McHale Defeats Embree for Easter Bowl Title; Austin and McDonald Win 14s Titles; Sandgren to Face King for Boys 18s Title Sunday
©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Mirage, CA--
The Easter Bowl is famous for its beautiful backdrop, its wind and its heat. In Saturday's finals in both 14s divisions and in the girls 18s, the breeze was absent, making the 97 degree temperatures feel even hotter.
Ironically it was three players from more northerly climates that took the trophies, with Brooke Austin of Indianapolis, Mackenzie McDonald of the San Francisco Bay area and Christina McHale of New Jersey who withstood the challenges of their opponents and the relentless desert sun.
The fourth-seeded McHale, 16, came out nearly as hot as the temperature, reeling off nine straight games against top seed Lauren Embree, who was a finalist in 2008. McHale's first serve was definitely a huge advantage for her, and even when Embree did manage to get one back, or get a look at a second serve, the 18-year-old from Florida had trouble staying in the points.
"She obviously played very well," Embree, the 2005 14s Easter Bowl champion, said. "She controlled the points from the beginning. If she got her first serve in, I couldn't do much. It was tough."
McHale was intent on starting strong.
"Everything seemed to come together in this match," McHale said. "I knew I had to be aggressive, because if not, she can dictate too. She has good volleys and gets a lot back, so I knew I had to be the one to get off to a good start. Everything just seemed to be working, so I just wanted to stick with that."
Embree won her first game down 3-0 in the second set, but she couldn't challenge McHale on her serve, so a comeback wasn't possible, and McHale, a five-time participant at the Easter Bowl, closed out her first title, 6-0, 6-3.
"I always look forward to this tournament," McHale said. "Everyone's here, all the age groups, all my friends I haven't seen in a while. It's definitely one of my favorite tournaments."
McHale gets on a plane again Monday, heading nine time zones east for the Fed Cup tie in the Czech Republic, where she will serve as a practice partner next week.
When she returns, she and Embree will be part of a large group of women participating in the USTA Boca Raton tournament that will decide the French Open main draw wild card.
In the girls 14s final, the second-seeded Austin, who won the 12s clay and hard court titles last year, added another "major" to her collection, taking a hard-fought 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory from top seed Julia Elbaba of New York.
Austin, who takes the ball early and hits it flat, hard and deep, broke Elbaba three times in the opening set, but fell behind 3-0 and two breaks in the second set. A point away from being down 4-0, Austin came back to close the gap to 3-4, but Elbaba attacked her second serve effectively and evened the match on a blistering return winner.
"I stayed in the point longer," the 14-year-old Elbaba said of her performance in the second set. "I tried to run down every single ball and wait for her to miss, instead of going for huge shots, although I did go for my shots when opportunities were given."
In the third set, Austin, 13, got up 2-0, but missed several of the swinging volleys that had finished points for her early in the set and lost her lead. She immediately got it right back however, and although she couldn't close out the match serving at 5-2, she broke Elbaba again to claim the title.
Austin, who energetically jogs back to her chair at every changeover, said she got too anxious and too much in a hurry to finish points in the second set. Her mindset changed at the beginning of the third.
"I realized that if I didn't stay calm, I wasn't going to do well," Austin said. "I wasn't going to be able to hit the ball in. In the second set, I was trying to hit a winner off the first ball and it didn't go in."
Elbaba acknowledged that Austin robbed her of her usual timing.
"Every ball I hit, she took on the rise, giving me very little recovery time. So I tried to mix up the pace, hit some high topspin, but she was playing good, moving well."
Austin was delighted to have won the Easter Bowl title, and hopes it is one of many.
"I love it here," she said, pleased with playing in front of an appreciative crowd. "I want to come back."
In the boys 14s final, No. 3 seed Mackenzie McDonald defeated his doubles partner Nikko Madregallejo 6-4, 6-2, a victory he hopes is just the start of a tennis career that will one day lead to being the "best tennis player who ever lived."
