©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Mirage, CA--
Floridians Alex Cercone and Lauren Embree have been friends and rivals for years, and another chapter in their history will be written Friday, with the two facing off in the semifinal of the Girls 18s Easter Bowl.
Cercone, the ninth seed, earned her spot with a 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 3 seed Beatrice Capra in Thursday's quarterfinal, and the high school junior from Seminole was pleased with her level of play.
"I played really well," Cercone said. "I've never really played confident and calm like that. She was struggling a little bit, but we had really good points. I served really well too."
Cercone called for a trainer at 4-3 in the second set for some discomfort she was experiencing in her left wrist, but she said the taping helped her, and the right-hander could run around her backhand enough in the final three games to keep it from being a factor.
As for playing Embree, whom she beat in a marathon match at the Grass Courts last year and also in the South Carolina ITF last fall, but lost to in the Easter Bowl last year, Cercone knows exactly what to expect.
"I've played Lauren since the ten-and-unders," Cercone said. "We've played so many times. We'll see how it goes; she's been playing really, really well."
When Cercone finished her match, the top seed was still trying to subdue 2008 16s Easter Bowl champion Ellen Tsay, although Embree had wrested control of the two hour and forty minute contest, and eventually earned a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory.
"She got a lot back, she made me work for every point," said Embree. "It was longer than I wanted it to be."
In the opening set, Embree made more errors than usual, and Tsay was forcing the action by looping high deep balls, then going to the net to put away volleys. In the second set, Embree hit out more, and began to force Tsay to make a lot of overheads, but each and every point and game was struggle.
"I started hitting the ball more, went more on offense," said Embree. "I didn't let her come in as much and attack. She had really good hands at the net."
In the third set, Embree led 4-1, but Tsay kept herself in it, holding, after a lengthy game, for 4-2. In one of the few games that didn't go to deuce, Embree held at 40-30 by hitting a miraculous pop volley backhand winner when Tsay had drilled a passing shot at her. Embree must have begun to anticipate Tsay's patterns, because she hit nearly the same shot again in the next game, when she broke Tsay to end the match.
As for playing her friend, Embree echoed Cercone's sentiments.
"We've played so many times, it's not that hard any more," Embree said.
In one semifinal, the battle of Florida, in the other, the battle of New Jersey, as No. 2 seed Kristie Ahn faces No. 4 seed Christina McHale. Ahn quickly disposed of unseeded Shelby Rogers 6-1, 6-4 Thursday afternoon, while McHale had a mid-match hiccup before earning a 6-0, 3-6, 6-2 victory over No. 8 seed Nicole Gibbs.
The boys 18s quarterfinals are set, with three unseeded players making the final eight. Two of them, Raymond Sarmiento and Fred Saba, will meet in a Friday quarterfinal after Sarmiento defeated No. 15 seed Sekou Bangoura 7-5, 6-3, and Saba eliminated Clay Thompson 6-2, 6-2. Doubles partners Evan King, seeded four, and Jordan Cox, seeded sixth, will be across the net on Friday, with King downing No. 14 seed Sean Berman 6-4, 6-3 and Cox outlasting No. 9 seed Junior Ore 7-5, 7-6(1) Thursday.
In the bottom half, No. 10 seed Bob van Overbeek ousted No. 5 seed Bo Seal 6-2, 6-3, giving credit to his own serve and Seal's "clean ball" for the victory. Van Overbeek said he was able to find his rhythm in the long cross court rallies that are a regular feature when Seal is the opponent. Van Overbeek will take on No. 3 seed Harry Fowler, who dismissed unseeded Dan McCall 6-3, 6-3.
Unseeded Lawrence Formentera, the 2007 16s Easter Bowl champion, took out his second seed in as many days, defeating No. 8 seed Matt Kandath 6-4, 6-2. His opponent in Friday's quarterfinals will be No. 2 seed Tennys Sandgren, who managed to survive the powerful game of unseeded Dan Kosakowski 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Kosakowski played, and served, with such power and precision in the first set that Sandgren could do nothing but hope that the 17-year-old from Southern California would cool off. He did, with Sandgren finally earning his first break in the sixth game of the second set. In the third set, Kosakowski had an early break, but immediately lost it. Serving at 4-4, Kosakowski saved three break points, but a dazzling 360 reflex volley by Sandgren set up break point number four, and Kosakowski double faulted to give Sandgren the game.
Up 40-0 in the final game, Sandgren hit two forehands long, but a forehand volley that must have just caught the far sideline was called good by Kosakowski, and Sandgren had advanced.
The 14s semifinals are set, with No. 1 Trey Daniel facing No. 3 Mackenzie McDonald and No. 4 Nikko Madregallejo meeting Luca Corinteli, a No. 17 seed in the boys draw.
The girls 14s semifinalists are top seed Julia Elbaba versus No. 4 Alyssa Smith and No. 2 seed Brooke Austin against Kimberly Yee, a 17 seed.
For complete ITF draws, including the doubles, see the TennisLink site.
For the 14s and 16s draws, click here.
For additional coverage of the Easter Bowl, see easterbowl.com
Thursday, April 16, 2009