spring Championships Girls Final; Ross and Rotsaert Play for Boys Championship; Woldeab Wins Epic 16s Boys Final

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

Last year Carson Branstine and Taylor Johnson met in the first round of the International Spring Championships, with the unseeded Branstine defeating the eighth-seeded Johnson 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-3.  On Sunday, the two 16-year-old Southern Californians will meet in the final, after top seed Johnson defeated No. 11 seed Hurricane Tyra Black 7-5, 6-3 and Branstine came back from a set and a break down to beat No. 9 seed Elysia Bolton 6-7(2), 7-6(2), 6-1.

"This shows that we're both improving a lot, that's the good news," Johnson said.

"I agree with that," said Branstine, who has recently begun playing under the Canadian flag. "Taylor has been playing unbelievable and I think I'm playing pretty well."

Johnson said Friday's quarterfinal win over No. 12 seed Dominique Schaefer helped her against Black today.

"She's definitely a tricky player, but Dominique also slices a lot, so I got used to it, and I knew what I was in for," said Johnson, who had both Rosie Casals and Billie Jean King watching her match today. "I think I played the best I've played so far here, so I'm happy about that."

Branstine squandered a break in the opening set against Bolton and went on to drop the tiebreaker, and she was broken in the opening game of the second set.  When she failed to convert her break point, allowing Bolton to hold for 4-2, Branstine yelled out, "you're done."

She was wrong, of course. She was not done, breaking Bolton at 4-3, only to lose her serve in the next game, giving Bolton an opportunity to serve for the match.  Bolton went up 30-0, but missed a couple of forehands and double faulted at 30-40 to make it 5-all. In her next service game, Bolton had to save three set points, but she forced the tiebreaker. Branstine took advantage of poor play by Bolton to take a 6-0 lead and then closed out the set, more than two hours after the match had begun.

As for her announcement that she was done, Branstine said she didn't mean it as it sounded.

"I don't think everyone took that the right way," Branstine said. "I meant I'm done not playing the way I want to play. I came out today--it's been a good tournament, I've been playing pretty well--and it wasn't the same level as the other matches. I told myself how badly I wanted to win today and I put my head down and figured out how to win. Credit to Elysia, too. That's some of the best tennis I've seen her play."

Branstine admitted that Bolton's level did fall in the third set.

"I think in the third set it was kind of survival of the fittest," said Branstine. "I think I ended up just being the fitter player and outplayed her at the end. She was making kind of a lot of loose mistakes, so I tried to take advantage of that as much as I could."

Branstine has beaten Johnson all five times they have played in ITF junior events, with only one of those not going three sets.

"It's obviously going to be a great match," Branstine said. "We always have very, very competitive matches, no matter what the score is. Playing Taylor, it's always going to be fun."

The boys finals will feature No. 3 seed Gianni Ross and No. 10 seed Alexandre Rotsaert, after both continued their straight-sets march through the draw.

Rotsaert defeated unseeded Axel Nefve 6-4, 6-3 to reach his first Grade 1 final.

"I'm really happy," said the 17-year-old Floridian. "That training block I did, I didn't think I was going to get the final, I was just hoping to play well. I've played Clay Courts finals twice, Kalamazoo (16s) final and those didn't turn out great, so I'm trying to avenge that a bit."

Ross got past friend and fellow USTA training partner Oliver Crawford, the No. 5 seed, 7-6(5), 6-1, saving six set points serving at 5-6 in the opening set.

"It was a little bit of luck and a little bit of guts," Ross said. "That first set was just brutal. I felt like he was just there, and it's annoying when someone's there every point, wanting to win just as much as you. I was very lucky how I got out of those, I made the ball in the court; I don't think I hit a single winner on any of those. They were all tight, and you can feel it on those big points."

Ross actually did hit a good first serve and forehand putaway to save the sixth set point, but Crawford did make errors, most of them of the unforced variety, on the rest.

Crawford took a 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker, but missed a couple of forehands to give back the minibreaks and Ross converted his first set point when Crawford missed a volley.

"There was a drop off, a big difference from the first set," said Ross, an 18-year-old who now lives and trains in Florida. "It still felt like it was hard. Oliver is very good, I'm not going to take anything away from his game. He beat me the last time we played, and I know how he plays, he knows how I play, so we're out there just battling."

