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Friday, April 10, 2009

Comebacks Highlight Girls Quarterfinals at International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Carson, CA--

For three of the four winners in the girls quarterfinals, the day began, like the weather, pretty gloomily. The unusually heavy cloud cover probably wasn't to blame for their slow start, because Sloane Stephens, Valeria Solovieva and Nicole Gibbs all turned their matches around long before the afternoon sun finally sliced through.

Against top seed Lauren Embree, Stephens, seeded ninth, was broken at 4-5 in the first set to fall behind. But the 16-year-old, who now trains at the USTA Training Center located at the Home Depot Center, wasn't about to panic.

"She played really well in the first set," Stephens said. "She missed like two balls. I was like, you can hit the ball out any time. I didn't play bad or anything, she just didn't miss a ball."

Embree failed to hold serve in the second set, and Stephens quickly evened the match, taking the set 6-1.

"In the second set, I tried to come out and be really aggressive, attack her," said Stephens, who was playing Embree for the first time. "She stays back and kind of puts everything back in the court, so I knew if I could be aggressive like that, I could take charge from the beginning."

In the third set, it was Embree who took charge, breaking Stephens and holding for a 2-0 lead, but in the fourth game, trailing 1-2, Stephens' forehand began to heat up, and even Embree's celebrated defensive skills were unable to neutralize it. After winning four straight games to go up 4-2, momentum was definitely on Stephens's side, but Embree showed no indication of pessimism. Serving at 4-2, Stephens had two chances to go up 5-2, but her second serve let her down, with three double faults contributing to her problems. Embree held for 4-4, but Stephens kept calm, helped by an easy hold for a 5-4 lead.

"She was waiting for me to crack," said Stephens. "But I was just trying to stay very in it, because I knew she was going to get every ball back."

Embree had a 40-15 lead in the match's final game, but Stephens kept the pressure on with her forehand, getting it to deuce, then earning a match point. After a long rally, Stephens missed a forehand wide, but she kept going to that shot, and earned her second match point by forcing an error from Embree whom Stephens had pinned deep in the backhand corner. On the second match point, Stephens repeated that sequence, earning the final point of a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

"I've really worked on it," Stephens said of her more mature on-court presence. "Since the end of last year I've really worked on it with Roger (USTA National Coach Smith) and my psychologist and I'm more, like, confident."

Although that quarterfinal clocked in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, it was the second shortest girls match of the day. Grace Min was the only winner to finish the job in two sets, as she tidily disposed of Courtney Dolehide 6-1, 6-2. Min's opponent Saturday will be No. 3 seed Valeria Solovieva of Russia, who needed three hours to outlast unseeded Danielle Lao 6-7(5), 6-0, 6-3.

The longest girls quarterfinal saw No. 10 seed Nicole Gibbs defeat No. 16 seed Brooke Bolender 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. In the final games of the third set, the points were long and dramatic, as were the games. Serving at 4-5, Gibbs was within two points of dropping the match at 30-30 and deuce, but the 16-year-old brought it even. Bolender, who turned 17 two days ago, had two game points serving at 5-5, but she lost them both, and Gibbs converted on her third break point chance. At 6-5, a third set tiebreaker loomed when Bolender earned two break points, but Gibbs ended both those opportunities, one with a backhand winner and one with a stop volley winner. Another backhand winner gave Gibbs the ad, and with her second match point, Gibbs converted, when Bolender's forehand found the net.

One of the boys 18s quarterfinals approached the girls in length, with No. 2 seed Tennys Sandgren needing three hours and ten minutes to shake No. 5 seed Bo Seal 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-1. Sandgren has now won four consecutive three-set matches, and will now face No. 4 seed Evan King, who has taken the opposite tack. King had not lost more than three games in any of his first three matches, and in today's quarterfinal against No. 11 Bob van Overbeek he was similarly efficient, posting a 6-4, 6-2 win.

The other 18s semifinal will be a rematch of last December's 16s Orange Bowl final , with No. 1 seed Denis Kudla facing training partner Mitchell Frank, the ninth seed.

Frank breezed past No. 3 seed Harry Fowler 6-0, 6-1 in the day's shortest singles match, while Kudla took a set to find his rhythm in downing unseeded Dennis Novikov 7-6(5), 6-1.

In the girls doubles final Saturday, unseeded Lauren Herring and Min will take on Stephens and Mallory Burdette, the No. 3 seeds. Both teams won their semifinals in match tiebreakers--Herring and Min beat unseeded Karyna Alesha and Viktoryia Kisialeva of Belarus 7-6(8), 4-6, 10-8, and Burdette and Stephens came back to defeat No. 2 seeds Anna Orlik and Solovieva 4-6, 6-2, 10-6.

One of the boys doubles semifinals has yet to be played, but on Saturday morning, unseeded Lawrence Formentera and Mousheg Hovhannisyan will take on No. 8 seeds Tigre Hank and German Sanchez Delfin of Mexico for a berth in the finals against No. 5 seeds Ryan Noble and Sandgren. Noble and Sandgren downed King and Raymond Sarmiento, the No. 6 seeds, 6-4, 7-5 Friday afternoon.

In the 16s semifinals Friday, there were no lengthy matches. Top seed Shane Vinsant defeated No. 8 seed Mitchell Krueger 6-4, 6-2 and will face No. 11 seed Dennis Mkrtchian in Saturday's final. Mkrtchian beat No. 3 seed Spencer Newman 6-3, 6-3.

The girls 16s final features No. 2 seed Caitlyn Williams against No. 8 seed Krista Hardebeck. Williams defeated No. 7 seed Ashley Dai 6-2, 6-3 and Hardebeck reached the final with a 6-0, 7-5 victory over No. 6 seed Giuliana Olmos.

In 16s doubles, Vinsant and Newman, the No. 1 seeds, will play Mkrtchian and Jacob Jung, the No. 2 seeds, for the boys title Saturday. Vinsant and Newman beat unseeded Reo Asami and Terrell Celestine 3-6, 6-3, 10-3 in the semifinals, while Jung and Mkrtchian downed unseeded Keaton Cullimore and Nicholas Mahlangu 6-1, 6-4.

The girls doubles finalists are No. 8 seeds Ashleigh Antal and Melissa Kopinski--who beat No. 4 seeds Kristine Kouyoumjian and Molly O'Koniewski 6-1, 6-3--and No. 3 seeds Desirae Krawczyk and Sarah Lee. Krawczyk and Lee ousted top seeds Breaunna Addison and Williams 6-4, 6-3.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.


Courtney said...

Don't know whats going to happen in this tournament but I wasnt impressed with Sloane Stephens at all. She looks like an okay player at this level but not anything really special. I just cant see what all the fuss is about and why people are so invested in her.

Lisa said...

way to go Sloane. Hang in there and great comeback. Remember to sign all the hands you can!! Lexi