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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Nakagawa Edges Tiafoe, Bellis Cruises Past Kingsley to Claim ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Carson, California--

As the only international player to advance to the quarterfinals of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships, No. 2 seed Naoki Nakagawa of Japan could have felt like an outsider as he took on top seed Francis Tiafoe of the United States in Sunday's final at the StubHub Center.

But a half dozen local fans of Japanese heritage gathered around Court 4 on a calm and sunny morning to provide support, and when he had completed his dramatic 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5) victory, they besieged him with photo and autograph requests, sharpies and Hello Kitty-clad iPad cameras at the ready.

With Tiafoe serving for the match at 6-5 in the third set, Nakagawa didn't like his chances, but the realization defeat was likely helped loosen him up.

"I was thinking maybe I'm going to lose at 5-6," said the 17-year-old, who has trained at the IMG Bollettieri Academy the past four years. "So I got relaxed, and that's maybe why I fought back."

Although Tiafoe played what he termed a "horrible game," serving for the match at 6-5, he did make every first serve, and Nakagawa made every return, sending even the biggest ones back with depth and pace. Once the rally was underway, Nakagawa stayed steadier, letting Tiafoe's errors do the damage.

In the tiebreaker, Nakagawa went up a mini-break for a 2-0 lead but gave it back on a double fault to make it 3-2, the only sign of nerves he betrayed.  There were no breaks again until 5-5, when Tiafoe missed a first serve, and Nakagawa went all out on his forehand return of the second, keeping it just inside the sideline.

"I hit a pretty bad second serve and he hit an unbelievable forehand," said the 16-year-old Tiafoe. "For him to go for that at 5-all is pretty clutch, I have to give that to him.  He hit a good serve on match point, and there's nothing I can do there."

After Tiafoe netted his return, he gave his racquet a heave and it clattered toward the alley, but he recovered it and his composure quickly, as he gave Nakagawa a warm hand shake at the net, ending the first final decided in a third-set tiebreaker in the tournament's ten-year history.

Tiafoe was undoubtedly frustrated that the match even went to a third set, after he somehow managed to convert only one of 15 break point chances in the opening set, while Nakagawa went two for four, breaking Tiafoe at love at 4-5 to steal the first set.

The second set was all Tiafoe, and he appeared to have the match under control when he broke Nakagawa in the third game of the third set, only to give the break right back. The two stayed on serve until Tiafoe won a three-deuce game to take the 6-5 lead, which he again failed to consolidate.

Nakagawa had already survived a third-set tiebreaker in his quarterfinal match with unseeded Tommy Paul, and he said he doesn't hold back when the pressure builds.

"I try to play aggressive when it's tight situation," Nakagawa said. As for his big serve on match point, Nakagawa held to that philosophy.

"I was very tight, but I just go for it," Nakagawa said. "If I lose point, then fine, but just play aggressive."

Nakagawa will return to Bradenton, perhaps play a couple of Futures, then head to Europe for this summer's junior slams.

Tiafoe now goes two hours east to Indian Wells, where he will play in the ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl beginning Tuesday.

"It’s not like this match matters to me to play the slams or anything," said Tiafoe, who trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md. "It's another match for me to get better and get some matches in. This loss obviously hurts, because I really wanted to win, but it's not going to carry on to next week. I'm going to take a day off tomorrow, relax and then be on my feet for Tuesday."

In the girls final, No. 5 seed CiCi Bellis displayed some stellar defense in the final against No. 9 seed Raveena Kingsley, and it paid off in a 6-3, 6-0 victory.

"She's a really aggressive player, so my defense had to be on today," said Bellis, who turns 15 on Tuesday. "I kept thinking to myself, play my game, play aggressive and try to defend as well as I can. As I said, she's an aggressive player, so I just had to stay with her try to put it away."

Bellis never trailed in the match, but she was broken twice, serving at 2-1 and for the first set at 5-2, as both girls struggled getting their first serves in play.  Bellis said she thought that might be due to nerves, but Kingsley, playing in her first Grade 1 final, thought fatigue may have caused her erratic play.

"I was probably just a little tired, physically and mentally," said Kingsley, who had overcome a slow start in her three-set semifinal win over Usue Arconada, but could not find her rhythm Sunday. "She's won a Grade 1 before, so maybe that helped her confidence."

Kingsley is certain she can get over the loss and be ready for the Easter Bowl on Tuesday, and although Bellis has assured herself a spot in the main draw of the French and Wimbledon juniors with the Carson title, she too is eager to play again next week.

"It's obviously going to be really hard," said the 2013 Easter Bowl 16s champion, who is now traveling with 2004 NCAA finalist Jelena Pandzic, who played at Fresno State and Fresno Pacific. "Everybody there is really good too, but it'll be fun. I think I'll be okay. I'm going to rest the rest of the day and then have a light hit tomorrow, so I think I'll be mentally rested and everything for that."

