Kosakowski, Thompson in All-UCLA Boys Final; Hardebeck & Vickery to Decide Girls Title at International Spring Championships; Daigle, Smith Win 16s
©Colette Lewis 2010--
Clay Thompson and Daniel Kosakowski are rooming together this fall at UCLA, so Sunday's final will not only give the winner his first ITF Grade 1 title, it will also give him bragging rights as the two Southern California freshmen embark on their college tennis careers.
The unseeded Thompson, from Venice, rolled past unseeded Dan McCall 6-0, 6-2 in Saturday's semifinal, while Downey's Kosakowski cruised past No. 6 seed Nick Chappell 6-3, 6-3 to earn his first trip to an ITF final.
Thompson, who won last week's inaugural Claremont ITF, a Grade 4, maintains that he is not tired, even though he will be facing his 12th singles match in the past 14 days.
"I was lucky enough to play really well the past couple of days--I was able to get off the court quickly," Thompson said. "I was a little concerned about those two matches with Dennis (Mkrtchian) and Dane (Webb), but I feel better now, refreshed."
Against McCall, Thompson made almost no unforced errors in the opening set, and returned so well that McCall was on the defensive immediately, whether serving or receiving.
In addition to his regular sessions with coach Jon Neeter, Thompson has recently begun working with the legendary Robert Lansdorp, crediting him with much of his improvement.
"He's helped me so much," said Thompson. "He's literally a genius."
Kosakowski takes occasional lessons from Eliot Teltscher and Phil Dent, but he relies primarily on his brother Marcin, who was one of the few family members not at the Home Depot Center cheering him on.
Against Chappell, Kosakowski got early breaks in each set, which allowed him to swing freely, although he wasn't entirely happy with his level.
"I played all right today, just got through the match," said Kosakowski, a wild card. "Nothing spectacular, but I got through it."
Thompson expects the final will be a close match, similar to their last meeting, which Thompson won.
"It was the finals of the Lakewood National Open about a year ago," Thompson recalled. "It was a great match, 7-5 or 7-6 in the third. He's improved a lot, I've improved a lot, so it's going to be a completely different match this time around."
Unlike the boys final, the girls championship will be a first-time meeting. Wild card Krista Hardebeck is only 15, but she will be the older finalist, with her opponent, Sachia Vickery only 14 years old.
Hardebeck and top seed Katarena Paliivets of Canada were deadlocked at 3-3 in the opening set when the Santa Ana resident found her groove, reeling off nine straight games for a 6-3, 6-0 victory. Hardebeck was wary of letting up, even when it appeared that Paliivets had lost interest in competing early in the second set.
"When she was playing my friends she would be down, and then she would win like six games in a row," said Hardebeck, who won the 16s title here last year. "So I was like, I cannot let go at all. I had a feeling that if I let go just a little bit, all of sudden she would just win 700 games in a row or something."
Vickery, the No. 8 seed, got off to a quick start against unseeded Juliana Gajic of Canada, but then her mind began to wander.
"When I was up 2-0 in the second set I started getting tight, I was thinking ahead too much," said Vickery, who trains at both the USTA's Boca Raton center and at Mouratoglou in France, always accompanied by Otis Johnson, her longtime coach. "She came up to 4-2, then I was up 5-4 and had a couple of match points, but I lost that game. After that, it was like, what are you doing? I'm just happy I pulled it off."
Vickery, the reigning Eddie Herr 16s champion, has won all her matches in straight sets this week, as has Hardebeck, so although she is confident, Vickery knows her first Grade 1 final will be a challenge.
"I know I'm going to have to play really hard because she moves the ball corner to corner, and she's a really hard fighter," said Vickery. "So I'm going to have to bring my best game tomorrow."
The 16s champions were crowned on Saturday, and both finals featured tight first set tiebreakers, with the winner saving set points in the opener, then finishing it in a substantially quicker second set.
No. 10 seed Alyssa Smith defeated No. 7 seed Mayo Hibi 7-6(5), 6-2 in a contest that consumed nearly two-and-half hours. Hibi served for the first set and had three set points at 5-4, but she failed to convert them, with Smith taking the tiebreaker. Hibi, who plays at a deliberate pace, was having great difficulty getting her first serve in, and Smith stepped several feet inside the baseline on the second serve.
