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Friday, April 5, 2013

Wiersholm Takes Out Top Seed Rubin to Reach Semifinals at ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships; 16s Finals Set for Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2013--
Carson, CA--

Henrik Wiersholm was expecting top seed Noah Rubin to fight back. After failing to hold serve for a place in the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships semifinals at 6-4, 5-1 Friday afternoon, Wiersholm didn't panic.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if it had gotten to 5-all, or even if he had won the set," said Wiersholm, who was relieved to get off the court with a 6-4, 6-3 victory. "I was expecting a battle and I think that was why it didn't really bother me when he gave me one."

Rubin held for 5-2 in the third and broke Wiersholm on his third break chance in the next game, playing aggressively and finishing the game with a forehand that forced a rare error from Wiersholm. But in the next game, Rubin couldn't maintain the pressure, with a badly missed drop shot and an unforced error putting him in a 15-30 hole. On the next point, Wiersholm blasted a forehand winner to earn two match points, but Rubin saved the first by forcing a volley error from Wiersholm. On match point No. 2, however, it was Rubin who blinked, making a backhand error after a short rally to give Wiersholm the victory.

It was sweet revenge for Wiersholm, who had been soundly beaten by Rubin in the second round of the ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed in their only prior meeting last fall.

"In Tulsa I came out not really believing I could win the match and I played more defensive because of that," said Wiersholm. "He's a great player when he's pressing you. He doesn't make errors and he's obviously a very good defensive player, but you've got to take the lesser of two evils and make him move, make him hit in uncomfortable positions. He hits great in uncomfortable positions, but if you make him do it enough, forcing the issue, that's what my goal was today."

Wiersholm played some excellent defense of his own, yet was dictating most of the rallies, hitting with pace and depth to control the points, while Rubin was scrambling to keep up.  Wiersholm also served better than Rubin, and admitted there was little he could have done better.

"I was playing very solid today," said Wiersholm. "I was moving very well, serving great, doing what I was talking about, and that's what won it for me."

Wiersholm will play No. 4 seed Naoki Nakagawa of Japan in Saturday's semifinals, which will be their first meeting. For the second day in a row, Nakagawa dropped the first set, but took charge in the next two, posting a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 quarterfinal victory over No. 11 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany.

Wiersholm, who won the 2011 Les Petits As Championship, has not lost a set this week, while the 2012 Les Petits As Champion, Francis Tiafoe, has needed third-set tiebreakers two consecutive days to reach the semifinals.

In Friday's quarterfinal against No. 10 seed Daniel Kerznerman, Tiafoe was broken serving at 3-4 in the third set, giving Kerznerman the opportunity to serve out the match. But 30-all was as close as Kerznerman would get to victory. A routine backhand flew several feet long to make it 30-40, and Tiafoe broke back with a forehand putaway at the net, then held for 5-all.

After more than two and a half hours on the court, both players were looking less than energetic, and Kerznerman was broken in the next game to give Tiafoe, the No. 14 seed, the chance to serve out the match.  He was unable to do so, losing serve to 15, but Tiafoe regrouped quickly in the tiebreaker, hitting two winners to start it and going up 6-2 when Kerznerman double faulted. Tiafoe dropped the first of his four match points when he sent a backhand long, but at 6-3 he put away a second overhead for a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory and his first ITF Grade 1 semifinal.

His opponent in the semifinals will be another 15-year-old American, albeit a more experienced one, Stefan Kozlov, the 2012 finalist. The No. 2 seed defeated USTA Boca Raton training partner Spencer Papa, seeded sixth, 6-2, 6-2 in Friday's quarterfinals.

In the girls quarterfinals, only one match went the distance, with No. 5 seed Jamie Loeb outlasting No. 2 seed Victoria Rodriguez of Mexico 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.  Rodriguez played clean and composed for most of the first two sets, making few errors and handling Loeb's depth with little difficulty.  After falling behind 4-2 in the second set, Rodriguez got the break right back, but serving at 4-5, she played one of her few loose games and was broken at 15 to give Loeb the set.

After five close games in the third set, Rodriguez again went down 4-2, but this time she was unable to break back. Loeb held at love to take a 5-2 lead, and Rodriguez's fatigue, both mental and physical, finally began to surface. After committing so few errors earlier, they came in bunches in the final two games, and she was broken at love to put Loeb into her first Grade 1 semifinal.

Loeb will play unseeded qualifier Kimberly Yee, who avenged her loss to Peggy Porter in last week's ITF Grade 4 in Carson with a 6-1, 6-2 victory in the quarterfinals.