McDonald, who turned 14 two days ago, took a 5-1 lead in the opening set, but was unable to serve it out at 5-1 or 5-3. Madregallejo, who had finally begun to stay in the points after a series of unforced errors put him behind, couldn't pull even however, and McDonald broke him to take the set.
"Today it was just who made more balls, who had the most energy," McDonald said. "At this stage of the tournament, you've got to have a lot of energy to win this match, and today I had it, and I pulled it out."
In the second set, McDonald again got an early lead, and this time he was able to hold on to it and again break Madregallejo, a 14-year-old from the Los Angeles area, to take the match.
"It's always tough to play Mackie, we know each other's games so well," Madregallejo said. "Mackie just played really well, he's a good player. He was the better player today."
Although it was McDonald who took home the gold ball in singles, he helped his friend Madregallejo get one in doubles as the top-seeded pair defeated Floridians Roy Lederman and Ryan Smith, seeded ninth, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in the Saturday afternoon 14s doubles final.
And Elbaba also earned a gold ball to go with her silver one, when she and partner Alyssa Smith of California, the top seeds, won the girls 14s doubles, defeating Spencer Liang and Jamie Loeb, the No. 2 seeds, 6-4, 6-4. It was the first tournament Elbaba and Smith had played together.
"We'd played against each other before, but never together. I think we'll do it again," said Elbaba with a laugh.
Embree and Mallory Burdette, the top seeds in the girls 18s, won the doubles title via walkover, with travel considerations leading to No. 2 seeds Kristie Ahn and Monica Puig being unable to play the late afternoon match.
The other doubles final to be decided on Saturday was in the boys 16s division, with the unseeded team of Eric Johnson and Calvin Mark of California defeating No. 4 seeds Jeremy Efferding and Bjorn Fratangelo of Florida 6-1, 7-6(2).
The girls 16s finals, to be played on Sunday, will feature what is getting to be a theme of this year's Easter Bowl, doubles partners playing each other. No. 5 seed Caroline Price and No. 2 seed Whitney Kay, Atlanta area residents who will play in the doubles final Sunday, will first decide the singles title, much as McDonald and Madregallejo did on Saturday. Kay took out No. 4 seed Guiliana Olmos 6-4, 7-5 in one semifinal, and Price, the daughter of former NBA star Mark Price, cruised past No. 7 Kristen Dodge 6-3, 6-1.
In the boys 16s final, it will be No. 1 versus No. 2, as top seed Shane Vinsant of Texas meets No. 2 seed Marcos Giron of California. Vinsant defeated No. 17 seed Jeremy Efferding 6-2, 6-2 and Giron won his match 6-0, 2-2, when No. 4 seed Spencer Newman suffered a serious leg injury.
Newman's injury caused the boys 18s semifinal match between No. 4 seed Evan King and unseeded Raymond Sarmiento to be suspended, when an ambulance had to be summoned for Newman on the adjacent court.
King was leading 4-1 in the third at the time of that delay, which wasn't the only disruption in a contest that also featured a change of the chair umpire and the addition of several line judges.
"There were a whole bunch of pretty shaky line calls and I got po'd in the first set, then I got a ton of calls in the second set," King said. "It was big points, small points, you name it. It was really tough for Raymond, and I mean, I don't know what to do in that situation."
King, who was a finalist at last week's International Spring Championships, will meet No. 2 seed Tennys Sandgren, whom he beat in the Carson semifinals 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.
"We've played so many times, had so many three-setters, gone back and forth, I don't even know what our record is," King said. "It's going to be a fun match, I'm looking forward to it."
Sandgren, who beat friend and doubles partner Bob van Overbeek, 6-3, 6-1 in the other semifinal, echoed those remarks.
"We always have really, really long matches," Sandgren said. "Always. I'm expecting no less. It's going to be tough. It's going to be hot tomorrow, he's playing well, it's going to be tough."
For complete results in the 18s, click here.
For 14s and 16s draws and results, see the TennisLink site.
For additional coverage, see easterbowl.com.