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Friday, April 17, 2009

McHale and Embree Meet for Girls 18s Easter Bowl Title; 14s Championships Also Set for Saturday

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

The temperature is rising in the Coachella Valley and so are the stakes at the 2009 Easter Bowl, with the girls 18s and boys and girls 14s championships scheduled for Saturday.

Top seed Lauren Embree, the 2005 14s Easter Bowl champion, will attempt to take home another title when she meets Christina McHale in the ITF Grade B1 girls final. Embree reached her second consecutive Easter Bowl final with a 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 9 seed and longtime friend Alexandra Cercone, while McHale eased past No. 2 seed Kristie Ahn 6-4, 6-3.

Embree, who had won a long quarterfinal contest with Ellen Tsay on Thursday, was in much better form under Friday's sorching midday sun, with temperatures reaching 93 degrees.

"I played really consistent, and I don't think I made too many errors," said Embree, who had lost to Cercone in three sets the last two times they've played. "Coming in I knew it was going to be tough. We usually have long matches, so I knew to stay positive and keep my energy up."

McHale attributed her win over Ahn to combination of patience and aggression.

"I tried to stay steady and also be aggressive," said McHale, who hasn't played a junior event since the Australian Open in January. "Because if you don't against her, she's going to take charge and really hit her shots. So I tried to be patient, but once I got the shot, to go for it."

McHale was up 4-1 in the opening set, but Ahn came back to even it at 4-4. McHale held for 5-4, and then earned two sets points when Ahn went down 15-40 on her serve. Ahn saved the first one, but not the second, and McHale was halfway there.

In the second set, McHale again took at 4-1 lead, but this time she held on to it, holding serve at each opportunity. Serving for the match at 5-3, McHale fought past one break point at 30-40, and with some very timely serving overcame a couple of forehand errors on match points, converting her third to earn the victory.

"She definitely played great," said Ahn. "Credit to her for making me work. It was really hot out there, and the heat also gets in your head a bit. I guess I really didn't execute the way I wanted to; a lot of time I had the right plays, but I couldn't really do it. It's not the end of the world, but it's a bit disappointing."

Embree and McHale haven't met since the 2006 girls 16s Clay Courts, where McHale beat Embree in a third set tiebreaker in the round of 16.

"We haven't played in forever, but I know how she plays just from growing up with her," Embree said. "I'll just come out, play my game, and not be too much on the defense, try to play offense and control the points."

McHale has a similar strategy.

"I'll focus on my game, and then alter it based on how things are going," said McHale, who admits that being back in junior competition is "nerve-wracking. When you play pro tournaments, it's normal nerves, but it's a different sort of nerves here."

In the boys 18s quarterfinals, drama was in short supply, as all four matches were decided in straight sets. Bob van Overbeek, seeded tenth, earned a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 3 seed Harry Fowler, and will meet second seed and doubles partner Tennys Sandgren in the semifinal. Sandgren eliminated unseeded Lawrence Formentera 6-4, 6-0. The other semifinal will feature unseeded Raymond Sarmiento, a 6-3, 6-1 winner over Fred Saba, against No. 4 seed Evan King. King prevailed over his doubles partner Jordan Cox, the No. 6 seed, 6-4, 6-4.

All the drama lacking in the 18s division on Friday could be found in the 14s semifinals, as all four matches went to three sets.

The girls 14s top two seeds, Julia Elbaba and Brooke Austin, both needed to stage comebacks to reach the final. Elbaba outlasted her doubles partner, fourth seed Alyssa Smith, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, and Austin squeezed past 12s Winter National champion Kimberly Yee, a 17 seed, 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles partners Mackenzie McDonald and Nikko Madregallejo will meet for the boys 14s championship in singles on Saturday morning, then take the court in the afternoon in pursuit of the doubles title. McDonald, the No. 3 seed, ousted top seed Trey Daniel 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 Friday morning, while Madregallejo, seeded fourth, got past Luca Corinteli, a No. 17 seed, 7-5, 0-6, 6-2.

The girls 16s semifinalists were decided on Friday with No. 2 seed Whitney Kay meeting No. 4 seed Giuliana Olmos Saturday and No. 5 seed Caroline Price facing No. 7 seed Kristen Dodge.

In the boys 16s, three of the top four seeds advanced to the semifinals, with No. 1 Shane Vinsant meeting Jeremy Efferding, a No. 17 seed, and No. 4 seed Spencer Newman playing No. 2 seed Marcos Giron for a spot in the Sunday's final.

The boys 16s doubles final, scheduled for Saturday afternoon, will pit No. 4 seeds Efferding and Bjorn Fratangelo against unseeded Eric Johnson and Calvin Mark.

In the girls 18s doubles final, top seeds Mallory Burdette and Embree will meet second seeds Ahn and Monica Puig.

For complete results for the 14s and 16s, see the TennisLink site.

For the ITF 18s results, click here.

For additional coverage of the Easter Bowl, see easterbowl.com. For Kristie Ahn and Denis Kudla's Easter Bowl blogs, see usta.com.