For complete results, see the tournament website.


Snooze city said...

I appreciate what you do Colette, but sometimes too much of a good thing is just that, too much. Scroll through the coverage of Carson, it is not mixed in with any college tennis or any other tennis news for that matter. It goes on for pages and pages and pages. Do we really need day to day play by play coverage of these junior events at the cost of everything else tennis? Do we have the same thing to endure for Easter Bowl? Notice the comments the last week - none - because there is nothing interesting to discuss. (No offense to jr players intended, but who remembers who won the L1s last year?) Some of it newsworthy? Yes, but every round and all this detail? No.

Brent said...

Hey, Snooze City, how much did you pay for your subscription? Good grief. She is there live at one of the biggest junior tournaments of the year. It obviously makes sense for her to provide detail you could only get from a first-hand perspective other than regurgitating second-hand scorelines from college or Futures results. Weak comment.

fan said...

I'm sure Colette will post college tennis and other tennis news AFTER EB; since she's here, it's natural for her to cover those matches, no? It's pretty exhausting to watch all those matches too, so..I for one much appreciate her interviews and such. Didn't know it was Pandzic who was Cici's coach, for instance.

College Fan said...

The top 3 Americans on the ATP tour all played FOUR years of college tennis. Thanks to Stevie J's recent move up. When is the last time we could say that?

This development seems to be a non-event here. Yes, we're not talking about three guys in the top 30 or so. Nonetheless, I would've expected it to receive some attention.

Go College Tennis!

Colette Lewis said...

If you follow me on twitter, I do try to keep up as much as I can on the other news. I did note the Johnson/4-year college item yesterday.

Mix it up said...

I get the point made - junior coverage here has changed (increased) a lot over last 2-3 years. We are getting inundated with this same level of coverage for so many junior tournaments - not just the big ones - that by the time a significant event comes along we are tired of it. I remember Brad Gilbert saying this is good stuff, just too much, I agree with him and Snooze. Quantity does not equal quality.

Colette Lewis said...

I have covered basically the same junior and college tournaments for the past 10 years. I have no intention of changing that. Thanks for reading when what I write has interest for you, but I am not making any adjustments.

Brent said...

'Snooze City' and 'Mix It Up' - you guys are basically going to a free car wash and then complaining that they missed a spot. You look silly. Stop it.

Brent said...

At the risk of boring some other readers, here are my predictions for Easter Bowl (haven't checked any results yet today)...

1 Tiafoe over Kaiser
Reinberg over Thirouin
Gordon over 11 Kodali
7 Fritz over Tao
4 Arconada over Silverstein
Klinger over 13 Levine
9 Blanch over Genender
5 Kumar over Madison
Nava over 6 Kerznerman
Ponwith over 12 Paul
Ross over Chamdani
3 Smith over Schalet
Staggs over 8 Boyd
Hiltzik over 10 Zlobinsky
Blumberg over 14 Duncan
2 Wiersholm over Opelka

1 Tiafoe over Reinberg
7 Fritz over Gordon
Klinger over 4 Arconada
5 Kumar over 9 Blanch
Ponwith over Nava
3 Smith over Ross
Staggs over Hiltzik
2 Wiersholm over Blumberg

7 Fritz over 1 Tiafoe
5 Kumar over Klinger
Ponwith over 3 Smith
2 Wiersholm over Staggs

7 Fritz over 5 Kumar
2 Wiersholm over Ponwith

2 Wiersholm over 7 Fritz

Brent said...

And to feed the masses, here are my predictions for this week's Futures...

1 Krajinovic over King
Escobedo over 6 Jung
McCarthy over Qualifier
Gard over Meister
Novikov over Qualifier
3 Buchanan over Nevolo
8 Corrie over Manlow
2 Smethurst over Aubone

1 Krajinovic over Escobedo
Gard over McCarthy
3 Buchanan over Novikov
8 Corrie over 2 Smethurst

1 Krajinovic over Gard
8 Corrie over 3 Buchanan

8 Corrie over 1 Krajinovic

Junior fan said...

If you are interested in junior tennis, Carson and the EB are one of the top tournaments to follow. Even though the EB is a level 1 now. Colette does a magnificent job of covering the juniors and college. Remember, this is the pathway. How rewarding it is to see where Marcos Giron is now if you watched him in the juniors. And where he will be in the future.

The Snooze comment is totally off base and rooted in lack of knowledge. But so are the predictions Brent makes. What are you trying to prove? Bracket breaker?

Brent said...

Junior fan, which of my predictions do you disagree with?