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Saturday, April 16, 2011

McPhillips Takes Girls ITF Championship for Second Consecutive Easter Bowl Title; Escobedo and Shishkina Take 14s Gold Balls

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

Kyle McPhillips won the battle of the reigning Easter Bowl champions in searingly hot day at the Rancho Las Palmas resort. The 2010 16s champion won a the ITF Grade B1 title by reversing her previous fortunes with 2010 14s champion Gabby Andrews, taking a 6-4, 6-4 decision that was even closer than that.

McPhillips, seeded 13th, had an opportunity to end the match in something less than dramatic fashion with Andrews serving at 3-5 in the second set. Down 30-40, Andrews was able to survive when McPhillips couldn't get a return in play then or when she had ad in, and Andrews threw in a drop shot winner to assist in the hold.

Serving for the match at 5-4, McPhillips fell behind 30-40, but that was one of only two game points Andrews had, with McPhillips having the advantage five times before she finally converted on the sixth.

As match points came and went, McPhillips took her time, toweling off, seeking any shade from the desert sun in the far reaches of the cavernous stadium court. The temperatures were in the upper 90s, and McPhillips' face was flushed from exertion as she tried again and again to end the match. On a few of the match points, Andrews came up big, especially on the return of serve, but McPhillips made errors that hadn't been much in evidence earlier in the match.

McPhillips reached match point number eight after an overhead winner, and as she approached the net to finish the putaway of the short ball she had drawn, her eagerness and relief were apparent. The usually calm and undemonstrative 17-year-old, responded to her winner with clenched fists and a shout of "yes," having not only repeated as Easter Bowl champion, but also having defeated Andrews for the first time in four attempts.

"I got a little lucky in that last game," said McPhillips, who is from Willoughby, Ohio. "I was frustrated after the first match point, but I think I did a good job of staying calm."

Andrews and McPhillips both agreed that in their previous meetings, McPhillips hadn't served as well, or played as error-free as she did on Saturday.

"She didn't make as many unforced errors, she was really consistent," said the 14-year-old Andrews, seeded ninth. "She had a better serve, a higher service percentage, and they were really good serves. The last three times, she was just hitting kick serves."

McPhillips, who had lost in the quarterfinals at the Claremont ITF and the round of 16 in the International Spring Championships last week, isn't quite sure what clicked for her when she arrived in Rancho Mirage.

"Even though I won last year, the confidence doesn't really stay high," McPhillips said. "I've been winning matches all year and losing matches all year. Every single match, no matter how many matches I've won, it starts over, and I have rebuild my confidence. That's the tough part of this game. You can be the number one seed, but it's not like you have some kind of advantage. You have to start at love-love, just like everyone else."

McPhillips expressed excitement over the US Open junior championship wild card she has earned with the victory, and is she is planning to play a couple of Pro Circuit $10,000 events next month. But first she has to get her mind around what she has just accomplished at the Easter Bowl.

"I'm so happy right now," McPhillips said, her voice rising. "I actually can't believe I won it. It's such a huge tournament."

While McPhillips was collecting her first ITF Grade 1 title and second straight Easter Bowl singles championship, 12-year-old Maria Shishkina erased the disappointment of last year's loss in the Easter Bowl 14s quarterfinals by going all the way this year.

The fifth-seeded Shishkina avenged a recent National Open loss on clay to Katerina Stewart with a 6-1, 6-4 victory Saturday afternoon, using her powerful groundstrokes to keep the eighth-seeded Stewart on the defensive throughout the match.

Taking an early lead in both sets, Shishkina, who trains at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla., stumbled a bit in the second, hitting a double fault at 5-2, 30-40, to delay the ending she had envisioned since last year's loss to Peggy Porter. Stewart held in the next game to make it 5-4, but Shishkina regained her form in the final game to claim the championship.

"I loved how I played today," Shishkina said, crediting her serve with much of the improvement since the February loss to Stewart. "I wanted to win so badly. I had to stay consistent, because she made some mistakes, but she's a great player, and I just tried to do my best."

Stewart thought the hard courts definitely gave Shishkina an advantage this time out.

"I think on hard courts she can easily take the balls on the rise, better than on clay," said Stewart, who trains at the Next Level Tennis Academy in Miami with her father. "On clay, my style of ball jumps up higher than normal, so it helped me last time."

Asked what makes Shishkina such a good player, Stewart had a ready answer.

"She's not just a regular aggressive baseliner, she's a consistent one. It's hard to make her miss."

