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Friday, April 13, 2012

Blumberg and Seelig in Boys 14s Easter Bowl Final; Bellis and Higuchi Will Decide Girls 14s Title; Rain Throws Other Divisions Schedules into Disarray


©Colette Lewis 2012—
Rancho Las Palmas, CA—
The weather turned ugly in the Coachella Valley Friday afternoon, with rain arriving from over the mountains and temperatures plunging into the 50s. But it was a beautiful day for the tournament’s youngest finalists, who finished before the unseasonable weather moved in, leaving the remaining divisions with unfinished matches.

Catherine Bellis, a 17 seed, was on and off the court in no time, defeating No. 2 seed Raquel Pedraza 6-0, 6-0, while her opponent in Saturday’s final, top seed Emma Higuchi, needed considerably longer to subdue No. 4 seed Usue Arconada 7-5, 6-3.

Bellis, who turned 13 on Easter Sunday, had lost to Pedraza last year, but in 2010 she posted an equally convincing victory over Pedraza at the very same facility during the Roxy championships.

“Actually at this site, the first time I ever played her I beat her 0 and 0,” said Bellis, who admitted she thought back to that triumph on a court just a few yards away from where the two met again on Friday. “I think everything was really working today. Probably my forehand was working the best.”

Bellis, who won the 12s clays and hard courts last summer, is no stranger to big occasions, but she was still processing the idea that she would be playing in the Easter Bowl final on Saturday.

“I actually don’t think I’m in the Easter Bowl final right now,” said the Atherton, California resident, excitement still in her voice. “I’m not quite sure what’s going on. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Higuchi’s most recent major final was only last week, in the 16s at the International Spring Championships, where, unseeded, she lost to Jessica Ho.

Despite the confidence boost that performance provided, and her top seeding at the Easter Bowl, the 14-year-old from Los Angeles doesn’t feel increased expectations.

“I don't really pay attention to seeds or anything,” said Higuchi, who trains at the USTA Center in Carson. “It didn't really affect me. A lot of people came up to me and said ‘oh, you're the number one seed’ and I was like, yes, but really, I don't care. I didn't try to ignore it or anything, but just accept it and play tennis.”

Against Arconada, a 13-year-old who played the 18s division in Carson, Higuchi got off to a slow start.

“At first I was all over the place,” said Higuchi. “But I just made balls and everything and I guess it worked, I came back and had more energy.”

In the second set, Higuchi took the lead early, and she held on to it, although when it came time to serve out the match, there were jitters.

“On match point I was really nervous, I could barely hit the ball,” said Higuchi, who won the 30-30 point when Arconada hit a swinging backhand volley long. “But I got the serve in, so it was good.”

Arconada shanked her return and Higuchi had made her way into the Easter Bowl final, only a year after losing in the first round as a 13-year-old.

Higuchi and Bellis played most recently in a National Open last November with Higuchi winning 7-6(6), 6-0.

“It was a really tough match,” Higuchi said of that semifinal win over Bellis. “I'll have to play my best tomorrow. I think we kind of have similar games, so it will be a good match to play.”


Unlike Californians Bellis and Higuchi, William Blumberg, the No. 14 seed, and Kyle Seelig, the No. 2 seed, will face each other for the first time in the boys 14s final.

Seelig beat No. 4 seed Jonathan Small 6-2, 6-2 in Friday’s semifinals, a performance he rated as an 8 or 9 on a scale of 10.

“Whenever I got the chance I attacked the ball and he was having trouble getting it back,” said Seeling, who trains at the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education Center in Philadelphia. “I played really aggressive and tried to go for my shots.”

Seelig, who will be 15 in September, reached the round of 16 last year, deeming that result “okay, but this is way better.”

A semifinalist in the 12s Spring Nationals in 2010, Seelig will be playing for his first gold ball Saturday.

Blumberg’s 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win over top seed Anudeep Kodali was full of twists and turns, with Blumberg using the 10-minute break between the second and third sets to his advantage.

"My mind was so mental in the second set," said Blumberg, who trains at the USTA's Flushing Meadows Center. "My coach really calmed me down, and I came out pretty strong. He was dictating all the points in the second set, so I tried to slow down the pace, wait for my short ball and then attack. My coach told me I was hitting too may inside in forehands and missing them, so I was trying to go more inside out and be more relaxed, wait for the right ball."

When Blumberg served for the match at 5-3, he coaxed a couple of errors from Kodali, but also made a key touch reflex volley off a drilled passing shot that kept his momentum going at 15-all. At 40-30, Blumberg fired an excellent first serve and put away the short return with a strong forehand to nip any drama in the bud.

The Winter National champion in the 12s, Blumberg, who reached the final of Les Petits As in January, is no stranger to important championship matches, and he has no special plans in preparation for this one.

"I just have to stay focused, set my plan out and be ready, not worry about what's going on around me, just on the court," said Blumberg, who lost in the first round at last year's Easter Bowl.

"I've been playing good tennis, I came back from France a while ago and continued my good tennis. In Claremont, Carson and here. I came and tried to play my best tennis and it's worked for me so far."

The girls 18s semifinals were scheduled to be played Friday afternoon, but only one started, and it was disrupted several times by rain, with Allie Kiick, the seventh seed, leading Brooke Austin 5-1 in the first set, when play was suspended at 3:30 pm and called for the day at 6 pm. The semifinal between Mayo Hibi and top seed Taylor Townsend did not start.

The boys 18s quarterfinals were nearly done, in fact within a point of finishing when No. 6 seed Thai Kwiatkowski was serving for the match against wild card Ronnie Schneider at 3-6, 6-2, 5-3, 40-30. Kwiatkowski couldn't convert that match point however, missing his forehand volley a few inches long and losing the next two points to make it 5-4. Schneider held for 5-5 and was leading 15-40 with Kwiatkowski serving when the rain, light at first, but no longer sporadic, ended play for the day.

The winner of that match will play No. 4 seed Alexios Halebian, who lost the first set for the third consecutive day, but once again survived, beating 14-year-old Stefan Kozlov, the ninth seed, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-2. The other boys ITF semifinal will feature No. 3 seed Mackenzie McDonald against No. 2 seed Noah Rubin after McDonald's 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 5 seed Austin Siegel and Rubin's 7-5, 6-4 victory over wild card Jared Hiltzik.

The boys 16s quarterfinals were also one match from completion. Top seed Yale Goldberg advanced to the semifinals with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 win over unseeded Christian Langmo. He will play No. 12 seed Joe DiGiulio, who eliminated 2011 Easter Bowl 14s champion Ernesto Escobedo 6-2, 6-3. Thomas Fawcett, a No. 17 seed, beat No. 6 seed Garrett Auproux and will play the winner of the match between No. 16 seed Logan Smith and No. 9 seed Aron Hiltzik.

The girls 16s semifinals are set, thanks to four straight-set matches in Friday's quarterfinals. No. 8 seed Brooke Broda defeated Mary Haffey 6-1, 3-0 ret. inj. and will play unseeded Jessica Golovin, a 6-0, 6-3 winner over Meghan Kelley. Unseeded Meredith Xepoleas downed Ayla Aksu 6-3, 6-3 and will face No. 17 seed Kaitlyn McCarthy, a 6-1, 6-1 winner over Terri Fleming.

There were no doubles played on Friday.

For Saturday's schedule, see the draws at TennisLink. For the 18s click here, for the 14s and 16s click here.