Nakagawa Edges Tiafoe, Bellis Cruises Past Kingsley to Claim ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships
©Colette Lewis 2014--
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."
"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.