Monday, April 13, 2009

Embree and Ahn Survive Tough Openers at Easter Bowl

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

Girls 18s top seeds Lauren Embree and Kristie Ahn probably had hoped for slightly easier matches in the first round of the Easter Bowl, but they both prevailed in tough three-setters on a very warm and surprisingly calm opening day at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa.

Ahn, with a 324 WTA ranking, was last seen winning a $25,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Hammond, La., last month. Sometimes the step back down to the juniors is difficult, and it may have been an adjustment for Ahn psychologically, but there was no denying that wild card Cierra Gaytan-Leach was giving the No. 2 seed pro-level pace.

Gaytan-Leach has an impressive first serve, and her ground strokes were more than a match for Ahn in the opening set. Determined to go for her shots, Gaytan-Leach took a 5-2 lead playing aggressive first-strike tennis, and Ahn could not find the court with her forehand. Gaytan-Leach was broken serving for the first set at 5-3, but Ahn couldn't hold in the next game.

In the second set, Ahn began to return more consistently, and in one of her breaks of Gaytan-Leach hit three consecutive return winners, the final one on a well-struck first serve. Ahn evened the match with a 6-2 second set, and then took an early lead in the third.

Ahn was happy to have the luxury of two breaks in the final set, as she was unable to close it out serving at 5-2. A double fault on game point and then a hold by Gaytan-Leach meant Ahn would have only one more chance to finish it. But it was enough, as she played a smart final game, and converted her first match point at 40-15 to advance 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Ahn is blogging from the Easter Bowl for usta.com.

Embree had beaten Monica Turewicz last October in the quarterfinals of the B1 in Tulsa, so she knew what she was facing, and the crafty left-hander gave Embree even more trouble Monday, before the 2008 Easter Bowl finalist gained a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory. I was watching Ahn and Gaytan-Leach on stadium court while Embree and Turewicz were playing way out on court 17, so I can't comment on the standard of play, but I'm sure Embree is glad to have that encounter behind her.

The highest seed to fall in Monday's opening round was No. 6 Ester Goldfeld, who was beaten by Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-2. Other seeds who failed to make Tuesday's second round are No. 10 Nicole Bartnik, No. 12 Noel Scott and No. 16 Monica Yajima, who lost to Danielle Lao, Sabrina Santamaria and Maria Belaya respectively.

One excellent match that I caught the end of was No. 15 Kate Fuller against unseeded Mary Clayton. Both girls played composed and absorbing tennis in the final set--even after more than two and a half hours on the court. Clayton served for the match at 5-3, but Fuller hit several clean winners to get back on serve. Playing slightly less aggressively when serving at 4-5, Fuller went down 0-40, saved two match points, but couldn't save the third, and Clayton had claimed a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory.

For the complete 18s results, see the TennisLink site.

There were no major upsets in the 14s second round and in the 16s first round Monday. For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.