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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Southern California Wild Cards Kosakowski and Hardebeck Claim International Spring Championships Sunday

©Colette Lewis 2010--
Carson, CA--

Twenty minutes into the girls final at the International Spring Championships, Krista Hardebeck was already down a set to eighth seed Sachia Vickery, and she had yet to win a game. Asked what she was thinking at that stage, Hardebeck took the short view.

"I just need a game. I can't lose this 0 and 0. That would be so embarrassing," the 15-year-old from Santa Ana said.

She got that game immediately, breaking Vickery to open the second set, and went on to win her first ITF title, 0-6 6-3, 6-2.

"She was playing so good in the first set," Hardebeck said of her 14-year-old opponent. "She was just hitting winners and winners. I tried to be more consistent. I don't know, sometimes people will have a really good first set, but she can't play like this the whole match, so I just need to stay in there."

In the second set, Hardebeck began finding the lines with her shots, and Vickery's backhand began finding the net, with Hardebeck taking a 5-2 lead. Although Hardebeck was broken at love serving for the second set, there was no frustration or impatience, with her body language saying very clearly that she still believed she could win. She broke Vickery in the next game, and although Hardebeck dropped her serve to open the third set, any doubts from the first set were distant memories, and she won six of the final seven games.

"I thought I played fine, but I just got really nervous and lost focus," said Floridian Vickery. "I think I have a harder time when I'm up. But she played really well. I knew she was a good player and it was going to be a really tough match. I'm just kind of disappointed."

Posing at the draw board with her longtime coach Paulo Alipio of Brazil and Robert Van't Hof, a more recent adviser who surprised her by coming to the match, Hardebeck was all smiles.

"It's so exciting," said the 2009 16s champion, the only back-to-back winner in the tournament's six-year history. "I guess this place is good for me. I like this place now."

Joining Hardebeck in the winner's circle was fellow Southern Californian wild card Daniel Kosakowski, who won the battle of the incoming UCLA recruits 6-1, 6-2 over future roommate Clay Thompson.

Kosakowski came out nerveless, and was serving so well that Thompson was on defense from the beginning. Kosakowski, from nearby Downey, made few unforced errors, while Thompson's forehand, usually a weapon, was a liability from the beginning. Thompson couldn't stay in the points long enough to get any rhythm, because either Kosakowski would hit a winner or Thompson would make an error.

"I played well today," said Kosakowski. "I was playing my best. I've played him three times and never beaten him, and it's always been three sets, so it felt good to win."

Even twenty minutes after the match, Thompson said he was still "in shock."

"I literally don't know what happened," said Thompson. "I don't think I've ever had that happen to me before. It's what I tend to do to other people. When I lose a match it's usually close, because I'm able to keep it on serve at the least, but today I wasn't able to find anything."

Trailing 6-1, 5-0, Thompson held his serve for only the second time in the match, then broke Kosakowski to make it 5-2. Thompson immediately lost the first three points on his own serve to give Kosakowski three match points, but saved all three, and at that stage, thought he might make a match of it.

"I was 100% confident I was going to come back," said Thompson, who lives in Venice, Calif. "I missed a first serve on the deuce point, tried to kick it in and it totally went into the net, then I missed a forehand, really easy, and I was just deflated again."

Thompson will be playing the Easter Bowl, but Kosakowski will not, so their next meeting could come in the Men's Open division at Ojai later this month.

Hardebeck and Vickery are also making the two-hour drive to Palm Springs for the Easter Bowl, where Hardebeck will not be seeded according to ITF rules.

For complete results, see the International Spring Championships tournament website.

For the Easter Bowl draws (the 14s age division began play Sunday), see the TennisLink sites: USTA 14s & 16s and ITF.