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Friday, April 4, 2014

Bellis, Kerznerman Reach International Spring Championships Semifinals with Wins Over Experienced Opponents; 16s Finals Set for Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Carson, California--

Down two breaks and 3-0 in the first set to 2013 semifinalist Christina Makarova, 14-year-old CiCi Bellis adjusted her strategy, claimed six games in a row and went on to post a 6-3, 6-4 victory in Friday's quarterfinals of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships.

The conditions did not contribute to Bellis' slow start, with temperatures in the low 60s and little wind under mostly cloudy skies. Eager to dictate against the counterpunching Makarova, Bellis was aiming too close to the lines.

"I was going for a lot in the first few games, I think too much," said Bellis, the No. 5 seed. "I wasn't being patient enough, but once I was down 3-0, I kind of settled down, started grinding more, playing my game. I had to be super consistent during the point, and then when I had the short ball, I had to take it, either by moving forward or finishing the point."

Although she had never played Makarova before, Bellis knew she had to go for winners, but not too early in the point.

"I knew I had to be consistent, obviously, but aggressive too," said Bellis, from Atherton, California. "She's a grinder type of player, so you have to almost out-grind her then put it away at the end of points. You have to grind, and then be aggressive."

In the second set, Bellis once again fell behind 3-0, but it was only one break and she got that back by breaking Makarova in the fifth game and broke her again in the seventh game for a 4-3 lead.  Bellis gave that advantage right back, but broke Makarova for the third straight time, and served out the match, hitting a couple of winners, no easy task against Makarova, and coaxing a volley error at match point.

Bellis will play unseeded Kelly Chen in Saturday's semifinal, after Chen defeated No. 8 seed Kaitlyn McCarthy 7-6(5), 6-3 in a well-played, hard-hitting contest.  McCarthy was up a break in both sets, and in the second set, McCarthy had three break points to take a 4-1, two-break lead, but Chen held, winning the final five games of the match.  Bellis and Chen have played once previously, with Bellis winning 6-0, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the ITF Grade 4 in Wichita Falls, Texas.

The second girls semifinal will feature two players who know each other very well, with both training at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland.  No. 4 seed Arconada dominated No. 12 seed and 2012 ISC 16s champion Jessica Ho 6-1, 6-1, while No. 9 seed Raveena Kingsley overpowered No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin, who took a last-minute wild card into the tournament, 6-0, 6-4.

Kingsley had a few anxious moments in the second set against Kenin, whose never-say-die attitude on court doesn't waiver despite the score. Kingsley served for the match at 5-3, and earned a match point at 40-30, but Kenin hit a forehand winner to save it, and Kingsley made two errors to lose the game.  It didn't take Kingsley long to earn another match point however, taking a 0-40 lead and closing Kenin out on match point No. 3.

In the boys quarterfinals, No. 9 seed Dan Kerznerman hasn't played a junior match since the Orange Bowl, sticking close to his home in New York while concentrating on academic requirements as he prepares to enter the University of Alabama in the fall. But a lack of match play hasn't been a problem, with the 18-year-old left-hander defeating No. 4 seed and 2013 finalist Henrik Wiersholm 6-4, 6-4 to reach Saturday's semifinals.

Kerznerman competed in Futures tournaments in Florida this winter, but hadn't played any competitive matches in more than three weeks coming into the two major California ITFs. Rather than view the lack of match play as a liability, Kerznerman believes it has helped him this week.

"I've been focusing on getting my school done, so I've been practicing an hour, two hours, a day. But it's surprisingly helped me, I'm playing better I feel. I'm more relaxed, having fun and I feel like I'm getting better."

Kerznerman had beaten Wiersholm in the final of the 2012 ITF Grass Courts in Philadelphia, and the two have played doubles together often, including winning Kalamazoo 16s that year.

"We know each other so well," said Kerznerman. "I knew it was going to be really tough, so I felt I had to outcompete him. Every point I needed to show him that I was there, that I was not going to give him anything, and that's what I focused on. And I served really well."

