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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Qualifiers Escobedo, Hibi Reach Quarterfinals at International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2012--
Carson, CA

The quarterfinals of the Grade 1 International Spring Championships are full of seeds, with only three of the 16 players remaining without a number after their name. Two of those, Ernesto Escobedo and Mayo Hibi, have the qualifier's "Q" and the third, Ronnie Schneider, has the wild card's WC accompanying them into Friday's action.

The 15-year-old Escobedo, from nearby West Covina, Calif., doesn't have an ITF junior ranking, but the 2011 Easter Bowl 14s champion did qualify for the International Spring Championships last year, only to draw top seed Bjorn Fratangelo in the first round. This year, Escobedo again qualified, winning three matches in straight sets, and got a more favorable draw, beating Karim Arem and No. 10 seed Lucas Gomez of Mexico before finding himself up against 2011 boys 16s finalist Nikko Madregallejo Thursday afternoon.

Escobedo's 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Madregallejo was far from simple however, as he ceded his advantage by allowing Madregallejo to take control.

"He was just more aggressive with his forehand," said Escobedo, who broke his arm in a bicycle fall shortly after last year's Easter Bowl, keeping him out of Kalamazoo. "He was attacking and attacking and I couldn't do much."

Escobedo broke Madregallejo to start the third set, and after saving a break point in a lengthy second game, he got an insurance break and held for a 4-0 lead. Rather than relax him however, the big lead got him thinking too far ahead, and soon he had lost three games in a row.

"I just got a little bit tense, because I was so excited," said Escobedo. "But I refocused."

Escobedo held at love to make it 5-3, but Madregallejo kept the pressure on by holding for 5-4. In the final game, Escobedo showed not just his good serve and powerful forehand, but some touch too, hitting an effective drop shot that Madregallejo couldn't handle and a backhand winner to close out the match.

His quarterfinal opponent is No. 14 seed Luca Corinteli, who for the second day in a row, came back from a set down to advance, beating Carter Lin 1-6, 6-4, 6-2.

The other quarterfinal in the bottom half features No. 4 seed Mackenzie McDonald against No. 12 seed Stefan Kozlov. McDonald beat unseeded Harrison Richmond 6-2, 6-2, while the 14-year-old Kozlov battled back for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 6 seed Austin Siegel.

Top seed Mitchell Krueger was tested by qualifier Henry Craig before posting a 6-4, 6-1 win, and he will meet doubles partner and No. 5 seed Alexios Halebian in Friday's quarterfinal. Halebian beat No. 11 seed Trey Strobel 6-1, 6-4. Krueger and Halebian last met at the 2010 Pan American B1 in Tulsa, with Halebian taking a 6-3, 6-4 decision in the round of 16.

The fourth quarterfinal will put No. 3 seed Noah Rubin against USTA Spring National champion Ronnie Schneider. Rubin trailed No. 13 seed Martin Redlicki 4-1 in the second set, but came back to force a tiebreaker, which he dominated to record a 6-3, 7-6(2) win. Schneider got a late break in the third set against 15-year-old Henrik Wiersholm to take the match 6-3, 0-6, 6-4.

The girls qualifier making noise is last week's Claremont Grade 4 champion Mayo Hibi, who today downed No. 4 seed Gabby Andrews 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-1 in a 3-hour and 15-minute marathon. Hibi, who is considered to be from Japan by the ITF, lives and trains in Irvine, California, so she and Andrews, both born in 1996, have played many, many times.

"It's been about 20 times, and I'm not exaggerating," said Hibi. "This is pretty big for me. We've played each other since we were like 10, and in the beginning, I would lose and I would win, but the last ten times, almost every single tournament I played her in the beginning of the year, I lost every single one of them."

Hibi let a 5-3 lead slip away in the opening set, and failed to close out the second set after she had broken Andrews to take a 6-5 lead. But Hibi came up with big shots when she needed them in the second set tiebreaker, taking a 4-0 lead, and never allowing Andrews a chance to come back.

