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Friday, April 11, 2014

Tiafoe Downs Fritz to Reach Semis, Kenin Survives Another Three-Hour Match as Top Seeds Advance to Easter Bowl Semifinals

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

Top seed Francis Tiafoe is determined to take home a winner's trophy from his trip to California, and he took a big step toward that goal Friday, defeating No. 7 seed Taylor Fritz 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 on another 90 degree day at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

At 4-4 in the second set, Tiafoe was serving, down 15-40, just a point from Fritz serving for the match, but two winners, one of which was an ace to bring the game to deuce, saved him, and two points later it was 5-5.  Tiafoe didn't trail in the tiebreaker, but Fritz did save two set points to bring it to 6-5, only to net a backhand return of a Tiafoe second serve to end the 90 minute set.

Although the heat rule was in effect, players do have the option of declining to take the 10-minute break, and Tiafoe said he didn't need it.

"I knew once we split it was mine," said Tiafoe, who had beaten Fritz in their last meeting in October 6-3, 6-0.  "Not to say anything cocky, but his fitness is poor. I knew once we went three, it was mine. I work pretty hard in the gym, so I was feeling pretty good going into the third, and he wasn't making as many first serves, because he was getting more tired."

Tiafoe thought Fritz made a mistake not taking the option for the  10-minute break.

"Very dumb for him," said Tiafoe. "I knew if he had ten minutes, he could really slow down. He was really feeling everything, walking slower and slower."

Tiafoe will meet fellow 16-year-old Robert Levine, the No. 13 seed, who had never been beyond the second round of a Grade 1 before this week. Levine, who took out No. 4 seed Jordi Arconada in the third round Thursday, earned his meeting with Tiafoe in a tough three-set battle with unseeded Michael Genender. In a match that lasted over three hours, Levine took it 5-7, 7-5, 6-4.

The other boys semifinal will feature Nathan Ponwith and Aron Hiltzik, both of whom are unseeded.

Ponwith defeated No. 3 seed Logan Smith 6-1, 6-4, and said he is back after an injury.

"I was injured since last October, and in January I wasn't able to play at all," said Ponwith, who will be 16 later this month. "I sprained my wrist and I wasn't able to hit a ball for like two months. But I'm 100 percent now."

Ponwith, who is coached by former Arizona State men's coach Lou Belkin in Scottsdale, said he has been able to sustain his high level of play throughout an entire match this week.

"Last week I had moments when I was playing really good, just not the whole matches," said Ponwith, who beat Smith in the first round at the International Spring Championships in Carson. "This week I've just been able to play consistently and it's been going really well."

Hiltzik, the 2012 Easter Bowl 16s finalist, reached the quarterfinals last week at Carson, losing to Fritz, and he has continued his excellent play, beating William Blumberg 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-3 in another quarterfinal that lasted nearly three hours.

But the champion of long, tough matches is girls top seed Sofia Kenin, who again needed over three hours to advance, beating No. 12 seed Jessica Ho 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-1.  She led in the second set 5-2, but the 15-year-old Floridian says she isn't intentionally creating drama.

"I don't like going three sets, I don't," said Kenin, who has played singles and doubles each of the past four days in the extreme heat. "I'm really tired every single day, after a four-hour match. I hope to get plenty of rest, eat good and be ready for tomorrow."

Kenin will be facing No. 4 seed CiCi Bellis, who defeated No. 8 seed Kaitlyn McCarthy 6-0, 6-3. Bellis, who is on a 16-match junior winning streak, beat Kenin 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in the semifinals of the November ITF Grade 4 in Boca Raton, but Kenin had beaten her the month before in the Pan American Closed.

"She's playing really good right now," said Kenin. "Tomorrow's going to be who's controlling the points, who's more confident on the court. We'll both obviously try, but who is controlling most of the points is who is going to win the match.  I'll be fresh for tomorrow, it's not like I'm exhausted every day when I go on court."

The other girls semifinal will feature No. 11 seed Katie Swan against No. 7 seed Michaela Gordon, who both avoided energy-draining three setters.  Swan downed unseeded Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-2, 6-2, while the 14-year-old Gordon topped unseeded Andie Daniell 6-1, 6-4.

The doubles finals are set for Saturday.  The top two seeds will meet in the boys championship match.  No. 1 seeds Arconada and Dan Kerznerman will play No. 2 seeds Tommy Paul and Henrik Wiersholm, who won the Carson doubles title.

Arconada and Kerznerman outlasted No. 3 seeds Taylor Fritz and Anudeep Kodali 3-6, 7-6(5), 10-7,  while Paul and Wiersholm got past Alexander Lebedev and James Wasserman 6-3, 6-3.

Only one girls semifinal was played, with No. 7 seeds McCarthy and Mary Haffey defeating unseeded Di Lorenzo and Kenin 6-3, 7-6(4). Haffey and McCarthy served for the match twice in the second set, but Di Lorenzo and Kenin saved five match points before finally surrendering in the tiebreaker.  McCarthy and Haffey will play unseeded Mira Ruder-Hook and Gabby Smith, who advanced to the final via a walkover from Erin Larner and Alexandra Letzt.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

The younger age divisions will play their semifinal matches on Saturday after two matches again today.  For the updated results, see the TennisLink site.


JGL said...

A lot of young talent left in boys 18s semis (and an obviously diluted 16s field as a result). 3 of 4 semifinalists, Tiafoe, Levine, and Ponwith are all eligible to play 16s.

Hopefully these players can continue to mature and represent American tennis well.