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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hardebeck Defeats Top Seed Davis to Capture Girls Easter Bowl ITF Title; Belga, Andrews Come From Behind to Win 14s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2010--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

Krista Hardebeck's twelve days of tennis didn't include lords a leaping or a partridge in a pear tree. Instead it was a dozen grueling matches that culminated in an Easter Bowl title, her second major ITF championship after her win in the International Spring Championships last Sunday in Carson.

Hardebeck defeated top seed Lauren Davis 7-5, 6-3, on a scorching day that saw temperatures climb into the low 90s, with no breeze to provide any relief. Hardebeck took an early lead, but was quickly broken back, and at both 4-all and 5-all, she had to save break points that would have given Davis the chance to serve for the set. Instead, the unflappable 15-year-old escaped, and got some luck with Davis serving at 5-6. At 15-30, Hardebeck's shot clipped the tape and fell over, to give her two set points. She missed a backhand wide on the first, but on the next Davis shanked a backhand and Hardebeck had the set.

In the second set, Hardebeck took a 3-0 lead, but Davis kept herself in it by holding in her next three service games. Serving for the match at 5-3, Hardebeck faced a break point at 30-40, but Davis netted an ill-advised drop shot, and Hardebeck forced an error on the next point. On her first match point, Hardebeck worked her way inside the service line for a putaway, and when her forehand smash found open court, she let out a scream, one of the few displays of emotion she allowed herself.

"It's sort of like a marathon, running the last mile," Hardebeck said of her twelfth win in twelve days. "I do train a lot, so I'm not too tired physically, but maybe mentally, because wow, that was a lot in a row."

Davis, who was also runnerup in 2007 in the 14s Easter Bowl, was disappointed she was not able to sustain her effort in the second set.

"Going into the match I felt like my mind was all over the place," said the 16-year-old from Ohio. "She played well though. She was running me in the corners and I got worn out. My stamina isn't as good as it should be. And I think I should have changed my strategy, instead of just hitting with her. She takes everything early, so it's hard, but I should have moved her more."

Hardebeck, who is from Santa Ana, Calif., will celebrate her win in her usual fashion, with a trip to Yogurt World, a frozen yogurt all-you-can-eat buffet, and with a visit to Disneyland.

"I got a pass for my birthday (in September) but I haven't been since November, because I have trouble finding days off," said Hardebeck, who anticipates taking a three-day break from tennis.

Another treat for Hardebeck is the wild card into the U.S. Open Junior tournament that now goes to the 18s Easter Bowl winners.


The 14s champions both needed resilience after dropping the first set. Jordan Belga, the No. 11 seed, lost the first set to No. 4 seed Stefan Kozlov 6-1, but once the 13-year-old from Illinois rid himself of the championship jitters, he went on to dominate, taking the final two sets 6-2, 6-1.

"I was a little bit nervous and my legs were pretty tight," said Belga, who was competing in his first major championship match. "But when the second set started I just told myself to just play the set, play your game, just relax. It's just another match."

Belga began to serve better, and his backhand was solid point after point. Against Kozlov, who defends and anticipates well, Belga was ready for anything.

"I knew he was really crafty, he likes to mix it with the spins, and he'll just get everything back. He was pretty tough to play."

Kozlov, although only 12 years old, had more big match experience to draw on, but he was unable to sustain his level of play in the final two sets.

"In the second set I gave him a couple of free games, and it started there," said Kozlov, of Pembroke Pines, Fla. "He has a very good backhand and he can hit it anywhere on the court, angle, down the line, wherever he wants. But I could have played better."

Top seed Gabrielle Andrews also found herself down a set to No. 4 seed Kimberly Yee, but the 13-year-old from Pomona, Calif. raised her level in the final two sets to take the championship by a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 score.

"I just had a new, different mindset," said Andrews, who won the USTA Girls 14s Winter Nationals to open 2010. "I said there are two more sets that I could possibly win if I play real tennis instead of pushing the ball to the service line so she could kill it."

Yee, a Las Vegas resident, was in control of the points in the opening set, using her pace and depth to great advantage. But as the match wore on during the hottest part of the day, errors she wasn't making at the beginning began to surface.

"After the first set, I got really tired in the heat, and I guess I just wasn't ready for another two sets," said Yee, also 13. "She played great, but I got a little more tired as the match went on."

Andrews also admitted to fatigue.