Kerznerman's opponent in the semifinals is top seed Francis Tiafoe, who defeated No. 8 seed Sameer Kumar 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 with the help of Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com.  Thomas, who was providing audio streaming of the match, noticed that Tiafoe's shoes had come apart during the second set, and offered his own shoes to Tiafoe. Tiafoe took him up on the offer, and although he said they were a size too small, it was preferable to playing with one sole flapping every time he moved to a ball.

No longer distracted by the shoe malfunction, Tiafoe got a break in the second game of the set and made it stand up throughout the remainder of the match.

Tiafoe will play Kerznerman, in a rematch of last year's quarterfinal, which Tiafoe won 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), after Kerznerman served for the match at 5-3 in the third set.

The other semifinal features No. 7 seed Taylor Fritz against No. 2 seed Naoki Nakagawa of Japan.  Fritz had no difficulty with unseeded Aron Hiltzik, taking their quarterfinal 6-3, 6-1, but Nakagawa barely survived the challenge of unseeded Tommy Paul, escaping 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(5).  Nakagawa had a 4-2 lead in the final set, but surrendered the break in the eighth game, when he went down 0-40, brought it back to deuce, but hit one drop shot too many to give Paul the ad, with Paul putting away an overhead to draw even at 4, and two more holds for each and a tiebreaker would decide it.

Paul, who had had the trainer out to work on his back midway through the third set, led 4-2 at the first change of ends, up 4-3, he lost both his service points, hitting a drop shot wide and a backhand wide.  With Nakagawa serving at 5-4, he won a tremendous rally of ground strokes with a wicked backhand slice that barely cleared the net and elicited a forehand error from Paul.  Paul saved the first match point with a sizzling backhand pass, but he netted a forehand on the second, putting the 17-year-old Nakagawa in the Carson semifinals for the second straight year.

The 16s finals are set for Saturday, with the boys championship featuring No. 9 seed John McNally against No. 11 seed Patrick Kypson.  Both won long semifinal matches, with Kypson beating No. 14 seed Jacob Brumm 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 and McNally outlasting No. 7 seed Alex Phillips 6-1. 5-7, 6-4. McNally had a two-break 4-1 lead in the final set, with Phillips getting it back to 4-4, only to be broken and see McNally serve it out to love in the final game.

Kypson and McNally will also face off in the boys 16s doubles final, with Kypson and Trent Bryde, the No. 8 seeds, against McNally and Gianni Ross, the No. 6 seeds. Neither team has lost a set en route to the final.

The girls 16s final will feature No. 13 seed Kalani Soli against No. 16 seed Alaina Miller.  Soli, who lives in Carson, defeated No. 12 seed Samantha Martinelli 6-3, 6-1 and Miller ousted No. 3 seed Ryan Peus 6-3, 6-3.

The girls 16s doubles championship has top seeds Kayla Day and Peus against No. 2 seeds Jada Robinson and Alana Smith.

In the girls 18s doubles final, the unseeded team of Francesca Di Lorenzo and Caroline Dolehide plays No. 7 seeds Sandra Samir and Gabby Andrews.  Andrews is a two-time winner of the girls doubles event, having won it with Taylor Townsend in 2011 and 2012.  Di Lorenzo and Dolehide defeated Arconada and Claudia Williams 6-4, 6-3 in the semifinals, while Andrews and Samir beat No. 6 seeds Chen and Ho 7-6(2), 6-2.

Only one boys 18s double semifinal was played Friday, with Wiersholm and Paul receiving a walkover into the final over Deiton Baughman and Kerznerman, when Baughman was unable to play due to illness.  Wiersholm and Paul, the No. 3 seeds, will play No. 7 seeds William Blumberg and Alex Rybakov in Saturday's final.  Blumberg and Rybakov beat unseeded Spencer Furman and Kentaro Mizushima 6-1, 6-1 in the semifinals.

For links to live streaming, the radiotennis.com webcast and the draws and order of play, see the tournament website.