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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Higuchi Upsets Top Seed Samir in Opening Round of International Spring Championships; Second Seed Kenin Survives Wind and Failla to Advance

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Carson, California--

On the day WTA No. 1 Serena Williams lost her first match at the Family Circle Cup to 78th-ranked Jana Cepelova of Slovakia, Emma Higuchi's 6-1 ,6-4 win over top seed Sandra Samir at the International Spring Championships in Carson may not make as many headlines, but it was significant for Higuchi.

Samir, a 16-year-old from Egypt who trains at the Advantage Academy in Irvine, had beaten Higuchi 6-3, 6-2 at the Eddie Herr last December, but Higuchi was able to look back positively on that result.

"The first few games were pretty close, so I knew if I just stayed solid and played aggressive I thought I could pull it out maybe," said the 16-year-old from Los Angeles, who trains at the tournament site with USTA Player Development. "But I knew it was going to be a tough one, and it was."

The first set was all Higuchi, who hit a significant number of overhead and swinging volley winners, while Samir struggled with her serve. In 37 minutes, Higuchi had secured the first set, and Samir continued to have difficulty serving, double faulting on break point in her first two serve games.  Higuchi took a 5-1 lead, and served for the match at 5-2, but didn't have a match point, as Samir finally found her game.

"The first set she wasn't playing very well," Higuchi said. "So all I had to do was just make balls, but I still had to be aggressive. The second set I got up, and she started playing better and I got really tight."

Serving for the match for a second time at 5-4, Higuchi fell behind 15-30, but Samir contributed a forehand error to make it 30-30. A return error gave Higuchi her first match point, and she converted it, blasting a backhand down the line for a clean winner to seal the victory.

Higuchi, who says the tournament "feels like home," reached the final at the ITF Grade 4 last week in Claremont. Getting through some tough matches there prepared her for a difficult opening round contest, but she wasn't dismayed when she saw the draw.

"I actually really wanted to play her, because I lost to her," said Higuchi. "I was really excited to play her. Why not?"

Higuchi's road doesn't get much easier in the second round, where she'll meet Christina Makarova, a semifinalist at Carson last year, and formerly ranked as high as No. 11 in the ITF junior rankings. Makarova defeated Rachel Chong 6-2, 6-1 in her first round match today.

Second seed Sofia Kenin had her hands full with qualifier Jessica Failla, needing three hours and thirty minutes to post a 6-7(11), 7-5, 6-1 victory.  The first set, which took over an hour and a half to complete, saw each player save three sets points in the tiebreaker, before Failla finally converted on her fourth.

The gusty winds, sometimes over 20 miles per hour, made any second serve an adventure, and both Failla and Kenin suffered and overcame double faults in the tiebreaker.  At 11-11 in the tiebreaker, Kenin double faulted, with her second serve barely reaching the net, and this time she was unable to overcome it. Failla, a 16-year-old USC recruit from the San Diego area, missed her first serve, which had frequently meant a double fault was coming, but she hit her second serve as if it was her first and it went in, with Kenin missing the return wide.

Failla went up an early break in the second set, but with conditions making holding serve a challenge, Kenin was not discouraged.

"I knew she was a really good player and she was going to fight no matter what," said Kenin, who took a wild card into this tournment after losing in the third round of the Grade A in Brazil last week. "I started out not so good in the second set, but I knew I had to keep fighting and somehow adjust to the weather. You are either attacking on one side or balls are coming all short. And it's really hard on the toss, and we both made many double faults."

Both girls double faulted to lose their first service game of the third set, but Kenin held for 2-1, and Failla looked increasingly fatigued as the match approached the three-hour mark.

"I knew she was still trying to battle in the third set, and at the beginning of the third set it was really close," the 15-year-old Floridian said. "I knew I had to push a little harder and hopefully she would break down, which she did."

Kenin's next opponent is Abi Altick, who played her first round on Monday.

In addition to Samir, two other girls seeds lost Tuesday, with Caroline Turner beating No. 13 seed Adeliya Zabirova of Russia 6-2, 6-2 and Ellyse Hamil defeating Emilie Francati of Denmark 6-4, 6-2.

In boys first round action Tuesday, No. 2 seed Naoki Nakagawa, No. 3 seed Alex Rybakov and No. 4 seed Henrik Weirsholm picked up straight set victories.  Nakagawa beat wild card Spencer Furman 6-4, 6-4, Rybakov edged qualifier Josh Silverstein 7-6(3), 7-6(5) and Wiersholm managed to hold off a late charge by 2013 ISC 16s finalist Catalin Mateas 6-2, 7-5. Wiersholm served for the match at 5-2 and 5-4, but didn't earn a match point in either of those games.  The 2013 ISC 18s finalist broke Mateas in the next game, but again was in danger down 30-40 and hitting a second serve. Mateas missed the return however and four points later Weirsholm closed out the match.

"At 6-2, 5-2 I had a chance to close out a pretty solid match," said Wiersholm, who turned 17 last week. "But I pulled a little off my game, wanted to see him crumble a little bit, instead of me taking the match, which is not the right way to play. I let it get back to 5-all, but then I started playing my game, and started taking it to him. That last game I held, I was hitting my serves, going for my shots and that was how I should have played the games at 5-2 and 5-4."

Wiersholm is coming off a trip to South America, which didn't start well, with the loss of his passport and being defaulted from the Grade 1 Banana Bowl for unsportsmanlike conduct. But he finished the three weeks with a quarterfinal showing at the Grade A in Brazil last week, so he is hopeful he can use these two weeks to secure a place in the junior slams this summer, although he describes that as more of an "abstract goal."

"It would be a great experience," Wiersholm said. "That's why I'm playing these tournaments, I want to get in, I want to go, but I'm not putting that extra pressure on myself to make it there."

Weirsholm will play Deiton Baughman in the second round Wednesday.

Two boys seeds did fall on Tuesday, with Claremont boys champion Walker Duncan defeating No. 11 seed Eleftherios Theodorou of Greece 6-4, 5-7, 7-5 and qualifier Cameron Klinger beating No. 15 seed Justin Roberts of the Bahamas 7-6(6), 6-2.

In the 16s second round, top girls seed Alexa Corcoleotes was beated by Nami Otsuka 6-3, 6-2, and No. 2 seed Jada Robinson lost to Chiara Lommer 6-2, 6-2. Boys top seeds Evan Zhu and Zeke Clark did advance to the third round, with Zhu beating Cotter Wilson 7-5, 6-3 and Clark defeating Alexander Keyser 2-6, 6-1, 6-2.

In first round 18s doubles action, the top-seeded girls team of Johnnise Renaud and Cassandra Vazquez lost to Annika Ringblom and Dominque Schaefer 3-6, 6-4, 10-8.

For complete draws and Wednesday's order of play, see the tournament website.