Sponsored by IMG Academy

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bellis Faces Swan, Tiafoe Meets Ponwith for ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl Titles Sunday

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Indian Wells, California--

Francis Tiafoe and CiCi Bellis will once again spend a Sunday in search of a major ITF title.  Top seed Tiafoe, a finalist at the International Spring Championships, and No. 4 seed Bellis, the girls champion at Carson last week, earned their places in the Asics Easter Bowl Grade B1 championships in contrasting styles Saturday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Bellis trailed top seed Sofia Kenin 4-2 in the final set before reeling off four straight games to post a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory, while Tiafoe eased past No. 13 seed Robert Levine 6-2, 6-2.

Bellis, who turned 15 on Tuesday, was up a set and 2-0 in the second, but with Kenin's history of comebacks, Bellis knew better than to consider the match won, saying she told herself after winning the first set that she had two more sets to go.

"She's a fighter," said Bellis, who beat Kenin in three sets the last time they played. "She's really good and she doesn't stop trying until literally, the match is over."

At 2-2 in the second set, Kenin's father was warned by the chair umpire that he could not talk to her, but if that had any impact on Kenin, she gave no indication of it. Although Kenin lost the next game, she broke right back for 3-3, and broke Bellis again serving at 4-5 to even the match.

After a ten-minute heat break, which was given even though the temperatures had moderated into the 80s on Saturday, Bellis went up a break at 2-1.  But again Kenin, who was making almost no unforced errors, fought back, taking the next three games. After losing her serve to go down 4-2, Bellis, who is normally reserved on the court, yelled "it's the worse tennis I've ever seen," after getting broken for the second straight time.

Bellis composed herself, broke Kenin at love and held for 4-4. In the next game, Kenin had a game point, but Bellis hit a forehand winner, then got her second break point of the game when Kenin netted a backhand.  A return winner converted it, but serving out the match is no easy task against Kenin, who had won three consecutive three-setters.

Up 40-15, Bellis missed a nervous-looking forehand into the net, and Kenin saved her second match point by outlasting Bellis in a cross-court backhand rally.  A good first serve gave Bellis a third match point, and this time she converted it, defending a Kenin forehand on the baseline and watching the next Kenin forehand fly past it.

Bellis, who now has a 17 match ITF junior winning streak, has been in the Easter Bowl final each of the past three years, losing in the 14s final to Emma Higuchi in 2012 and beating Caroline Dolehide in the 16s final last year. With all the time she's spent on the courts in the Coachella Valley, Bellis has grown to love the event.

"It's literally my favorite tournament ever," said Bellis. "I don't know why I like it so much, but maybe because it's around my birthday."

Bellis will play Katie Swan in the final, after Swan defeated No. 7 seed Michaela Gordon 6-0, 6-4.

Swan, who is from Great Britain, just received clearance to play the Easter Bowl last week, after her father was transferred from London to Wichita, Kansas.

"I moved to the United States just over a year ago, and we've been applying for a green card for a while," said Swan, 15. "To play this tournament we needed the receipt to show we are applying for one, and it came in just a week before this tournament. So it's pretty lucky, and I'm really happy that it came."

Swan and Bellis have never played but they are friends, having met last year in the January tournaments in Bolton and Les Petits As and cementing their friendship at the ITF's World Junior Tennis 14-and-under team competition in the Czech Republic, which the United States team won.

Tiafoe was playing Levine for the first time, but he appeared to have the match under control after dominating the first set.  Levine, a 16-year-old from Bedford, New York, had other ideas however, and he was up 2-1 and serving only to lose that game and the next four to give Tiafoe the win.

"At the beginning of the second set I was pretty lackadaisical," said Tiafoe. "He had chances to go up 3-1, and I knew if I could squeeze that game out, I was going to put my foot on the gas again and start rolling, and that's what I did."

Tiafoe's opponent in the final is unseeded Nathan Ponwith, who beat Aron Hiltzik, also unseeded 7-6(5), 6-4.  After a 70-minute first set, Hiltzik led the second set 4-1, but suffered a right shoulder injury, and Ponwith took the last five games of the match.

"I think it was at 4-2, or 4-3," Ponwith said. "He must have hurt it bad. He couldn't hit a forehand. It's tough to play someone who is injured, because you think you should win. It's tough, because you have to create everything. He was just slicing short and low."

By the last two games, Hiltzik was doing anything he could to end a point early, hitting slices, drop shots, serving and volleying. Nothing worked, and Ponwith had reached his first Grade 1 final.

The 15-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona hasn't been mentioned much with Stefan Kozlov, Michael Mmoh and Tiafoe getting the bulk of the attention for the 1998 birth year.

