©Colette Lewis 2008--
Rancho Mirage, CA--
Top seed Melanie Oudin was an expected finalist in this year's Easter Bowl, while unseeded Lauren Embree knew she would have to take out a lot of good players to advance.
Embree opened the bottom half of the draw for herself, taking out No. 2 seed Mallory Burdette in the first round, then taking out her next three unseeded opponents with the loss of only nine games. But in Friday's semifinal with Aeriel Ellis, who reached the 2006 Easter Bowl final in the 16s, Embree needed all her conserved energy to post a 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4 win.
Ellis, also unseeded, packs a wallop despite her small stature, and with her powerful forehand, short balls are put away in a hurry. She also plays a much more high-risk game than Embree, who knew that giving Ellis pace would spell disaster.
"I couldn't give it to her right where she liked it, with pace, in her strike zone," said Embree, 17. "I had to keep mixing it up, go to the forehand, then to the backhand. She ran around her backhand a lot, though, so I really couldn't get it there sometimes."
After Embree took the first set, Ellis took control of the second, running out to a 5-2, two-break lead on the strength of her winners. Ellis, playing in only her second tournament since coming back from an injury, couldn't hold that lead, but did hold at 5-6 to force a tiebreaker. It took her three set points to finish it, but when Embree sent a backhand wide, the match was even.
The third set featured seven breaks and only three holds of serve, but Embree got the crucial one, serving at 5-4. At 30-30, Ellis had control of the point, with a routine putaway at the net, but she missed the forehand volley long, and Embree had her first match point. A first serve and a wide forehand return, and Embree, the 2005 14s Easter Bowl champion, had reached another Easter Bowl final.
In the other girls semifinal, Oudin and McHale engaged in a hard-hitting groundstroke battle that Oudin took 6-4, 6-1. In contrast to the Embree-Ellis match, there was only one break of serve in the first set, with Oudin getting it at 3-3.
"I never got broken in the whole match," said Oudin, who had beaten McHale 1 and love on her way to the 2007 Orange Bowl finals. "I actually served really well today. I think I had three aces, and I got a lot of free points on my serve."
McHale, who turns 16 next month, also served well, but was facing an uphill battle with so few opportunities to break.
"I was pretty confident the whole match," said Oudin, who on Saturday will be seeking her fifth ITF Grade 1 title since last September. "I said all I had to do was hold my own serve and look to break her, and it ended up working."
Embree and Oudin last met in the 2007 Spring National Championships in Mobile with Oudin winning 6-0, 6-0, a result that Embree says she "pretend[s] never happened." The conditions will certainly be different, as it was a cool spring day in Mobile, and it is expected to be in the upper 90s in Rancho Mirage on Saturday. Oudin said that beating someone badly in a previous meeting has a downside for her as well.
"They have nothing to lose," said Oudin. "They say, I lost 1 and 0 or whatever, so this time I'm just going to go for it."
That was the scenario that No. 4 seed Chase Buchanan faced against No. 12 seed Alex Domijan in a Friday boys 18s quarterfinal, as Buchanan had won their previous two meetings in Grade 1 events in straight sets. It started out the same way, with Buchanan taking the first set, but Domijan challenged him in the second before Buchanan reasserted control in a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 victory.
Buchanan's backhand was his chief weapon, but he also pulled off a couple of backhand volley winners that had the small crowd around the stadium court voicing "wows" and shaking their heads in disbelief. As the match neared the end, Buchanan even kept a point going with a "tweener," although it happened so quickly that most of the spectators weren't sure what they had seen.
Buchanan will face another of his Boca Raton roommates in the semifinals, as he did with Jarmere Jenkins last week in Carson. No. 16 seed Frank Carleton, who also trains at the USTA High Performance Center in Boca, followed his upset Thursday over top seed Bradley Klahn with a convincing 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 10 seed Harry Fowler.
In the other boys 18s semifinal, No. 3 seed Tennys Sandgren will meet No. 13 seed Alex Llompart. Sandgren advanced when No. 8 seed Evan King had to retire with a shoulder injury trailing 6-2. Llompart beat No. 11 seed Mateusz Kecki 6-2, 6-0, and Kecki was treated by a trainer during the second set.
The 14s finalists were also determined on Friday, and two of the matches took up the bulk of the day on court two. Sachia Vickery, a 17 seed, overcame the pain of blowing a 5-1 lead in the first set tiebreaker to take a 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 3 seed Julia Vrabel. Vickery and top seed Kyle McPhillips will meet for the title on Saturday. McPhillips downed No. 13 seed Ronit Yurovsky 6-4, 6-1.
In the day's second match on court 2, No. 5 seed John Richmond made his third consecutive recovery from an opening set loss to defeat unseeded Austin Smith 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-1. Vying with Richmond for the title on Saturday will be top seed Michael Rinaldi, who downed No. 6 seed Reo Asami 6-1, 6-3 on Friday.
In the girls 18s doubles, No. 1 seeds Mallory Burdette and Sloane Stephens will face No. 2 seeds Shinann Featherston and Lauren McHale.
The boys 14s doubles finalists are No. 2 seeds Michael Rinaldi and Trey Strobel and No. 6 seeds Andrew Korinek and Michael Riechmann. The girls 14s championship in doubles will feature No. 3 seeds Julia Jones and Blair Shankle and No. 4 seeds Ashley Dai and Valerie E. Thong.
For complete results for the 18s, click here. For complete results for the 14s and 16s, click here.
For additional Easter Bowl coverage, visit Core Tennis and usta.com.
Friday, April 11, 2008
©Colette Lewis 2008--