©Colette Lewis 2012--
Rancho Las Palmas, CA--
It was another red letter day for Indiana tennis Thursday, rivaling the day last month when Ronnie Schneider and Brooke Austin claimed gold balls at USTA National Spring Championships in Mobile.
Schneider outclassed top seed and International Spring Champion Mitchell Krueger 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the quarterfinals of the ITF Easter Bowl, while Austin dealt defending champion and No. 2 seed Kyle McPhillips her first Easter Bowl loss since 2009, also by a 6-3, 6-2 score.
Schneider started fast in the ideal playing conditions, getting an early break and taking a 4-1 lead, which he felt was important to his chances.
"I got off to a really good start, which I think helped my confidence," said Schneider. "I went into the match knowing I could win, but when you get off to a good start like that, it reinforces it."
Krueger wasn't playing badly, but rather was forced into errors by Schneider's ability to stay on the baseline and dictate play.
"I tried to put the pressure on him, and I feel that game plan worked as long as I did it," said Schneider. "I could tell the times I wasn't doing it--he was in more control--and that wasn't what I wanted at all."
After serving out the first set, Schneider broke Krueger to open the second set. The 17-year-old right-hander broke Krueger for the second time in the set to make it 4-1, and Schneider's relentless play caused Krueger to take his frustration out on his racquet. Usually placid and unemotional on the court, the 18-year-old Texan smashed his racquet as he walked back for his towel, which seemed to help him, at least momentarily. Krueger broke Schneider to make it 4-2, and if Schneider had any doubts about his ability to close out the match, they were going to surface then.
In his loss last week to Noah Rubin in the ISC quarterfinals, Schneider was up 4-1 in the final set, only to lose the last five games of the match.
"I won't lie. There was a little bit of that creeping in there," said Schneider, who received a wild card into the ITF event by making the semifinals in Mobile. "I pushed that thought out, and I think that match in Carson made me stronger as a player moving forward. I knew I had to get mentally stronger, and in the end, I think that's what I did."
Krueger was broken in the next game to give Schneider the opportunity to serve for the match. He went down 0-30, had a match point at 40-30, which he failed to convert, but got another one in much the same fashion he had throughout the match--by forcing an error. On the second match point Schneider missed his first serve, but Krueger missed his forehand return to give Schneider the win over the ITF's tenth-ranked player.
"I don't play many ITFs," said Schneider, "and the top person I had ever beaten was last week (Ricky Mendinilla, No. 77). So this is far and away the biggest ITF win of my life."
"But I know I don't have to travel here there and everywhere to be a great player. I know I'm really good, and I can do that with what I have, with my coach in Indy and the matches around the United States."
While Schneider was completing his media interviews, his training partner Austin was midway through the second set of her quarterfinal match with McPhillips. McPhillips, who beat Austin in the final of the 16s in 2010, was on a 16-match winning streak after beating Gabby Andrews in the ITF final last year and posting three victories this year.
Austin, who won the 2009 14s title in her first appearance at the Easter Bowl, is beginning to see her game solidify after a lengthy layoff with a stress fracture last year.
"I thought, honestly, that I played the best I've played since before I got hurt," said the 16-year-old from Indianapolis. "Everything was just clicking--my returns, my serve, it was just so good."
Austin was glad she was able to replace her memories of the loss to McPhillips two years ago on the same Stadium court.
"It was the same score too," said Austin, who calls the Easter Bowl her favorite tournament outside the US Open. "I was up 5-3, 40-30 and I lost the set. I shanked a return that went over the fence and lost the set in a tiebreaker. Today, at 5-3, 40-30, I prayed I'd win the point and I did. I said, 'thank you, the curse is broken.'"
Austin closed out the match without drama, and will now face the challenge of ending another streak, that of Allie Kiick, who has won ten straight matches after winning the ISC at Carson and now reaching the Easter Bowl semifinals for the second consecutive year.
Kiick beat Chalena Scholl for the second time in five days, taking out the ISC finalist 6-1, 6-3. She is blogging for usta.com, and her most recent entry can be found here. Top seed Taylor Townsend reached the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 10 seed Kelsey Laurente, and she will play unseeded Mayo Hibi, who beat 2011 Easter Bowl 16s champion Caroline Doyle 6-3, 7-5.
In Friday's boys quarterfinals, Schneider will play No. 6 seed Thai Kwiatkowski and No. 4 seed Alexios Halebian meets No. 9 seed and ISC finalist Stefan Kozlov.
In the bottom half, No. 5 seed Austin Siegel faces No. 3 seed Mackenzie McDonald and unseeded wild card Jared Hiltzik will play No. 2 seed Noah Rubin.
With today's losses by McPhillips and Doyle, there is only one champion left with a chance for two consecutive titles: Ernesto Escobedo, the boys 14s champion last year. Escobedo, a quarterfinalist at Carson last week, is playing the 16s this week and has reached the quarterfinals unseeded.
The girls 16s quarterfinals features only two seeds--No. 8 Brooke Broda and No. 17 Kaitlyn McCarthy. No. 3 seed Elizabeth Profit lost to unseeded Meredith Xepoleas 6-3, 6-3 in Thursday's fourth round.
The boys and girls 14s semifinals are set, with top seeds Emma Higuchi and Anudeep Kodali still in contention for their first Easter Bowl titles.
Kodali will play No. 14 seed William Blumberg in one semifinal, with No. 2 seed Kyle Seelig and No. 4 seed Jonathan Small meeting in the other.
Higuchi, a finalist in the 16s last week in Carson, will play No. 4 seed Usue Arconada in the semifinals. Catherine Bellis, a No. 17 seed, will play No. 2 seed Raquel Pedraza.
For the ITF results and draws, click here.
For the 14s and 16s results and draws, click here.