"It's obviously tough, because you have Mmoh and Kozlov and Francis and they're so good, it sets expectations so high," said Ponwith. "I'm just trying to do everything I can to get better."

Ponwith and Tiafoe haven't played since the semifinals of Les Petits As in 2012, with Tiafoe winning 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.

"I've wanted to play Francis for a while," Ponwith said. "He's obviously a really, really tough player, and it's going to be a really tough match. I'm looking forward to it."

The doubles titles were both decided in match tiebreakers.

No. 7 seeds Kaitlyn McCarthy and Mary Haffey recovered from losing five straight games in the second set, beating unseeded Gabby Smith and Mira Ruder-Hook 7-6(5), 5-7, 10-3.

With Ruder-Hook serving at 2-5 in the second set, McCarthy and Haffey had a match point on a deciding point, but were unable to convert it, and the next time Ruder-Hook served, she and Smith also won a deciding point to send it to the match tiebreaker.

McCarthy and Haffey found their form early in the match tiebreaker, which they attributed to their ability to forget the string of lost games in the second set.

"On the changeover we just said, we have a tiebreaker to play," said Haffey, a 16-year-old from Naples, Florida. "Focus on the future, future points, and I think we were just mentally strong, focusing on each point and every point."

"We stayed in the present," said McCarthy, a 16-year-old from Cary, North Carolina. "If you focus on what has happened you can get driven crazy, so you might as well stay in the moment."

McCarthy and Haffey had only played together before in one tournament last year at the Grade 1 in Canada.

"We played pretty well the last time we played together, so it made sense, it was part of the decision," McCarthy said. "We gel together well," said Haffey. "We're the total opposite, but we work well together, said McCarthy said."

Henrik Wiersholm and Tommy Paul added the Easter Bowl ITF title to the one they collected last week in Carson, with the No. 2 seeds beating top seeds Jordi Arconada and Daniel Kerznerman 6-2, 1-6, 10-7.

After two lopsided sets, the match tiebreaker came down to just a few points, and Paul won a big one with Kerznerman serving at 7-8.  After Paul and Arconada traded lightning quick backhand volleys, Paul angled his for a winner and two match points.  They only needed one, with Arconada netting a volley when forced by a Wiersholm approach.

"Tommy came up with some crazy shots," said Wiersholm, a 17-year-old from Kirkland, Washington. "I think that was a pretty big point," said Paul of the point that ended with his volley winner.

Even when down 5-0 in the second set, Wiersholm and Paul believed the could regain their form.

"We thought we could still get back in the set," said Wiersholm. "We were not comfortable, but confident that we could come back," said Paul, a 16-year-old from Coconut Creek, Florida.  "If not the set, a least a game, so we can get a little momentum going into the tiebreaker."

"And that's what we did," said Wiersholm.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.

The finals in the younger age divisions will also be held on Sunday.

In the boys 16s, No. 9 seed John McNally will be seeking to add an Easter Bowl title to the International Spring Championship 16s title he won last week, against No. 2 seed Zeke Clark. McNally advanced with a 6-3, 7-6(1) win over No. 11 seed Alexander Keyser and Clark beat No. 3 seed Matthew Gamble 6-4, 6-4.3

In the girls 16s, top seed Katerina Stewart will play unseeded Claire Liu. Stewart won her third 6-0, 6-0 match of the tournament over unseeded Maria Mateas, and Liu defeated No. 7 seed Makenna Jones 6-0, 6-2.

The girls 14s final will feature unseeded Ashley Yeah against No. 3 seed Rachel Lim.  Yeah beat No. 5 seed Taylor Johnson 6-3, 6-3 and Lim outlasted unseeded Hannah Zhao 6-1, 1-6, 6-2 in Saturday's semifinals.

The boys 14s championship will be decided by the top two seeds. Steven Sun, the No. 1 seed, defeated unseeded Andrew Fenty 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-2 and Keenan May, the No. 2 seed, beat unseeded Kento Perera 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

In the boys 12s final, unseeded Daniel Sharygin will play No. 16 seed Ronan Jachuck. Sharygin defeated No. 6 seed Jeremie Casabon 6-1, 6-4 and Jachuck downed No. 2 seed Blaise Bicknell 5-7, 6-0, 10-8.

The girls 12s final will be between Katie Volynets, the No. 6 seed, and No. 9 seed Dacie Harvey.  Volynets beat No. 11 seed Amy Huang 6-1, 6-2 and Harvey downed No. 12 seed Amanda Chan 6-2, 6-1.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.