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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Top Seeds Tiafoe and Nakagawa Reach ISC Final, Bellis and Kingsley to Decide Girls Championship; McNally Sweeps 16s Titles, Miller Wins Girls 16s in Third Set Tiebreaker

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Carson, California--

The four finalists in Sunday's International Spring Championships have only one previous meeting between them, adding novelty to the script being written this week at the StubHub Center in Carson.

No. 1 seed Francis Tiafoe and No. 2 seed Naoki Nakagawa, who have never played, advanced to the boys ITF Grade 1 championship with straight-set wins, while No. 5 seed CiCi Bellis and No. 9 seed Raveena Kingsley, whose only meeting dates back to 2011, earned their spots in the final in contrasting fashion.

The 14-year-old Bellis defeated unseeded Kelly Chen 6-2, 6-4 in Saturday's semifinals, winning the final four games of the match.

"She started playing better in the second set," said Bellis, who turns 15 on Tuesday. "I was trying to go for a little bit too much, so I had to go back and start grinding more and waiting for the right shot."

Bellis, who lost to Kingsley in the second round of the 2011 USTA Spring Nationals 12s 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, believes her many major tournament finals have helped her as she prepares for another.

"I think it's definitely an advantage," said Bellis, who won Les Petits As last year, and won the Grade 1 Coffee Bowl in January. "I don't really get that nervous anymore, and I think that's definitely experience, and I like that a lot."

Kingsley was down 5-0 before she won a game against No. 4 seed and fellow Junior Tennis Champions Center player Usue Arconada, but Kingsley took control of the third set early to post a 1-6, 7-6(3), 6-1 victory.

"I actually was surprised myself," Kingsley said of her slow start. "I don't even know what happened--just so many errors. It was probably my footwork was off in the first set, but I fixed it in the second, thankfully."

Arconada, who like Kingsley is 15 years old, was only two points from the match with Kingsley serving at 5-6 deuce in the second set, but Kingsley won the next two points and led throughout the tiebreaker.  She took a 5-3 lead when Arconada hit a backhand wide, then earned three set points with a good second serve that forced an error.  Kingsley won the set with a clean backhand winner, and had the momentum going into the third set.

Arconada saved two break points in the first game of the third set, but Kingsley hit a backhand return winner on the third, and Kingsley was off and running. With her deep ground strokes and her ability to take the ball early, Kingsley kept the pressure on Arconada, and before long it was 5-0 in her favor.

"That was a very important game," Kingsley said. "It could have decided the match, you never know. But I wanted to get off to a good start and have the momentum carry me from there."

Kingsley and Arconada practice together often when both are in College Park, Maryland, so there were no surprises.

"She's a tough player, physically and mentally, so I was prepared for a tough match, a long match like this one," said Kingsley, who had beaten Arconada in straight sets at the 16s USTA Clay Courts. "We hit with each other all the time, play points with each other all the time."

Kingsley said admitted she is not that familiar with Bellis' game, but is eager to take the court against her on Sunday.

"I had a lot of confidence coming into this tournament, so that certainly helped," Kingsley said. "I'm excited."

Nakagawa prevented a rematch of the 2013 ITF Pan American Closed in Tulsa by defeating No. 7 seed Taylor Fritz 6-4, 6-1. Fritz led 3-1 in the opening set, but Nakagawa broke right back, and used his drop shot often in the ensuing games to keep Fritz off balance.

Nakagawa had had the much more difficult quarterfinal match, beating unseeded Tommy Paul 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(5), so he was happy to have short points and games Saturday.

"I'm a little bit tired and my legs are heavy, so I tried to play aggressively," said Nakagawa, a 17-year-old who trains at the IMG Bolettieri Academy.  "My opponent was a very aggressive player. I love the drop shot and it worked today."

Tiafoe, who needed less than an hour to get by No. 9 seed Dan Kerznerman, was determined to keep Kerznerman from getting comfortable.