In the boys 14s finals, top seed Henrik Wiersholm was waiting for No. 7 seed Ernesto Escobedo to miss, but he waited in vain, with Escobedo powering his way to a 6-4, 6-1 victory.

Escobedo, a 14-year-old from West Covina, Calif., broke Wiersholm in the third game of the opening set, and didn't face a break point during the remainder of the set. Serving for it at 5-4, Escobedo did get down 15-30, but hit one of the tournament's most impressive shots, when he had no time to set up properly, but still was able to angle a powerful overhead smash off a very good lob, a shot that had Wiersholm and most of the spectators shaking their heads in amazement. From there Escobedo held, and in the second set the pattern repeated, with Wiersholm again broken in the third game.

The game of the match came with Wiersholm serving at 1-3 in the second set. There were 12 deuces, countless winners, a few errors, and it was 15 or 20 minutes before Escobedo finally was able to end it by putting away a forehand to get the insurmountable two-break lead.

"I really wanted that game," said Escobedo, who is coached by Ricardo Coronado and Luis Bettes in his hometown. "Because with that game, I knew I was going to win the match. He was going to be tired."

Escobedo faced his only break points of the match in the next game, going down 0-40, but he fought his way back, winning the next five points. And although Wiersholm saved two match points on his serve, he couldn't save a third. Fittingly, it was a forehand winner by Escobedo that ended it, as that shot was rock solid and beyond Wiersholm's capable defenses throughout the match.

"He was cracking the ball out there," said Wiersholm. "He put me on the defensive from the beginning. He hits a big ball and has a big serve, and it's tough to be more aggressive than he was being. I tried to weather the storm, because I know he can get on those winner streaks, where he pulls winners everywhere, but he never really stopped, he just kept going."

Escobedo, who turns 15 in July, was playing in his first USTA National Championship final, but he said he felt no nerves, and he certainly played with great focus and confidence despite the big occasion.

As for a celebration, Escobedo was looking forward to dinner at the Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill, and will begin playing in 16s and 18s divisions in the section.

Wiersholm did get a measure of revenge, winning the boys 14s doubles title with partner Tommy Paul over Escobedo and his partner Eduardo Nava 7-6(5), 6-4. Wiersholm and Paul were the No. 2 seeds; Escobedo and Nava were seeded No. 1.

The boys 16s doubles title went to No. 9 seeds Gregory Garcia and Jonathan Poon, who defeated Christopher Vrabel and Anton Zykov 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(2).

Although Gabby Andrews was not able to repeat in singles, she did get her second consecutive Easter Bowl doubles championship, both with Taylor Townsend, who celebrated her 15th birthday Saturday. Andrews and Townsend, the No. 8 seeds and also winners at the International Spring Championships last week, beat McPhillips and Chanelle Van Nguyen, the No. 4 seeds, 2-6, 6-2, 11-9.

"Being able to defend our title in a bigger age group and on my birthday, that's a pretty good birthday present," Townsend said.

"It was neck and neck," said Andrews, "but me and Taylor usually do well in tiebreakers, so we were able to pull that one out."

The biggest lead in the match tiebreaker was two points, which Andrews and Townsend had at 7-5 and 8-6, but McPhillips and Van Nguyen got it back to 8-8 and saved a match point at 8-9. But Andrews came up with a crucial ace to give her team their second match point, and after a lengthy rally Van Nguyen's netted forehand gave the championship to Andrews and Townsend.

The three singles finals on Sunday--the boys and girls 16s and the boys 18s--feature both new and familiar faces.

Marcos Giron, the boys 16s finalist in 2009, earned his 17 straight win in the past three weeks, defeating top seed and defending champion Bjorn Fratangelo 6-2, 3-0 ret. inj. Fratangelo had needed a trainer for his arm in his quarterfinal match with Emmett Egger, and it continued to give him trouble against Giron, who can find no particular reason for the stamina he's displayed in his run.

"Earlier this week I was a little tired, run-down, but the past few days I've gotten worked on by the trainer, stretched out, and I'm feeling pretty good now," said Giron.

Water, Gatorade and a nightly dose of Muscle Milk is hardly a magic potion, but that's Giron's daily routine, and he'll use it again as he prepares to face No. 7 seed Mac Styslinger for the first time.

"I never really knew of him until Carson, which is weird, because I feel all the USTA guys know each other," Giron said. "I've never played him, and it'll be a fun match. I've definitely got to take care of my serve. If he breaks me, it's going to be tough to break back."