Ross won his previous meeting with Rotsaert earlier this year at the Grade 1 Banana Bowl 6-2, 7-5.

"It was a very tough match," Ross said. "It was close, all these matches I'm playing now are close."

"We had a good match," Rotsaert said. "It was one of those matches where the score did not really indicate the match. But I know him pretty well, and it will be fun, a fun final."

While that may turn out to be true, it's unlikely to be as exciting as the boys 16 final, which saw twists and turns galore before unseeded Siem Woldeab beat No. 6 seed Andrew Dale 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(7).

Dale served for the match at 6-5 in the second set, but never got closer than deuce, with Woldeab hitting a forehand winner and Dale missing a forehand wide to send the set to a tiebreaker. Several points in the tiebreaker had the fans scattered around court 5 gasping then applauding, and although he lost one such lengthy point to go down 4-2, Dale said "great playing" to Woldeab as they changed ends. Woldeab went on to claim the next two points as well, claiming the set on his second set point, with Dale netting a forehand.

Woldeab called for a trainer at the end of the set, receiving treatment on his back, but he quickly took a 5-2 lead.  Serving for the match, Woldeab began to show signs that his back was inhibiting his serve and his movement, and Dale pummeled a second serve to earn a break point, which he converted.

Woldeab had a match point in the next game at 30-40, but Dale saved it with a soft drop volley that Woldeab couldn't reach and went on to hold.

Serving for the match for a second time at 5-4, Woldeab made four unforced errors to lose the game, and his recovery seemed doubtful. Dale held easily to take a 6-5 lead, and Woldeab's prospects looked bleak, but he played an excellent game to hold and force a tiebreaker.

Woldeab continued to play well, and Dale matched his level, taking a 5-3 lead in the tiebreaker when Woldeab missed a drop shot badly.  But Woldeab followed with a backhand winner, and when Dale missed a passing shot, it was 5-all.  A Woldeab double fault, a rare occurrence throughout the match, gave Dale a match point, but he missed a forehand volley after a lengthy rally.  After a great lob, Woldeab had his second match point at 7-6, but Dale saved it with a backhand volley winner.  Woldeab hit a backhand that forced an error on the next point to give himself a third match point, and this time he converted when Dale's shot found the net, giving Woldeab the championship.

Woldeab said he had been having trouble with his back throughout the week.

"My back was giving me problems all week," said the high school sophomore from the San Diego area. "Today in the second set breaker, I think I pulled it a little bit and in the third set I was a bit sluggish. It was a really close one, but I happened to just pull it through."

Dale said he did what he could to take advantage after Woldeab had called for the trainer.

"When the trainer was called, I definitely saw," said the 15-year-old from Virginia. "I was maybe looking to step in a little bit, but he came out playing a different brand of tennis and I had to adapt to that. He was struggling on his serve and put a lot of spin on it, dropped it a little bit short, which made it hard for me to attack, which I had done really well in the first set."

Woldeab could have been worn down by another long three-setter, this one three hours in length, but he had beaten both No. 10 seed Leighton Allen and No. 5 seed Faris Khan in the quarterfinals and semifinals from a set down, so he had a history of success under those circumstances.

"The match is not won in the first set, it's the entirety of the match," said Woldeab, who does not play ITF tournaments, sticking to Southern California sectional and USTA events. "Just because you lose the first set, there's no need to panic. It means to just keep pushing and fighting harder."

Although obviously disappointed in the result, Dale was satisfied with how he competed.

"It was really tight, and it could have gone either way," Dale said. "I'm happy that I hung in and fought when I was down in the third set. Previously, I've gotten down on myself and I was happy just to hang in there and keep fighting.  A few points made the difference, he just won the ones that mattered the most.  In the tiebreak, we both played some of the best and toughest points we played in the entire match."

Both Woldeab and Dale are playing the Easter Bowl, which starts on Monday for the 16s division. Woldeab is the No. 3 seed and Dale is seeded number four; if they play there it will also be in the final.