"Marc (Lucero, a part-time USTA coach at Carson) told me to do that," said Laguna Niguel's Smith. "From the first point, he said just make your presence known. If she's going to give you anything like that, you're going to take it."
That is easier said than done, however, as the 14-year-old Hibi has an effective slice and uncanny defensive skills, not to mention a willingness to serve and volley. But with her first serve so erratic, Hibi wasn't able to employ all her weapons.
"I wasn't serving very well, and that was tough," said Hibi, who is from Irvine, in nearby Orange County. "I couldn't come in after my first serve. She was very consistent, but she was aggressive too, and that was a lot of pressure. It was tough to play her."
Because she trains at the USTA Training Center West at the Home Depot Center, Smith said she felt a special obligation to do well there.
"I almost felt like I had to protect my home, my home ground," said Smith, 15. "I'm just really happy."
In the only final without a Southern Californian, Louisiana's Jordan Daigle beat North Carolina's Thai Kwiatkowski 7-6(6), 6-1. Daigle, the ninth seed, fell behind 4-0 in the opening set, a start he attributed to nerves, but he fought back to force a tiebreaker. Leading 4-1 in the tiebreaker, Daigle lost five straight points, giving Kwiatkowski, the No. 11 seed, two set points. But a volley winner and an inside out forehand winner on those points saved the set for the 15-year-old Daigle, and gave him the momentum that carried through to the second set.
"After I saved the two set points I was very confident," said Daigle. "I knew I went for my shots on big points, and if I could do it then, I could do it on every point."
Daigle kept the pressure on, and Kwiatkowski, who was loudly berating his own serve throughout the later stages of the match, couldn't hit his way out of it.
"He played well; he played smart against my serve," said Kwiatkowski, who trains at the USTA's Boca Raton Center. "He took advantage of the opportunities that I gave him. He deserved to win this one."
Daigle will be playing the Easter Bowl, where he is unseeded, so he is putting off the celebration of Saturday's victory.
"I don't want to celebrate too much and have a bad Easter Bowl," said Daigle, who is with his coach, but has no family members with him in California. "I can't wait to get home and celebrate with my family."
All four doubles championships were decided on Saturday, with two top-seeded teams capturing titles. In the boys 18s, the No. 1 team of Darian King of Barbados and Raymond Sarmiento snared the championship, defeating No. 6 seeds Connor Farren and Dennis Novikov 6-4, 7-6(2). King and Sarmiento trailed 5-2 in the second set, with a match tiebreaker looming, but they fought back, and went on to dominate the second set tiebreaker.
"It was just one break, so we thought we were still in the set," said Sarmiento, who recently won a Grade 1 title in the Philippines with Francis Alcantara. "We made them earn the set, didn't give them any free points, and we came out victorious," added King.
The two had never played together before, but King was so close to entry into the French Open juniors that he was determined to get the best partner possible.
"It'll be tough to get in, but hopefully I can pull through, be the last person in, or anything like that," King said.
The other top seeded team to win was in the girls 16s, where Brooke Austin and Mia King squeezed by Hibi and Skylar Morton, the No. 2 seeds, 6-2, 6-7(5), 10-7.
In the boys 16s doubles final, it was two unseeded teams battling it out, with Jonathan Hammel and Alex Scheinman defeating Jonathan Poon and Seth Stolar 7-5, 4-6, 10-2.
The girls 18s doubles title went to No. 4 seeds Ellen Tsay and Monica Turewicz, who beat No. 5 seeds Kyle McPhillips and Chanelle Van Nguyen 7-6(5), 6-1.
Tsay and Turewicz have plenty of experience playing together, but this is the first time they've gotten the championship trophy.
"We've always had good wins, but we've never won tournaments," said Tsay. "We played a couple of tough teams, so we really had to keep it together, keep talking to each other. Some of the teams weren't communicating that well, so that's one of our advantages."
Playing an all-lefthanded team can also present problems for their opponents.
"We both have tricky serves, so we have the advantage when we're serving," said Turewicz.
Despite their success, the pair will not be playing together at the Easter Bowl due to previous arrangements. Turewicz is playing with Amelia Herring and Tsay with Courtney Dolehide.
"Maybe we'll play each other, see what happens," said Turewicz.
For the complete draws, see the tournament website.