Styslinger, who beat No. 3 seed Shane Vinsant 6-0, 7-6(5) Saturday, is excited about reaching his first Grade 1 final. A semifinalist at Carson last week, Styslinger has had an outstanding 2011, qualifying at the Australian Open juniors, where he reached the quarterfinals.

"I've worked hard in the gym, lost a good bit of weight and I feel really fast on the court," said Styslinger, who trains at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Fla. "I can grind with any of these guys."

As for Giron, Styslinger said he has only seen him play a little bit during the past two weeks.

"He's playing well, so I know I'll have to play really well to compete with him, but I think if I play my game, I'll at least give myself a shot to win, so I'm looking forward to it."

The girls 16s finals will feature Kimberly Yee, the No. 4 seed, who reached the 14s final at last year's Easter Bowl. Yee held off a furious comeback by top seed Jamie Loeb to record a 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-5 win in just over three hours. Loeb trailed 5-1 in the final set before winning four straight game to level it, but Yee held on for the win.

Yee will play Caroline Doyle, a No. 17 seed, who had a much quicker day on the singles court Saturday. Doyle defeated No. 2 seed Spencer Liang 6-2, 6-1.

The boys 16s singles final has No. 2 seed Ronnie Schneider facing No. 8 seed Gage Brymer. Brymer took out JC Aragone, a 17 seed, 6-2, 6-3, while Schneider got by No. 4 seed Gregory Garcia 6-2, 6-4.

Saturday's complete scores:

Boys’ 18s Singles Semifinals

Mac Styslinger (7) Birmingham, AL def. Shane Vinsant (3) Keller, TX 6-0, 7-6(5)
Marcos Giron Thousand Oaks, CA def. Bjorn Fratangelo (1) Pittsburgh, PA 6-2, 3-0 Ret (inj)

Girls’ 18s Singles Finals

Kyle McPhillips (13) Willoughby, OH def. Gabrielle Andrews (9) Pomona, CA 6-4, 6-4

Boys’ 16s Singles Semifinals
Gage Brymer (8) Irvine, CA def. JC Aragone (17) Yorba Linda, CA 6-2, 6-3
Ronnie Schneider (2) Bloomington, IN def. Gregory Garcia (4) Poway, CA 6-2, 6-4

Girls’ 16s Singles Semifinals

Caroline Doyle (17) San Francisco, CA def. Spencer Liang (2) Potomac, MD 6-2, 6-1
Kimberly Yee (4) Las Vegas, NV def. Jamie Loeb (1) Ossining, NY 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-5

Boys’ 14s Singles Finals

Ernesto Escobedo (7) West Covina, CA def. Henrik Wiersholm (1) Kirkland, WA 6-4, 6-1

Girls’ 14 Singles Finals

Maria Shishkina (5) Bradenton, FL def. Katerina Stewart (8) Miami, FL 6-1, 6-4

Boys’ 18s Doubles Semifinals

Mitchell Krueger / Shane Vinsant (2) def. Casey Kay / Hunter Reese 3-6, 6-2, 1-0(5)
Emmett Egger / Mac Styslinger (4) def. Bjorn Fratangelo / Alexios Halebian (1) 5-7, 6-2, 1-0(10)

Girls’ 18s Doubles Finals

Gabrielle Andrews / Taylor Townsend (8) def. Kyle McPhillips / Chanelle Van Nguyen (4) 2-6, 6-2, 1-0(9)

Boys’ 16s Doubles Finals

Gregory Garcia / Jonathan Poon (9) def. Christopher Vrabel / Anton Zykov 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(2)

Boys' 16 Doubles (Playoff)

Trey Daniel / Thomas Pura (2) def. Justin Chan / Stefan Menichella (5) 3-6, 6-2, 6-2

Girls’ 16s Doubles Semifinals
Caroline Doyle / Katrine Steffensen (3) def. Mariana Gould / Gabrielle Smith (9) 7-6(1), 6-2
Olivia Sneed / Madison Westby (9) def. Spencer Liang / Jamie Loeb (1) 6-2, 2-6, 6-1

Boys’ 14s Doubles Finals
Tommy Paul / Henrik Wiersholm (2) def. Ernesto Escobedo / Eduardo Nava (1) 7-6(5), 6-4

Boys' 14 Doubles (Playoff)

Artemie Amari / Robert Levine (9) def. Augustus Ge / Robert Seby (4) 6-3, 6-4