"I played a solid match," said Tiafoe, who also trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center. "I rushed him pretty good. I saw him playing Henrik (Wiersholm) yesterday and they were rallying a lot. Henrik wasn't coming forward at all, and that's what Danny likes. So I was trying to play big with the forehand, come in, put pressure on him."

Tiafoe, who had a shoe blowout midway into his quarterfinal match with Sameer Kumar Friday, leading him to borrow shoes a size too small from Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com, had boys 16s finalist Patrick Kypson to thank for his footwear Saturday.

"I had a spare, but they're (for) clay, so I'm happy that Patrick could hook me up," Tiafoe said. "They felt good today, luckily the same size today, so I was a little more comfortable playing. He said he's going to let me use them for tomorrow's match, but then I think I'm going to have to buy a pair."

Tiafoe watched Nakagawa play against Paul, so he is ready for the drop shots.

"He has very good hands, a good backhand, forehand's not as good," Tiafoe said. "He goes to the drop shot a lot on the forehand, so I'm going to be trying to hug the baseline so hopefully I can get up there."

The doubles champions were crowned on Saturday, with Gabby Andrews picking up her third International Spring Championships title, this time with Sandra Samir.  Andrews and Samir, the No. 7 seeds, defeated unseeded Caroline Dolehide and Francesca Di Lorenzo 3-6, 6-4, 10-5.

Andrews, who won her two previous titles in 2011 and 2012 with Taylor Townsend, knew Samir only from occasional contact at the Advantage Tennis Academy, where both train, although Andrews goes there only three times a week.

"We never played doubles there," said Samir, who is from Egypt. "Since I am always traveling and she only comes three days a week."

"It was sort of out of the blue," said Andrews. "I saw her at the Academy, but we really weren't practicing or anything, but she called me and I thought, well, she's a good tennis player, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, so why not?"

Samir saw the advantages of teaming up with a two-time junior slam doubles champion.

"I feel like someone's got my back," said Samir. "I don't have to worry. She's a really good doubles player, a really good tennis player."

Andrews said her experience in match tiebreakers was also critical in overcoming their slow start.

"I think it's all from me and Taylor," Andrews said of her partner in the the 2012 Australian and US Open Junior doubles championships. "We have this mindset that we're going to have a stronger mind than the other people. We've been in a lot of third sets and I've just gotten used to staying focused, being confident."

The boys doubles champions are Tommy Paul and Henrik Wiersholm, with the No. 3 seeds beating No. 7 seeds William Blumberg and Alex Rybakov 6-4, 6-2.

Paul and Wiersholm fell behind 4-1 in the opening set, but their experience as a team kept them from getting discouraged.

"We have come back before, so we just told ourselves we could do it again," said Paul.

"It was a lot of self-belief, belief in each other," said Wiersholm.

Although the deciding points at deuce weren't numerous, Wiersholm and Paul did well when the game was in the balance.

"There were only three, I think, but we took all of them," Paul said. "That was a big factor. Deuce points are always tough in doubles, and that's actually what we did really well in the whole tournament, focused in on the deuce points a lot."

Wiersholm said their record as a team is remarkable.

"It's probably one of the best I've ever heard of," said Wiersholm. "We've lost one match, and it was in Junior Davis Cup, to Australia. Other than that, although we haven't played together in a while, we won 14s Easter Bowl, two 12s Super Nationals. We've got belief."

Most of the day's drama came courtesy of the 16s championships, with both singles finals decided deep in a third set.

In the three-hour boys title match, No. 9 seed John McNally defeated No. 11 seed Patrick Kypson 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.

McNally broke Kypson to take a 5-3 lead in the final set, but didn't get off to a good start in his attempt to serve out the match.  A net cord winner for Kypson and an ill-conceived drop shot made it 0-30, but McNally hit a big forehand to force an error on the next point for 15-30, and drew even with a surprise serve-and-volley on a second serve, which forced an error from Kypson.  A good first serve gave McNally a match point, and he hit a good first serve, but netted a forehand. McNally saved one break point, but he couldn't save a second, with Kypson hitting a difficult backhand volley winner to take the game.

