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Monday, April 11, 2011

Okuda Upsets No. 2 Seed Makarova as ITF Grade B1 Gets Underway at Easter Bowl

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

It was my first day at the Easter Bowl due to the overlap of the International Spring Championship finals and the start of 14s play Sunday, and it started very quietly. The temperatures were excellent for tennis, with highs in the upper 70s, and there was no wind at all, which is never to be taken for granted in the Coachella Valley.

I wandered around the main site, Rancho Las Palmas, where all the 18s play and most of the top seeds in the other divisions, reacquainting myself with the court numbers and checking for possible upsets. Top seeds Henrik Wiersholm (B14s), Laure Goodman(G14s), TJ Pura (B16s) and Jamie Loeb(G16s) all came through in straight sets. Loeb, who beat Aryn Greene 6-2, 6-3, struggled with her serve on in several games, but she was able to finish points when she needed to. Pura's 6-0, 6-1 win over Maxwell Macey featured some outstanding points and close games, but Macey couldn't make an impression on the scoreboard.

ISC 16s champion Yuki Chiang was defeated by No. 17 seed Kimmy Guerin 6-4, 6-4. Guerin played well, while Chiang made more errors than usual, frequently on approach shots flying long.

Once the girls 18s action began, I concentrated on that, but I only saw a few games of the upsets that materialized late in the day. It certainly didn't look like Kendal Woodard would be one of the winners, as the wild card lost the first set to No. 7 seed Ashley Dai without winning a game, but she came back to post a 0-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory. Woodard lost in the final round of qualifying in Carson, and has been waiting around for a week to get back in competition.

"I really didn't want to come out to California and win just one match," said the 6-foot-2 17-year-old.

But after losing the first set at love, a more immediate goal presented itself.

"I really didn't want to lose 0 and 0," said Woodard, who trains at the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross, Ga. "I started making more first serves and getting more balls in play and coming to the net more."

Woodard continued that strategy in the third set, and she got the break she needed at 5-5. Woodard is comfortable coming to the net, and with her wingspan is very difficult to pass. Dai, who is much smaller, had problems getting a ball past Woodard. She also had trouble with Woodard's second serve, which, given the angle that it's coming from, can be as effective as her first.

"It's like another first serve, because my kick serve's pretty big, so I just go for it," said Woodard, who hit two second serves in the final game that Dai couldn't get in play. "I just wanted to close it out, because I'm more comfortable serving for the match rather than returning."

Just two courts down Mia King was also coming back from the loss of a first set, to No. 8 seed Jennifer Brady. It took nearly three hours, but King was able to fight back to take a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory from her friend.

"Jenny's a good friend of mine and we train together a lot," said King, who is at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, while Brady is a student at Evert Academy on the same property. "Coming all the way out here--it's hard playing her."

King, who, like Woodard, received a wild card into the tournament, said her unforced errors cost her the first set, but she was able to clean up that part of her game to take the second.

"The third set was just a battle," said King. "We were just grinding it out, long points, and think we were both a little tight. But I think I did a good job of just keeping my composure and playing every point."

While I was watching local player Desirae Krawczyk take No. 13 seed Kyle McPhillips to three sets before falling 3-6, 6-4, 6-0, Akiko Okuda was taking out No. 2 seed Christina Makarova 7-6(5), 6-2. Okuda hadn't played the 14-year-old Makarova, who can frustrate the most prepared opponent, but the 17-year-old from New Jersey knew what to expect.

"I'd seen her play a little bit, and everyone's telling me she's very consistent, that's what her game style is," said Okuda. "In the first set, it was pretty close, and I think I got used to her shots and I was able to look for the openings. I went in saying I have to be patient, but go for my shots. I can't adjust myself to her game. So I basically went with an aggressive mentality."

When Okuda first saw her name paired with Makarova's in the draw, she had an understandable reaction.

"At first I was kind of shocked and a little bummed at first," said Okuda, who has committed to Dartmouth for the fall. "But I was sort of excited too, to be able to challenge her. Everyone's so good in this draw that the seeds don't matter, so that's what I was thinking."

The fourth seed to fall in the first round of the girls 18s draw was No. 14 Denise Starr, who was beaten by Mayo Hibi 6-4, 6-4. USTA Spring National 18s Champion Danielle Collins, who received a wild card based on her performance in Mobile, lost to Jessica Wacnik 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.

The boys 18s draw is out, with defending champion Bjorn Fratangelo the top seed and Alexios Halebian seeded second. ISC champion Marcos Giron, who is unseeded, is in the quarter with No. 4 seed Dennis Novikov and No. 5 seed Mitchell Krueger.

The girls 18s doubles draw has also been posted. The 18s TennisLink site is here.

The 16s and 14s TennisLink site is here.

If you are in the Rancho Mirage area, don't forget the Tuesday night event with seven-time Grand Slam winner Mats Wilander, who will discuss Mental Toughness and Match Play. For more details, go to easterbowl.com.