Thacher and Williams in International Spring Boys Final; Cecil and Jones Meet for Girls Championship
©Colette Lewis 2007--
Three Americans have reached the finals of the International Spring Championships in singles, and all eight contestants in the doubles championships on Saturday afternoon also reside in the United States. Unseeded wild card Ryan Thacher and No. 7 seed Rhyne Williams earned their first ITF Grade 1 final berths with straight set victories on Saturday, while No. 3 seed Sacha Jones of New Zealand and No. 5 seed Mallory Cecil will contest the girls championship Sunday morning.
The unseeded Thacher, from nearby Studio City, California, defeated top seed Kellen Damico 7-5, 6-1, coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the first set. Damico's previous opponents had attempted to capitalize on his injured left wrist, but the left-handed Thacher took a slightly different tack.
"In the beginning of the match, he had a strategy, trying to protect that side, so it opens up his forehand side," said the 17-year-old Thacher. "It took me a little while to figure it out, but I started playing to his forehand a little bit to open up the backhand, and then once he got on the run on his forehand, it didn't really matter how well I hit it to the backhand side, as long as I could put it there."
Thacher complimented Damico on how well he was moving in the first games of the first set, but that changed once Damico was broken serving at 3-1. The 18-year-old from Colorado received a warning for ball abuse after that game, and Thacher recounted the next Damico code violation during the 11th game of the match.
"He was serving 30-15 5-all and I won the point," said Thacher. "He was upset at the ball he hit and he yelled something. The ref heard it as an obscenity, I heard it as yelling--it could have been an obscenity, it could have not been an obscenity--I really don't know. But that was 30-40. Kellen went up and argued about five minutes, pulled out the head referee. He was really riled up about that and started directing irritation in any direction he could. After that he was still striking the ball all right on his forehand side, but his feet weren't moving the same. I guess he got a little demoralized and his feet stopped moving."
When Damico was broken for the second time in the second set to give Thacher a 4-1 lead, Thacher, playing in only his second ITF junior event, had a clear path to his 45th consecutive victory.
"It's really cool," Thacher said of the prospect of a Grade 1 final. "I was really excited just to be in the tournament. This is the only ITF I've ever played (in 2006 he lost to eventual champion Pavel Chekhov in the round of 16). I hope it will be fun, win or lose."
His opponent, 16-year-old Rhyne Williams, has also reached the final without dropping a set, although when he was down 4-0 in the second set against unseeded Wil Spencer, after taking the first 6-2, he considered the wisdom of letting that set go and concentrating on the third.
"In the back of my mind there was a little doubt whether or not I could come back," Williams said. "I was thinking maybe I'll just throw in the towel on the last couple of games and save up some energy for the third. But I realized his serve isn't huge and he's not jacking winners from the baseline left and right, so if I could hang in there a little longer, maybe I'll start playing better."
When Williams broke to get his first game of the second set, his comeback was underway, although Spencer served for the set at 5-3.
"I knew I was really going to have to grind through this match," said Williams, who has recently begun working and traveling with Andres Pedroso. "I was trying to take away the pace from him, trying to slow it down so he would have to generate his own pace, and I noticed he didn't like that as much. I would kind of bore him to sleep and then unload on a shot."
Williams used that strategy to win the final four games of the match for a 6-2, 7-5 win.
While Spencer and Williams and Thacher and Damico were deciding the boys finalists, No. 3 seed Sacha Jones defeated No. 2 seed Madison Brengle 6-4, 6-1 in a hard-hitting contest that hinged on the outcome of the ninth game of the first set. Serving at 4-4, Jones needed at least twenty minutes and numerous game points to put it in her column, but it was crucial, as Brengle won only one game after that.
"When you lose a game like that you can never feel great," said the 16-year-old from New Zealand. "I think she had two, maybe three game points, but I was happy at the way I played on the deuce points, and I finally converted it when I had my advantage."
"I thought it was a really high quality match," said Jones. "We both played really good tennis. I was just thankful that I could convert those big points. I knew I had to play well to beat her, and I was very, very happy I could do that."
In the second girls semifinal, Mallory Cecil may have played good tennis, but as the 6-1, 6-1 score indicates, her opponent, Zaruhi Harutyunyan of Armenia did not.
"She made a lot of errors," said Cecil of the small but powerful 16-year-old, who is training at the Weil Academy in Ojai. "Overall she's just a big hitter. Everywhere she was she tried to hit something big, so I just tried to keep everything as deep as possible, not allow her to come in and just whack winners."
Jones and Cecil know each other from their days at Bollettieri's (Cecil is still training there), but they haven't met in competition.
"Yeah, we've practiced, but we've never played practice matches or anything, so it will be interesting to see how it goes," said the 16-year-old from South Carolina. "She's a really good player. I'm looking forward to it."
The 18s doubles finals followed the singles matches, and the two singles finalists participating finished at .500 for the day. Williams won his singles semifinal, but he and partner Ryan Lipman, the fourth seeds, dropped a 6-3, 6-1 decision to last year's U.S. Open Junior doubles finalists Jarmere Jenkins and Austin Krajicek, the third seeds.
Brengle, who lost in singles, teamed with Kristy Frilling to take a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 7-6 (4) thriller from the unseeded pairing of McCall Jones and Asia Muhammad. The match, which took nearly three hours to complete, featured more changes in momentum than cars on an LA freeway, but the third seeds used their experience in third set tiebreaks (they won one in Friday's semifinal) to take the title. They won't be repeating at the upcoming Easter Bowl, however, as Brengle is not playing in Palm Springs, and Frilling will pair up with Cecil instead.
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