"I am tired. I feel like my legs are about to fall off. Kimmie ran me--I've never run so much in my life. I'll be sore and I'm going to sleep for two days straight."

But by Tuesday Andrews will need to be rested, as she and several other players her age are heading to Birmingham, Ala. for a USTA camp conducted around the Fed Cup tie between the U.S. and Russia.

With half of the singles champions crowned on Saturday, three more finals will be played on Sunday.

The girls 16s championship will be between two Easter Bowl veterans, No. 1 seed Kyle McPhillips, who was in the 14s final in 2008, and No. 2 seed Brooke Austin, who won the 14s last year.

"I'm so excited," said the 14-year-old Austin, who defeated unseeded wild card Jennifer Brady 6-2, 6-2 in Saturday's semifinal. "It seems so much easier than last year. Last year, I thought I was going to die in the finals, because I had played at least four three-and-a-half hour matches right in a row. It was a long tournament last year, while this one seemed to go by fast."

Although they are from the same section, the Midwest, McPhillips and Austin will be meeting for the first time on Sunday.

"We haven't even played in doubles," said McPhillips, who advanced to the final with a 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 7 seed Spencer Liang. "It's weird."


In the boys 16s final, No. 10 Gordon Watson will meet top seed Nolan Paige. Watson earned his championship berth with a 6-2, 6-4 win over unseeded Sean Karl, while Paige needed to withstand an opening set blitz from No. 7 seed Ross Guignon before recording a 1-6, 6-0, 6-3 victory.

"He didn't miss a ball in the entire first set," said Paige, from Fairfield, Conn. "It was impossible. I couldn't come in because every ball was so deep."

Paige and Watson haven't met since the 12s. "He demoralized me," Paiged recalled. "But that was so long ago. It was 12-and-unders. I think I've gotten a little bit better."

Watson is looking forward to the pomp and circumstance of the final on Sunday.

"I was sitting with my friends about thirty minutes before my match and I saw all the refs, and the ballboys, and I said man, I'm getting nervous, because I want that so bad. It's a great accomplishment and I hope I can bring my A game tomorrow."


The boys ITF final will pit USTA Spring National Champion Bjorn Fratangelo against No. 4 seed Nick Chappell. Fratangelo defeated unseeded Alexios Halebian 6-2, 6-3, while Chappell eliminated unseeded Evan Song 6-3, 6-0.

Fratangelo, the only right-hander among the semifinalists, thinks playing a left-hander in the semifinal will prove beneficial in Sunday's final.

"It's definitely going to help on the serve and second serve, where to put the ball," said Fratangelo, of Pittsburgh, Pa. "It will help a lot."

Fratangelo beat Chappell in the South Carolina ITF last fall, but that result isn't weighing too heavily on Chappell, from Indianapolis, Ind.

"He won 4 and 1, something like that, but that was a while ago," Chappell said. "We're both playing real well, so it should be a good match."

Three doubles champions were crowned on Saturday. In the girls ITF doubles, top seeds Lauren Herring and Grace Min defeated No. 6 seeds Courtney Dolehide and Ellen Tsay 6-4, 6-4.

"We never got broken," said Herring. "It was a big serving match. We only broke them once in each set but that was enough to win," said Min. "In the last game, I was little nervous," said Herring, "but Grace served so big, I didn't even have to hit a ball."

In the boys 16s doubles final, top seed Anthony Delacore and Ross Guignon saved two match points in their 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-2 victory over No. 8 seeds Matthew Alves and Hudson Barnhart. Down 6-4 in the second set tiebreaker, Delacore and Guignon won four straight points, a momentum swing they carried through the final set.

Matthew Mendez and Jordan Portner, a 9 seeded team, are the boys 14s doubles champions. They defeated unseeded Deiton Baughman and Henrik Wiersholm 7-5, 6-3 in Saturday afternoon's final.

For complete results, see the TennisLink sites: ITF and USTA.


Patty L said...

Colette, thank you for your incredible dedication to junior tennis. It is much appreciated. Do you happen to know the names of all the girls who are attending the USTA camp in Birmingham conducted around the Fed Cup tie between the U.S. and Russia? Thanks.

Colette Lewis said...

@Patty L:
Thank you for the kind words.
I confirmed with Brooke Austin and Gabrielle Andrews that they were going, but I don't know who else was invited.