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Monday, April 1, 2013

Hibi, Rubin and Tiafoe Post Wins at ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships Day One

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Carson, CA--

The brisk winds and cool temperatures that are the norm at the Home Depot Center did their best to make April fools of the juniors scheduled for their opening International Spring Championship matches Monday, especially those who played later in the day.

The first two rotations of courts, which were 16s first round matches, had the best of the day's conditions, but by the time Mayo Hibi and Brooke Austin took Court 4 for the day's most anticipated match, the wind was beginning to cause problems.

Hibi and Austin, both unseeded, but both among the top contenders for the title at the ITF Grade 1, had never played before.  They had practiced together on Sunday, however, and had seen each other often at junior and professional tournaments over the past several years, so surprises were few.

It was Hibi who handled the conditions better throughout the match, and she advanced with a 6-3, 6-0 win.

The first three games went to the server, but in the fourth game, Hibi came up with two slices that produced errors from Austin, and Hibi took a 3-1 lead. Austin got the break back, but was then broken a second time, and Hibi was able to serve out the set.

Hibi has the full array of shots at her disposal, and her one-handed backhand, especially when sliced, gave Austin trouble.  Austin takes the ball so early and hits so flat that Hibi knew she couldn't run down Austin's best shots, but Hibi could try to keep Austin moving.

"You have to move her around," said Hibi, who trains in Irvine, Calif. "Not just side to side, but back and forward. So I tried to mix that up, especially with low balls.  It's really hard to hit it flat when it's lower than the net, so she can't hit her shots."

Hibi, who turns 17 on Wednesday, continued to play well in the second set, and even though the wind called for more conservative play, Hibi was able to adjust her game.

"It was just too windy to go for risky shots," said Hibi, who reached the quarterfinals in this tournament last year. "I kind of had the advantage when the wind was blowing, because she kind of goes for winners more, and I think her timing was off."

Austin had an opportunity to get one of the two breaks back when Hibi served up 3-0 in the second set, but she couldn't convert any of the three break points she had, and Hibi went on to win 13 of the last 14 points of the match.

Top seed Noah Rubin, a semifinalist last year, took center court next, and he handled the frustrations produced by the conditions with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Shane Monroe.

No. 5 seed Luca Corinteli was up 6-0, 4-2 in his match with Logan Smith, but he was unable to make that final push to finish it, and after losing the second set in tiebreaker, Corinteli became increasingly frustrated at himself and at the chair umpire.  When Smith held serve for a 5-4 lead in the third set, Corinteli threw his racquet and was given a point penalty, but he held in that game and in his next service game, forcing another tiebreaker.  Down 4-2 at the change of ends, Corinteli found the net with three consecutive shots, a forehand and two backhands, and Smith had advanced to the second round. Corinteli did not shake the chair umpire's hand after the match, and expressed to the umpire his hope that the chair would improve his performance in his remaining assignments.

USTA 18s Spring National champion and No. 15 seed Kaitlyn McCarthy was down 4-0 in the third set of her match with Gabriela Knutson of the Czech Republic, but rebounded by winning the final six games of the match in her 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-4 victory.

Wild card Spencer Liang faced a difficult situation in her match with Jessica Hinojosa Gomez of Mexico, who twice fell to the court with a severe cramp in her left leg.  At 5-3 in the third set, Gomez went down and was given a point penalty time violation by the umpire which resulted in her losing the game, as medical timeouts are not allowed for cramping.  She received treatment during the changeover that alleviated her pain enough to allow her to continue.  Although unable to push off her left leg or to jump into her serve, Gomez actually got to match point serving at 5-4, but Liang denied her. Unable to seize that opportunity, Gomez was broken, Liang held and Gomez, still hobbled but unwilling to retire, kept playing in obvious pain until she was broken again to give Liang a 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory.

The last match of the day in the 18s singles featured 16-year-old Walker Duncan against 15-year-old Francis Tiafoe, the No. 14 seed.

The match was scheduled as not before 1:30 p.m., but it was nearly four hours later when the match finally got started due to several lengthy matches on that court.  As the sun set, the temperature dropped and the wind continued to blow, Duncan and Tiafoe battled for over two hours, with Tiafoe posting a 7-6(6), 7-5 victory. 

Tiafoe trailed 4-2 in the second set, and Duncan had several game points to take a 5-2 lead, but Tiafoe broke, then saved a break point in the next game to make it 4-4.

With Duncan serving at 5-5, he saved two break points, but not a third, when the chair ruled a double fault on what looked like a good second serve. Tiafoe held easily in the final game to finish a difficult first round match.

Tiafoe admitted that the long wait to get on court was a problem for him.

"It was tough," said Tiafoe, who reached the 16s final last year. "I watched a lot of other matches and probably socialized more than I should have.  He started well and I wasn't mentally in it at first. And he's a good player."

As for the wind, Tiafoe didn't remember it being so disruptive in 2012.

"You can't hit the ball too hard or it will fly, and you can't play it too wide," Tiafoe said. "I've been playing indoors a lot, so it was a tough adjustment."

The remainder of the 18s first round matches will be completed Tuesday, and the seeded 16s will take the court for the first time in second round matches.

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