Top seed Christina Makarova has been quietly cruising this week and she continued to do so Friday, defeating No. 8 seed Madison Bourguignon 6-3, 6-2. Makarova's semifinal opponent is unseeded Mayo Hibi of Japan, who has lived and trained in Irvine, California since before she began playing tennis. Hibi had no difficulty with No. 3 seed Alejandra Cisneros of Mexico, posting a 6-1, 6-1 victory.

"She wasn't serving too well," Hibi said of Cisneros, who had a trainer provide treatment on her back during the match. "I got a lot of easy serves from her, and that helped me a lot. I think I played well today, and she just made a few more unforced errors than me, and that can change the whole match."

Hibi and Makarova grew up together playing Southern California sectional tennis, but haven't played since last year's Easter Bowl, when Hibi claimed a 6-2, 6-2 win over Makarova, who was the No. 6 seed.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Hibi. "It's been a year since I last played her, and I'm sure she's improved a lot as well. It will be a totally different match from last year. And also the wind, we'll see how that goes tomorrow. It could totally change the game."

Hibi earned her second win over Cisneros later in the afternoon in the doubles semifinals. Hibi and Starr, the No. 7 seeds, reached the final with a 6-4, 2-6, 10-6 victory over top seeds Cisneros and Rodriguez. Hibi and Starr will take on the unseeded team of Loeb and Maegan Manasse in Saturday's final, after Loeb and Manasse defeated the unseeded team of Yee and Brooke Austin 6-2, 6-1.

Nakagawa is the only boy still in singles to reach the doubles final. He and partner Tommy Mylnikov, the No. 2 seeds, will play No. 3 seeds Papa and Zverev Saturday. Nakagawa and Mylnikov defeated unseeded Walker Duncan and John Mee 6-2, 6-2, while Papa and Zverev posted a 3-6, 6-4, 10-4 semifinal win over top seeds Luca Corinteli and Martin Redlicki.


Claire Liu, who turns 13 next month, is comfortable on the Home Depot courts, where she trains three days a week with the USTA National Training Center staff while commuting from Thousand Oaks, Calif.  After her 7-5, 6-0 semifinal victory over No. 14 seed Caroline Dolehide, the unseeded wild card will be out to avenge her 2012 Easter Bowl 14s loss to Ena Shibahara in which she failed to win a game.

Shibahara, from nearby Rancho Palos Verdes, is the reigning USTA Winter National 16s champion, and the No. 13 seed reached another big final with her 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 12 seed Samantha Martinelli.

Liu has a strategy to employ against the 15-year-old Shibahara.

"I need to keep her off balance and on defense," said Liu. "She can attack really well and is really good at the net."

In the boys 16s final, there is no difference in ages, and certainly no mystery when No. 7 seed Catalin Mateas takes on No. 4 seed Jake Devine, both of whom train at the USTA National Center in Boca Raton, Fla. Mateas defeated unseeded Kalman Boyd 7-6(3), 6-1, while Devine outlasted No. 12 seed Kyle Seelig 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-1.

Born one day apart in May of 1997, Mateas and Devine have played too many practice matches to count.

"I play him every week basically," said Mateas, who is one day older than Devine. "We played a couple of weeks ago and it was like 5 and 6 and we played for like three hours. Whenever we play we have tough, long matches, so I'm expecting a good one tomorrow."

"We kind of know what our games are, and and I'm actually rooming with him too," continued Mateas. "We were hoping and praying at the beginning of the tournament that we wouldn't be in the at least the same quarter."

The 16s doubles finals are also scheduled for Saturday, with the unseeded team of Savannah Slaysman and Shibahara meeting No. 8 seeds Dolehide and Alexis Nelson for the girls championship. Slaysman and Shibahara, the 14s Easter Bowl doubles champions, defeated No. 6 seeds Paulina Ferrari and Jada Hart 6-1, 6-2.  Dolehide and Nelson downed top seeds Madison Appel and Rebecca Weissman 6-1, 6-3 to earn their place in the final.

The boys 16s doubles championship will be decided by No. 8 seeds Taylor Fritz and Daniel Gealer and No. 5 seeds Chase Colton and Seelig. Fritz and Gealer beat No. 6 seeds Emil Reinberg and Brian Tsao 6-3, 2-6, 10-8 in the semifinals. Colton and Seelig downed No. 2 seeds Grayson Broadus and Jean Thirouin 6-2, 6-4.

For draws and Saturday's order of play, see the tournament page at usta.com.