The boys doubles final was decided on Saturday evening, after the semifinals were played Saturday afternoon.  No. 4 seeds Sebastian Korda and Colombian Nicolas Mejia won the title, beating unseeded Boris Kozlov and Karl Poling 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-2.  Kozlov and Poling had taken out top seeds Trent Bryde and Duarte Vale of Portugal 7-5, 4-6, 10-4 earlier.

Korda and Mejia had also won their quarterfinal and semifinal matches in a deciding tiebreaker, having also lost the first set in both of those victories. Against unseeded Christian Alshon and Tyler Zink in the semifinals, Korda and Mejia posted a 4-6, 6-0, 10-7 victory.

"We've played well in the tiebreakers, I don't think we've played well in the first sets," said Mejia. "We've started a little slow, but when you've got a good partner like Sebi, everything is easy."

"We always shine in third set breakers," said Korda. "We have unbelievable chemistry, we're best friends off court and we play well together."

Korda and Mejia had lost their last two Grade 1 finals, in College Park last August and in Tulsa's Grade B1 last October.

"It's a pretty good record, getting to the finals," said Mejia. "This time, we were lucky to win in the third. They played really well, they move a lot and make some volleys, so it was tough, really tough."

Mejia, who trains at the IMG Academy, is not eligible to compete in the Easter Bowl, so Korda will be playing with Vasil Kirkov. Korda and Kirkov reached the finals in Indian Wells last year.

The girls doubles final will be played after the singles final on Sunday, with Branstine competing in both.  Branstine and Ellie Douglas, the No. 1 seeds, will play No. 5 seeds Emiliana Arango of Colombia and Elli Mandlik.  Branstine and Douglas rolled past No. 7 seeds Black and Imani Graham 6-2, 6-1, while Arango and Mandlik took out No. 2 seeds Natasha Subhash and Caty McNally 6-4, 4-6, 10-7.

Both singles finals are scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sunday, with the girls doubles final not before 11:30 a.m.

See the ITF junior website for the draws.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bolton Celebrates Birthday with Quarterfinal Win at International Spring Championships, Rotsaert Rolls On; Stein Wins Girls 16s Title via Retirement; Gallien Out at Southern Cal

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

Blowing four match points is not an ideal way to celebrate a birthday, and No. 9 seed Elysia Bolton was obviously frustrated when she was unable to close out Amanda Meyer in the second set of their ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championship quarterfinal Friday at the Stubhub Center. In her first day as a 17-year-old, Bolton regrouped, earning a tense 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-1 victory.

Meyer, seeded No. 14, saved two match points serving at 3-5 in the second set, with Bolton missing forehands to end both rallies. Bolton then had two match points on her own serve at 40-15, but two more missed forehands and an untimely double fault and the end of the match was no longer imminent.  Meyer then went on to take the tiebreaker, leaving Bolton understandably frustrated.

"I got a little tight," Bolton said. "I went to the bathroom, splashed a little water on my face and gave myself a little pep talk in the mirror. I came out and decided I'm not going to let this slip from me."

Her first test came early, in the first game of the third set, when she saved three break points in a nine-deuce game to take a 1-0 lead.

"It was big to come out, after losing four match points, I knew getting that game was really important," said Bolton. "To not have her break me, that could swing the momentum a lot. So I was just staying in it, doing what I could."

Bolton held for a 2-1 lead, then broke Meyer to go up 3-1, and broke again for a 5-1 lead.  Although Bolton had seen a 4-0 lead disappear in the first set, she did not falter in the third, closing out the match on her fifth match point when Meyer netted a backhand.

Bolton will be playing in her first Grade 1 semifinal on Saturday, although she has reached a Grade A semifinal, earlier this year. Her opponent Saturday will be No. 2 seed Carson Branstine of Canada, who defeated friend Nicole Mossmer, the No. 10 seed, 6-0, 7-6(4).

Bolton and Branstine have split two ITF junior matches, both in 2015.

"She has a big serve and a big forehand," Bolton said. "I'll have to weather the storm and make sure I'm playing my game and try not to focus too much on what's going on on the other side of the court."

The other girls semifinal will feature top seed Taylor Johnson against No. 11 seed Hurricane Tyra Black.  Johnson was down a break in the first set against No. 12 seed Dominique Schaefer of Peru, but found her form in the first set tiebreaker and went on to record a 7-6(3), 6-2 victory.  Black, who took out No. 3 seed Emiliana Arango of Colombia 6-2, 6-4, defeated Johnson in their only ITF junior meeting, nearly two years ago in the Grade 4 final in Delray Beach.

