Hibi Takes Girls Title at ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships; Kozlov Keeps Record Perfect Against Wiersholm to Claim Boys Title
©Colette Lewis 2013--
Mayo Hibi didn't care for the parallels she was seeing at the International Spring Championships. Three years ago, Hibi had reached the 16s doubles final, lost that, and then lost the 16s singles final the next day to Alyssa Smith.
On Saturday, Hibi again lost in the doubles final, but the similarities ended there, when she played a nearly perfect match in the girls 18s final, beating No. 5 seed Jamie Loeb 6-2, 6-1 on a cool and overcast morning at the Home Depot Center.
The scoreline is a poor indicator of the length and quality of the match, which extended for over an hour and forty-five minutes. Games were long, and the majority of the rallies saw the ball cross the net a dozen times, with some points two or three times that length.
The unseeded Hibi, who turned 17 turning the tournament, is known for her varied game and one-handed backhand, and although she didn't abandon the slice against Loeb, she elected to stay back and trade ground strokes with the 18-year-old from New York.
"After yesterday's match I was mentally prepared to rally for thirty shots in one point," said Hibi, who defeated top seed and noted counterpuncher Christina Makarova 6-4, 6-1. "My ground strokes were working really well today. She did make a few more unforced errors than me today, and overall, I think I played well."
Loeb is know for her precision and mental toughness, but with Hibi giving her virtually nothing in the unforced error department, Loeb had nowhere to turn.
"She missed like four balls all day," said Loeb. "She played very well, very steady. We had a lot of long points and a lot of long games and she just didn't give me any free points at all. If I felt I hit a good shot, she would come up with a better shot. It was tough. She played a very good match."
Loeb expressed surprise that Hibi didn't come to the net more, as that had been Hibi's preferred style in their previous matches.
"It didn't throw me off, but I expected her to come in more, because the past two times I played her she did serve and volley more," Loeb said. "But from the baseline, she was very solid today, hitting her forehand well, hitting good passing shots. Her slice, I think she maybe missed one."
Hibi lives in Irvine, California and takes private lessons from Debbie Graham, the former NCAA champion from Stanford and Top 30 WTA Professional, and Chris Lewis, the former Wimbledon finalist. Hibi believes having coaches with a professional background can only help her in achieving her goals.
"She knows what it takes to get to that level," Hibi said of Graham. What kind of players you play, what kind of mentality you need, what kind of game you need to beat them."
Hibi also takes inspiration from the former champions of the International Spring Championships who have gone on to successful professional careers, like Vania King, Melanie Oudin and Sloane Stephens.
"It's cool to watch someone on TV that you've actually played," said Hibi, who is a Japanese citizen, but moved to Southern California when she was two and a half years old. "It encourages you, that you can also do the same thing if you work hard and go chase your dreams. That's what they've been doing, they went through the same path."
Hibi had not played a junior tournament this year, concentrating instead on the Pro Circuit, but said the opportunity to play so many matches while not incurring the expense of travelling made sense. After winning all six matches this week in straight sets, Hibi will be a favorite at the Easter Bowl, which begins Monday for the girls.
"It's going to be tough, it's always tough," said Hibi of the quick turnaround. "Last year I played Claremont, won that, got to the quarterfinals here and semis of Easter Bowl. It's really tiring, but you know on the tour, I usually play two or three weeks in a row, because you're traveling. You just have to get used to it."
Loeb thinks playing again on Monday might be good for her.
"Sometimes I tend to think about my losses too much, too long, spend too much time on it," said Loeb. "So having a match tomorrow just makes me forget about it and have another tournament. This was a really good tournament, definitely compared to last year. I just have to forget about it. It's not like I played horrible, I played decent, pretty well, but Mayo just played better. I have to give her the credit."
Henrik Wiersholm is still looking for the solution to the problem Stefan Kozlov poses after Kozlov defeated him 6-2, 6-3 to take the boys singles title.
Kozlov, who lost in last year's final to Mitchell Krueger, ran his record against Wiersholm to 8-0.
"I thought he would come out here and just fire out balls, because he hasn't beaten me," said the second seed. "He played a little different that I thought he would play. I guess he had a lot more pressure than me today. I had a lot of pressure on me too, but I'm getting better at loosening it away."
The 15-year-old Kozlov, who trains with Wiersholm at the USTA's Boca Raton National Center, never trailed in the final, getting a break in the fourth game of the first set. Wiersholm didn't serve with the same effectiveness as he did in his quarterfinal win over top seed Noah Rubin and Saturday's semifinal win over No. 4 seed Naoki Nakagawa, and Kozlov made him pay by moving in and hitting return winners on Wiersholm's second serve.
Wiersholm fell behind 3-0 in the second set, but got back on serve, only to be broken in the next game to give Kozlov a 4-2 lead. Kozlov saved a break point to make it 5-2, and after Wiersholm held, Kozlov earned three match points. He botched the first, undecided on what to do with a mid-court volley, but on his second match point, Kozlov hit a drop shot winner to claim his first Grade 1 title.
The friendship between the two players was evident throughout the match, particularly when they reassured each other on close line calls. But that respect didn't help Wiersholm, who admitted his losing streak to Kozlov was starting to get to him.
"It's all mental now, once it goes to 8-0," said Wiersholm, 16. "I can't really perform how I want to because I'm caught up in it. I lost seven times to this guy, I can't lose again. It's tough to rationalize winning when you haven't won before. So yeah, that was part of the thing today."
Wiersholm also mentioned that Kozlov prevented him from getting any rhythm, and Kozlov agreed.
"He couldn't find his rhythm throughout the whole match," said Kozlov. "I try to keep him off balance, try to hit a lot of winners, so he doesn't get in his groove. But in the second set, he almost got it back even, and then I started playing better again."
Kozlov, who reached the final of the Grade A Copa Gerdau last month after several months off due to an elbow injury, has an ambitious goal for 2013.
"I think I'm going to play the (junior) slams and some Futures," said Kozlov, who is scheduled to play his first Easter Bowl match Tuesday. "My goal is to be at the top of the ITF list."