In the third set, Hibi was able to take a 4-1 lead and hold it, which she hadn't been able to do in the first two sets, primarily due to the gusty winds that typically begin to blow during the afternoon at the Home Depot Center.

"On the one side, the wind was blowing toward my backhand, and every time I was up 4-1, I was on that side," Hibi said. "I was hitting way to weak when the wind was against me. In the third set, I tried to hit harder and move forward more, and that's how I got more games on that side."

Hibi, who played two matches on Sunday, and had Monday off, after playing every day last week in Claremont, said she is holding up physically.

"I'm a little tired, but I've been getting treatment after matches, so I'm not very exhausted or anything."

Hibi will play No. 7 seed Allie Kiick, whom she has never played, in the quarterfinals. Kiick dispatched No. 12 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, the last international player in either draw, 6-1, 6-1.

Top seed Taylor Townsend beat No. 16 seed Blair Shankle 6-3, 6-4, and will meet No. 9 seed Stephanie Nauta, who beat unseeded Makenzie Craft 6-1, 6-1.

Second seed Kyle McPhillips avoided the slow starts that plagued her in the first two rounds, giving herself an 18th birthday present by downing a visibly frustrated Tornado Ali Black 6-4, 6-3. McPhillips seized control of the match late in the first set, and feasted on Black's second serve, moving well inside the baseline to receive it. This often resulted in either a double fault or an easy return winner for McPhillips, and Black's body language in the first few games of the second set didn't suggest she could find a way to turn the match around.

McPhillips will play No. 8 seed Jennifer Brady, who cruised by unseeded Mia King 6-2, 6-1.

The fourth quarterfinal features No. 6 seed Christina Makarova against No. 3 seed Chalena Scholl. Scholl, who has lost all of three games in her three wins, beat June Lee 6-1, 6-0, while Makarova had all she could handle from Caroline Doyle before recording a 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win.

The point of the tournament came with Doyle serving at 3-4 in the third set. After her drop volley brought Makarova to the net, Doyle came in to finish the point but neither could get a volley by the other. Finally Makarova decided to try a lob, and she hit a perfect one, deep and up the center of the court. Doyle scrambled back, and with no other viable option, hit the ball between her legs on a line passing Makarova waiting at the net for a clean winner. After the half-dozen spectators shook their heads in amazement, Makarova also acknowledged the tweener winner with a racquet clap, perhaps, like the rest of us, not quite sure what she had just witnessed.

Makarova held for 5-4 in the following game and came up with her own big-time shot, although not nearly as flashy, with Doyle serving to stay in the match. At 30-all, Makarova measured a backhand down the line and hit a clean winner to give herself match point, and Doyle missed her own backhand wide in the next rally to put a sudden end to the match.

The semifinals in the 16s division are set, with only one seed remaining in each draw.

Claremont champion Logan Smith, the No. 10 seed, continued his winning streak with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over 13-year-old Connor Hance. Smith will play the only international player left in all four singles draws, Roman Safiullin of Russia, who beat Jake Devine 6-4, 3-6, 6-0. The other semifinal is a repeat of the consolation final at last year's Junior Orange Bowl 14s, with Sameer Kumar, who won that December match in three sets, against Les Petits As champion Frances Tiafoe.

Top seed Nicole Frenkel fell to unseeded Emma Higuchi 6-2, 6-2 and unseeded Raquel Pedraza downed No. 5 seed Kaitlyn McCarthy 2-6, 6-1, 6-0, to set up one semifinal.

In the other, No. 9 seed Andie Daniell will play unseeded Jessica Ho, after Daniell beat unseeded Dominique Schaefer 6-1, 6-4 and Ho defeated wild card Jada Hart 6-1, 6-7(2), 6-2.

The doubles are into the semifinals in all divisions, with a big upset happening in the boys 18s quarterfinals. Top seeds Mitchell Krueger and Alexios Halebian fell to the unseeded team of Thomas Colautti of Great Britian and Josh Hagar 6-2, 2-6, 10-5.

The top four seeds in the girls doubles all advanced to the semifinals.

For complete results, see the tournament page at usta.com.