Tenth seed Alexandre Rotsaert continued his impressive results this week with a 6-2, 6-2 win over unseeded Brian Shi, who had beaten top seed Trent Bryde in the first round.  Rotsaert, who has dropped only 15 games in four matches, said his recent training block has paid dividends this week.

"I had two, three really good weeks before coming here," said the 17-year-old from Florida. "I changed my serve a bit, and am trying to play more aggressive, take the ball more on the rise, especially on these hard courts. And I'm trying to play a bit more free."

After playing qualifying at the Orlando Futures, where he lost in the final round, went back home to Boca Raton to prepare for the California ITF swing.

"I trained with my coach, Ernesto Ruiz, for, I think it was three weeks, at my house, just grinding, long sessions, four or five hours, just to keep my concentration," Rotsaert said. "It was the first time I had three real good weeks of practice. I really believed that what I was doing was helping, just feeling it inside."

Rotsaert's opponent in the semifinals is unseeded Axel Nefve, last year's 16s champion, who came back to defeat unseeded Jenson Brooksby 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.

"I've never played him," said Rotsaert. "We've hit before in practice, but I don't remember the last time we've played a set. He likes these courts, I remember watching him in the finals last year. He's a really good player, good lefty. I think it's going to be a fun match; I'm looking forward to it."

In the other boys semifinal, No. 3 seed Gianni Ross will take on No. 5 seed Oliver Crawford.  Ross defeated No. 9 seed Patrick Kypson 6-3, 6-2, while Crawford took out future University of Florida teammate Duarte Vale of Portugal, the No. 2 seed, 7-6(7), 6-4.  Crawford and Ross met in the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 last August in College Park Maryland, with Crawford earning a 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 victory.

The 16s finalists were determined today, and the girls 16s champion was decided, although not in the hoped for manner.

Unseeded Vivian Ovrootsky, the reigning 12s USTA Winter Nationals Champion, defeated top seed Skyler Grishuk 6-0, 6-1 in less than an hour in today's semifinal.  But she is playing the USTA Easter Bowl in the 14s division, and that tournament begins Saturday in Palm Springs. According to the referee, Ovrootsky played one point against No. 2 seed Lauren Stein and retired, with Stein going in the record books as the girls 16s champion.  Stein had defeated No. 3 seed Tara Malik 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals.

The boys 16s final will be played on Saturday, with unseeded Siem Woldeab meeting No. 6 seed Andrew Dale for the title.  Dale defeated No. 8 seed Stefan Leustian 6-1, 6-2 in a match much closer than that score indicates.  Woldeab took out No. 5 seed Faris Khan 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 in a match that took nearly three hours to complete.  It was the second consecutive match that Woldeab won after dropping the first set.

The 16s doubles semifinals and finals were played on Friday, with both the girls and boys finals decided in match tiebreakers.

In the girls final, No. 8 seeds Maxi Duncan and Jamilah Snells defeated No. 5 seeds Britt Pursell and Rachel Wagner 2-6, 6-1, 12-10.  From 5-4 in the match tiebreaker, neither team trailed nor led by more than one point, with Pursell and Wagner saving match points at 9-8 and 10-9. At 11-10, Duncan and Snells were able to convert their third match point.

In the boys final, No. 6 seeds Russell Berdusco and Theo Winegar defeated unseeded Hunter Heck and Alexander Petrov 2-6, 6-1, 11-9.

For Saturday's order of play, see the tournament website.

The University of Southern California announced today that Richard Gallien would be leaving as women's coach after the completion of this season. Although the release does not mention the fates of associate head coach West Nott and volunteer assistant Zoe Scandalis, I am told they are not finishing the season.

Keeping Doubles in the Junior Game

Before I head out for a long day of tennis at the International Spring Championships, I'm posting a link to my Tennis Recruiting Network article on junior doubles. The USTA's decision to adopt the abbreviated Division I format for some of its tournaments (one set, no-ad scoring) has its critics, and I discussed the implications of less time devoted to doubles with players, coaches and administrators.