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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Americans Dominate at International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2010--
Carson, CA--

The international component of the ITF Grade 1 at the Home Depot Center is never substantial; with the juniors from other countries not eligible to play at next week's Easter Bowl, it is an expensive trip for just one tournament. This year the international players who did enter haven't been much in evidence three days into the competition with only one boy, Christian Lee of Malaysia, reaching the round of 16, and four girls: Katarena Paliivets and Juliana Gajic of Canada, Karyna Alesha of Belarus and Rio Kitagawa of Japan.

The top-seeded Paliivets escaped with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Christine Kandler of Austria on another clear and warm day in suburban Los Angeles, but it was far from easy. In the third set, Paliivets held in the opening game, and nine consecutive breaks later, she had won the match. Both girls had return games vastly superior to their serves; serving for the match at 5-3, Paliivets never got close to a match point. When Kandler next served to stay in the match, it was 0-40 in a matter of seconds, with Paliivets blistering return winners to earn three match points. She needed only one, with Kandler's backhand going long.

Paliivets will meet No. 15 seed Ellen Tsay, who had her own challenges, saving match points in the second set tiebreaker before going on to defeat Hai-Li Kong 2-6, 7-6(7) 6-0. Second seed Grace Min was tested in the second set, but downed Victoria Duval 6-2, 7-6(5).

The biggest upset of the day in the girls draw was Ashley Dai's 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 3 seed Chanelle Van Nguyen, while No. 7 seed Kerrie Cartwright of the Bahamas fell to Canadian Juliana Gajic 6-4, 6-1. Qualifier Lynda Xepoleas extended her run by defeating Caroline Price 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, and lucky loser Sarah Lee also advanced to Thursday's round of 16 with a 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 win over Riko Shimizu.

In the boys 18s, there are only five seeds in the round of 16, but just one was eliminated in today's second round, with No. 9 Shane Vinsant losing to Jeremy Efferding 6-2, 6-0. Efferding and Vinsant have played many practice matches at the USTA's Boca Raton National Center, where they both train. This was probably one of the least competitive of their encounters.

The sole seed in the bottom half of the boys draw, No. 3 Dane Webb, cruised past Trey Strobel 6-1, 6-1 and will play unseeded Clay Thompson in the round of 16. Thompson trailed 5-2 in the third set against Dennis Mkrtchian, saving three match points on his way to a 7-5, 6-7(5), 7-5 victory.

Mkrtchian, who is just now coming back from a lengthy layoff caused by a foot injury, served for the match at 5-4, but never earned a match point, missing several forehands, including one at ad-out. In the next game, Thompson was down 30-40, but held his nerve on two consecutive overheads, after Mkrtchian's scrambling defense necessitated the second. Thompson earned a game point with another overhead winner on the the next point, but a double fault negated that, and Mkrtchian hit a forehand winner to give himself chance No. 2. Thompson didn't allow himself to be tentative with a big forehand forcing an error from Mkrtchian. On the next point, Mkrtchian hit another forehand winner for match point No. 3, but Thompson countered with a service winner, then another, and pulled even at 5-5 with a forehand winner.

Thompson said he wasn't aware of just how dire his situation was in that tenth game.

"I honestly didn't even think about it," said Thompson, who won the Grade 4 ITF in Claremont last week. "I was kind of frustrated but at the same time, all I wanted was just to play a good point. I thought please just let me play a good point. If you hadn't told me, I probably wouldn't even remembered that I had three match points."

Serving at 5-5, Mkrtchian went up 40-15, but he couldn't get a first serve in, managing only one of nine in the game, which also saw him miss two second serves. The second double fault made it ad-out, and a forehand miss gave Thompson his fourth consecutive game.

Thompson said that although he noticed Mkrtchian wasn't serving well late in the match, it wasn't a particularly important advantage.

"Today, I was actually hitting his first serve better than his second serve," Thompson said. "I was struggling with it, couldn't get ahold of it, so I was kind of hoping he would make a couple of first serves. At 5-all I started moving up a little bit and cutting it off earlier and I had some good success with that."

Thompson served well in the final game, especially at 30-30, when he threw in a tricky changeup, which resulted in a return error. On his first match point, Thompson again got a first serve in, and Mkrtchian's return didn't make it over the net.

Even after three hours on the court and a tournament win last week, Thompson said he felt fine physically.

"I feel good, actually," said Thompson, who is commuting from his home in Venice Beach. "Cardio-wise I feel really good. I didn't feel that was too tough of a match physically, but I'll probably go home tonight and my knees will be hurting and my elbow will be hurting."

Top seed Raymond Sarmiento, looking more comfortable on the court than he did in Tuesday's first round match, defeated Daniel Cochrane of Great Britain 6-3, 6-3. Sarmiento, who returned from a tournament and a family visit in the Philippines less than a week ago, admitted to being a bit rusty, but feels he is now finding his form.

In the 16s, the quarterfinals are set, with top seeds Brooke Austin and Tyler Gardiner getting through in straight sets in Wednesday's third round matches. Girls No. 2 seed Alyza Benotto Wood was not so fortunate, losing to No. 12 seed Amanda Lin 6-4, 6-2. Kiah Generette is the sole unseeded player in the girls 16 quarterfinals. She advanced with a 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 8 seed Katrina Steffensen.

There are two unseeded boys in the quarterfinals, with Tyler Pham and wild card Luca Corinteli defeating seeds on Wednesday. Corinteli came back to defeat No. 7 seed John Pearce 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4, and Pham downed No. 3 seed Alex Van Cott 0-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Due to the rain on Monday morning, the first round of the 18s doubles was not completed until today. Top seeds Lauren Herring and Min won their first match in the girls doubles, with Sarmiento and Darien King, the boys top seeds, also advancing to the second round with a straight set victory.

For complete draws, see the tournament website.