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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Jaeda Daniel and Connor Hance Claim Easter Bowl 14s Titles; Kumar and Boyd Set for Boys 16s Final Sunday; Bellis and Dolehide Meet for Girls 16s Championship

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

Connor Hance and Jaeda Daniel earned precious USTA gold balls Saturday, claiming the 14s titles at the Asics Easter Bowl with hard-fought three set victories on the stadium court of the Sunrise Country Club.

Hance, the No. 2 seed from Torrance, Calif., beat top seed John McNally of Cincinnati 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4, in a nearly three-hour marathon, saving a match point in the second set.

McNally was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, and at 30-all had hit one of his big forehands to force an error from Hance and set up a match point. He missed his first serve, then his second, and two forehand errors later, the score was 5-5.

"You really can't live life like that," McNally said, when asked if he had regrets about the match point. "Crap happens. I would say another word, but....that's what my papa tells me. It's part of tennis. You're going to have matches where you come back from match points and you're going to have matches where you blow match points. It's just a part of tennis, a learning process. I did get tight, I'm not going to lie. It's match point and I got tight on that second serve."

Hance, who had never played McNally before, said it wasn't until 5-3 in the second set that he felt he had a handle on the match and a workable strategy.

"He was dictating points, running me left and right and left and right," said Hance, 14. "At 5-3, I sort of realized he went inside in a lot on his forehands, so I just started guessing inside in every time. I got a lot more balls back then, but he was still dictating the points. I was just running for my life, pretty much, on his serve. Coming back from 5-3 gave me a lot of confidence, even though I still went down another break."

McNally served for the match a second time after breaking Hance for a 6-5 lead, but he got no closer than deuce in that game.  The tiebreaker was 3-3 at the change of ends, but Hance played flawlessly in the next four points, with a big first serve and a gorgeous backhand drop volley winner to earn three set points. He converted the first with a big overhead, and approached the third set with confidence.

"I do a lot of fitness in my practices, so I'm in pretty good shape. I never cramp or anything," said Hance, who trains with his father Ken at the South Bay Tennis Center in Torrance. "In the third set, I kept doing what I was doing and I think he was a little more tired than I was."

Hance was down 2-0 in the third set, but won five of the next six games to go up 5-3. Down 0-40 serving at 3-5, McNally fought off four match points in an eight-deuce game, going for the sidelines and hitting them with both his forehand and his backhand.

Serving for the match, Hance double faulted on the opening point, but that was the only sign of nerves, and when he earned his fifth match point at 40-15, he stayed aggressive, hitting a forceful backhand that McNally couldn't handle.

"Connor's just a very good player," said McNally, who trains with Wil Lofgren at Queen City Racquet Club. "He mixes up his shots well and he played amazing at the net today. It was probably the best I've ever seen him volley. When I got my first serve in, he got it right back and neutralized the point. He made me go for a little too much, and I started missing my forehands, which probably cost me the match."

Hance was equally impressed with McNally's game.

"John's just a great player," said Hance, who adds his Easter Bowl gold ball to the one he captured at the 12s Clay Courts in 2011. "He's got all the shots."

Thirteen-year-old Jaeda Daniel was in her first USTA level 1 final, and despite some ups and downs, the No. 3 seed emerged with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over No. 11 seed Ashley Lahey.

Broken early in the first set, Daniel was unable to recover, with too many unforced errors and too much pace from Lahey to allow her to get comfortable.

"I started out pretty nervous," said the left-handed Daniel, who lives in Port Charlotte, Florida. "It slowly went away, but I still had to find my game and get back into it. I kept the same strategy, but I just had to execute."

The second set started off going Daniel's way, as she took a 4-0 lead, but all the games were close, and Lahey fought back, taking the next four games.

The wind, which had been absent all day, began gusting around the middle of the second set, and both girls struggled to keep the ball in the court.  Serving at 4-3, Daniel double faulted three times to give Lahey her opportunity, but Lahey was broken at love and Daniel served out the second set, with the help of a couple of wind-aided errors from Lahey.

"I had chances in the second set, I was came back, was playing well," said Lahey, her voice still quivering with emotion. "She was completely out of it, she double faulted three times, first ball error, completely giving me the game, she was so nervous, and I blew the next two games."

