Giron Keeps International Spring Championships Boys Title in UCLA Family; Unseeded Wild Card Crawford Powers to Girls Championship
©Colette Lewis 2011--
Less than five minutes after he had defeated top seed Bjorn Fratangelo 7-6(6), 2-6, 6-4, Marcos Giron had already received a text message from 2010 International Spring Championships finalist Clay Thompson, now a freshman at UCLA.
"He said congratulations, way to break the tradition," said Giron, who has signed a National Letter of Intent to join the Bruins in the fall. "Every year, it would seem that I would do the exact same result as he did, and I'm happy I did better than he did here."
As Giron did this year, Thompson had won the Claremont Futures the week prior, only to fall in the International Spring Championships final to yet another Southern Californian, Dan Kosakowski, who now plays No. 1 for UCLA.
"We're all from Southern Cal; we can't lose in our home territory," said the 17-year-old Thousand Oaks resident.
To go one step better than Thompson and equal Kosakowski, Giron had to survive a nearly two-and-a-half hour match. Played under ideal conditions, with little wind and temperatures in the mid-60s, the match was contested at a very high level, with both players showing off their powerful forehands and big serves.
Fratangelo played his worst game of the match after breaking Giron for a 4-2 lead in the opening set, with two unforced errors and a double fault, but he had another chance to put the set on his side of the ledger with Giron serving at 4-5, 30-40. Giron brushed that aside with a good first serve and overhead winner, and after a Fratangelo forehand went astray, held with an ace.
The real drama came in the subsequent tiebreaker, however, as Giron raced out to a 6-0 lead, winning the fourth point after a dozen great shots by both players that brought appreciative applause from the spectators. After the players switched sides, Giron failed to win any of the next six points, and after his sixth set point had been denied, looked at his racquet and said, "I could break this into a thousand pieces right now."
That frustration didn't keep Giron from winning the next point, when his aggressive move forward forced a defensive Fratangelo lob, which floated long. Giron finally converted on opportunity No. 7, when Fratangelo hit a backhand long, ending the 70-minute set.
"He played amazing for those first six points," said Fratangelo, who splits his time between Naples, Fla. and Pittsburgh, Pa. "I kind of went for broke on those first three (set points), and then thought to myself, well maybe three more, I can come back."
After losing the set after that spirited but ultimately futile comeback, Fratangelo didn't let any sign of disappointment show in his game, roaring back with some outstanding play to fashion a 3-0 lead in the second set.
"I was a little tired," Giron said of his own drop in performance in the second set. "But you've got to give credit to him, he was playing really well in that second. He wasn't missing a ball."
Both Giron and Fratangelo mentioned the advantage of new balls to start the third set, the first time either of them had played a third set all week.
"It was basically easier to finish off the points," said Giron, who broke Fratangelo in the third game. "My serve really worked well with the new balls, he couldn't return it as well. Just the pace of the game really."
Giron gave the break back, in the seventh game, missing an easy forehand volley and hitting a forehand well long on break point, but he held easily in his next service game to take a 5-4 lead.
Serving to stay in the match, Fratangelo lost his forehand at the worst possible moment, hitting one long to give Giron a match point, and one wide to end the match.
"We started with new balls, and my goal was to try and come out and break him in the first game, but he ended up holding at love, and my forehands were starting to fly," said the 17-year-old Fratangelo, who is five days older than Giron. "I was lucky to get that break back at 4-2 and in the end, it just came down to two more forehands I missed, and that was the match."
Both Giron and Fratangelo will be playing the Easter Bowl, where Fratangelo is the defending champion, and Giron is looking to add to his 12-match winning streak when play begins for the boys on Tuesday. Although there is no celebration planned, Giron will have a day to savor the victory.
"This is probably the biggest tournament I've won so far," said Giron, who beat five seeds, including Nos. 1 and 2, this week. "With some of the top players in the world playing it, to come out on top is really something else."
Giron was unseeded, but no one familiar with his game could honestly call his championship run a surprise. Girls champion Samantha Crawford needed a wild card just to get into her first ITF Grade 1 tournament, so the strides she's made this week are notable, even for the reigning Eddie Herr 16s champion.
Crawford defeated No. 3 seed Madison Keys 6-1, 6-1 in a result marred by an injury Keys suffered in the third game of the match. Trying to adjust to an errant ball toss on her serve, Keys felt a twinge in an abdominal muscle and called for the trainer on the next changeover. She received treatment for several minutes and was eventually wrapped up, but she could only spin her serve in and didn't move with the same abandon she had shown all week. A retirement seemed likely, but the 16-year-old was determined to finish.
Crawford noticed the kick serves after Keys received treatment, but she was concentrating on executing her own strategy, which was to finish the points quickly.
"I thought I was setting up points well and taking control early," said Crawford, also 16. "I went out there not worrying about anything, like I have been doing. I wanted to take control of the points quickly, so that's what I was focusing on."
Crawford's serve gave Keys difficulty and any short balls that resulted from a good first serve were put away quickly by the 6-foot-1 right-hander. The rallies were short, which may have been partially the result of Keys' injury, but as No. 2 seed Grace Min could attest after her semifinal loss Saturday, Crawford can finish points.
Keys explained her injury after the match, but did not blame it for the loss.
"Samantha played really well, she served really well," said Keys, who has withdrawn from the Easter Bowl. "She just played a really good match. My serve definitely didn't help me out, and she took advantage of that."
Crawford's breakthrough this week is gratifying to USTA National coach Kathy Rinaldi, who has been working with Crawford at the USTA's Boca Raton training center.
"It's absolutely an incredible week for her, and she deserves it, she's put the work in," said Rinaldi, who was also in Mobile for the USTA Spring Nationals last month, where Crawford lost in the first round to Kyle McPhillips. "Everyone has their own path, and it's not a straight shot forward. Sometimes you take a few steps forward, sometimes you've got to take a step back to take another step forward. That's the game of tennis."
Rinaldi was especially pleased with Crawford's approach to each match.
"I'm really of proud of her because she took the opportunity, and didn't back down, just went for it. She came out here with a great belief and we talked about taking advantage of the opportunity. That's kind of what she did all week, and I'm really proud of her."
Crawford will have no time to reflect on her championship, as she begins play in the Easter Bowl, again unseeded, on Monday.
For the complete results from the International Spring Championships, see the tournament page at usta.com.