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Monday, April 4, 2011

Giron Defeats Novikov as International Spring Championships Get Underway

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Carson, Calif--

There were way too many matches to follow or even locate Monday as the first round of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships got underway on a warm and sunny day at the Home Depot Center. With 15 courts being used, including the cavernous Stadium Court, from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m., I could have spent my time just getting from match to match, but I decided instead to stay near Court 4, where three of the top four seeds were in action, as well as several of what I considered the best first round matches.

There is a new tournament clubhouse area, more open, with the white canvas replaced by a beige version. The tournament desk is now in a separate room, but the players waiting area still overlooks Court 4, which is really the feature court at the facility.

Girls 18s top seed Vicky Duval was the first big name to take that court, and after cruising through a 6-1 first set against Ha-Young Ji of Korea, looked to be in total control. But Ji raised her level in the second set, took a 5-3 lead and had a set point at 40-30 before Duval reasserted herself, taking the final four games of the set for a 6-1, 7-5 victory.

Duval said she was happy not to go three sets this early in the tournament, especially since she was just a point away from that fate.

"I may have lost my focus a little bit," said the 15-year-old Bollettieri protege, "but I have to give her credit, she earned her points in the second set, and she made me earn mine. I think she got a little too excited when she had a chance to win the set, and I played a good big point."

No. 2 seed Grace Min beat Alanna Wolff 6-4, 6-2, No. 3 seed Madison Keys defeated Skylar Kuykendall 6-4, 6-0 and No. 4 seed Christina Makarova overcame Desirae Krawczyk 5-7, 6-1, 6-2. Monica Turewicz, the No. 7 seed, fell to Sabrina Santamaria 6-1, 6-3; No. 10 seed Julia Elbaba was bounced by Samantha Crawford 6-0, 6-2; No. 11 seed Hannah King lost to Kyle McPhillips 6-2, 6-2 and No. 16 seed Jennifer Brady was eliminated by Claremont ITF champion Gabby Andrews 6-3, 6-3.

Another Claremont champion on a roll is Marcos Giron, also unseeded at the International Spring Championships, and he too faced a seed in the first round--No. 5 Dennis Novikov. Giron broke Novikov in the opening game of the match, and was rock solid on his own serve the rest of the first set, hitting a high percentage of his first serves, while still going for the heat. Giron also didn't make many errors, which got Novikov talking to himself as Giron's flawless play continued into the second set.

Giron has been known to hold audible conversations with himself throughout a match if shots start to go awry, but there wasn't much to say after he again broke Novikov as the second set began and jumped out to a 4-0 lead. The opportunity to berate himself came soon however, as Giron lost five straight games, although it was as much Novikov raising his game as it was a slight drop in Giron's level. Giron finally stopped the bleeding by holding at love to make it 5-5, and in the next game came up with two impressive winners--a running forehand and a backhand pass--that helped him secure the critical break. Another of Giron's many aces gave him a 30-15 lead in the final game, and an overhead putaway got him to match point. When Novikov's return went long, Giron had a 6-4, 7-5 victory.

Giron, who will join the UCLA in the fall, said he has a good record when Bruin head coach Billy Martin is watching him, as he was Monday.

"I always seem to play well in front of him," said Giron, who is from Thousand Oaks, Calif. "I'm happy that I played well again. I feel like I play better when he's here."

Giron mentioned UCLA freshman Clay Thompson, who won Claremont last year and the following week made the finals of the International Spring Championships.

"He was joking around with me about that," said Giron, who lost to Thompson in the Claremont semifinals last year. "Every time I seem to follow in his footsteps, so I won Claremont, and hopefully I'll do better than him at this tournament--win it."

Boys 18s top seed Bjorn Fratangelo and No. 3 seed Alexios Halebian will play their first round matches on Tuesday. No. 2 seed Nikola Milojevic of Serbia downed Andrew Adams 6-4, 6-4, and No. 4 seed Shane Vinsant advanced to the second round with a 6-2, 7-6(2) victory over Hunter Harrington. Jeremy Efferding took out No. 12 seed Michael Rinaldi 6-4, 6-2; Gregory Scott defeated No. 15 seed Juan Pablo Murra of Mexico 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(7); Mitchell Polnet beat No. 9 seed Jorge Brian Panta Herreros of Peru 6-0, 7-5, and No. 14 seed William Kwok retired down 4-0 to Lucas Gomez of Mexico.

In the 16s, girls top seed Katrine Steffensen defeated Conner Calabro 6-4, 6-1, and boys top seed Luca Corinteli beat Dylan Brown 6-1, 6-2.

The final match on Court 4 featured two of the best young players in the US, with Stefan Kozlov and Henrik Wiersholm playing for the third time since the end of December. As the sun set and a fingernail of the moon appeared, Kozlov again collected a victory over the Les Petits As champion, this one by a 6-2, 6-2 score. Kozlov was up 4-0 before Wiersholm got on the board, and the 13-year-old Floridian just kept out-rallying Wiersholm, who never looked comfortable. The second set was similar to the first, and although Wiersholm put a little bit of pressure on Kozlov by breaking him to make it 3-2, Wiersholm gave the break right back, and simply couldn't string together three or four quality points in succession. Kozlov was more consistent and finished points with more confidence, while Wiersholm just never solved the riddle.

Tuesday's schedule includes the second round of 16s, the remaining first round matches in the 18s and the start of doubles.

For the complete results and order of play, see the tournament website at usta.com.