The 13-year-old Lahey, who is from Colorado, but now lives in the Los Angeles area and trains at the USTA's Player Development Center in Carson, had never been past the fourth round of a USTA Level 1 event before, and she felt that cost her.

"I've never really been in that situation before," said Lahey, "and it's nerve-racking, because you're so close. But they're still fighting, and just because they're nervous it doesn't mean they're not still trying. So next time, I'll be better. It's all a new experience for me."

As she had done in her three-set semifinal victory over Alexa Graham on Friday, Daniel took control in the final set, winning the last five games of the match, despite the gusty winds and her still balky serve.

Daniel knew she hadn't played perfectly all week, but she was happy with how the tournament turned out.

"It was a great tournament overall," said the soft-spoken Daniel. "There were matches where I played really well, and matches where I didn't. All the girls were spectacular and it was tough to get out there and do what I had to do myself. So I think it was a good week overall."

As for a celebration, Daniel said that was up to her mother, but it would probably include dinner and Cold Stone ice cream.

While the 14s boys and girls finals and the 18s girls final were commanding all the attention on the stadium courts, the finalists in the 16s were being decided.

Boys top seed Sameer Kumar was in trouble against No. 3 seed Taylor Fritz in Saturday's semifinal, with Fritz serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set.  But Kumar drew hope from the fact he had broken Fritz several times in the third set, and he reeled off the final three games of a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory.

"It was very tough to break him the first two sets," said Kumar, the Winter National 16s champion, who had beaten Fritz in the semifinals there. "I broke him once in the second, he broke me once in the first. But in the third, we broke each other two or three times, so I knew I could break him. I still had confidence. He did make a few errors, but I think I made him play very well. He has a huge serve, so I was happy I made a lot of returns that game, and I made him play."

With Fritz serving to stay in the match at 5-6, he had a game point, after saving a match point at 30-40, but a running backhand passing shot a few points later gave Kumar his second match point and he made good on that one.

"I'm excited," said the 15-year-old from Indiana. "It'll be a tough one, but I'm definitely excited."

Kumar will meet Kalman Boyd, a No. 17 seed, who reached the finals with a 7-6(4), 6-4 win over Emil Reinberg, also a 17 seed.

"It was really tough," said Boyd, who turned 16 earlier in the week. "I had to make at least 50 balls in a row to earn a point. He was playing really well and I had to stay super mentally tough to win."

Boyd credits his recent move to Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine, California with his success this week, which comes on the heels of a semifinal showing at the International Spring Championships in Carson last week.

"I never would have thought before that I would have gotten to the finals," said Boyd, who will play in his first Level 1 final Sunday in his first meeting with Kumar. "Ever since I've starting going to Advantage, I feel my game has finally gone to the next level."

The girls 16s final will feature two 14-year-olds: No. 8 seed CiCi Bellis and No. 7 seed Caroline Dolehide.  Bellis avenged her loss to Emma Higuchi, seeded No. 4, in last year's Easter Bowl 14s final with a 6-2, 7-5  win in Saturday's semifinal.

"I remember last year she was really the aggressive player," said Bellis, the Les Petits As champion. "I was trying to be more aggressive this year, take control of more points. She's a really good player, really fast and when I get my short ball, I have charge and move forward."

Dolehide reached the semifinals last week in the 16s division of the International Spring Championships in Carson and she continued her successful run in California with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-1 victory over unseeded Hanna Chang on Saturday.

"Carson gave me a lot of positive energy," said Dolehide, who says she is not in the least bit tired despite her run in Carson and reaching the singles and doubles finals at the Easter Bowl. "I just feel like any other day. I just have to get back out there and play my best."

Like the boys final, Sunday's girls championship will be the first meeting between Dolehide and Bellis.

The boys 16s and 14s doubles champions were also decided on Saturday. No. 7 seeds Jake Devine and Catalin Mateas won the 16s title, defeating No. 5 seeds Grayson Broadus and Jean Thirouin 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.

The boys 14s title went to No. 5 seeds Bryce Pereira and Michael Zhao, who defeated No. 6 seeds Jake Van Emburgh and JJ Wolf 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in the final.

Complete results from the 14s and 16s are at the TennisLink site.