After failing to convert that match point, Kypson was fighting some demons from the 14s Easter Bowl final in 2013.

"I had a match point and lost to Connor Hance, so it was great to get that off my mind," said McNally, 15. "I've been thinking about that for the past year, and I had some flashbacks after I missed that forehand, so it was good to get the win and get that match erased from my memory."

Kypson held for 5-5 and McNally saved a break point at 5-5, with Kypson sending a forehand pass long and McNally closing out the game with an ace.

He then called for a trainer, needing attention for a blister.

"My whole foot from the top and the toes was one big blister," said McNally. "I had to take a timeout because it was starting to hurt."

Kypson admitted that the five-minute delay did throw him off a bit.

"It was tough," said Kypson, 14. "I got stiff. I think it was like five minutes with no tennis, so my joints got a little stiff and it was tough to serve right after that."

With most of the points decided only after long, physical rallies, Kypson began to feel the effects late in the match, and was down 0-40 in the final game. He saved two of those match points, but fatigue showed on the 30-40 point, when he sliced a backhand into the net after a short rally.

"I got a little tired toward the end and it probably cost me some tight, close points," Kypson said. "I think if I was in a little better shape, I probably could have won those points, stayed in it more, not bailed out, but I'll work on it, try to improve on it."

Aside from his blister, McNally said he had no issues with conditioning.

"I felt fine physically," McNally said. "So thanks to my trainers back at home. They've done a great job getting me in good shape."

Despite the tough loss, Kypson said he enjoyed the match, their first since meeting in the semifinals of the 2011 USTA 12s Clay Courts, which Kypson won 6-0, 6-3.

"He's definitely gotten better since then," said Kypson. "He hits a really big ball off both sides, and I enjoy playing him, and hopefully we can play again soon."

Although the girls 16s final was not quite as long, it ended even more dramatically, with No. 16 seed Alaina Miller defeating No. 13 seed Kalani Soli 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(3).

Miller, who hits a two-handed forehand and backhand, blew through the first set, with Soli unable to do much with the deep, flat shots Miller was hitting.  She recovered in the second set, going up 4-0, but Miller got it back on serve, only to get broken serving at 4-5.  Soli fell behind 3-0 in the third set, but it was her turn to get back on serve at 3-3.  Soli then lost a nine-deuce game on her serve, and after two rare holds, Miller served for the match.

She never got to match point, with three double faults costing her. And yet there was no outward sign of frustration.

"Of course I'm frustrated, three double faults is really frustrating in a game, but it happens," said Miller, a 15-year-old from Saratoga, California. "I just have to find a way to deal with it and not dwell on it."

Miller said she has a song she sings, Michael Jackson's "Baby Be Mine," which helps her stay composed in tight spots.

"I just turn up the volume in my head and I try to block out all of my thoughts, and it's worked so far," said Miller, who saved multiple match points in her third round win over Chiara Lommer.

Soli held to make it 6-5, and Miller followed suit to send the match to a tiebreaker. After Miller hit a forehand winner to take a 4-2 lead, Soli sent a backhand wide, then got a bad break when her backhand caught the tape and ricocheted wide to give Miller four championship points. Miller missed a drop shot attempt on the first, but hit a backhand winner to claim the title on the second.

"I was just playing defense most of the time," said Soli, who lives just down the street from the StubHub Center in Carson, but trains at La Habra Tennis Center, not at the USTA Player Development site. "She stepped up and played well. She had really good shots, set up her points well. I think I just need to work on my offense a little bit more, and just keep fighting."

Soli had a dozen or more supporters at the match, one of the benefits of competing so close to home.

"It's nice to play here, because I'm from here and I have a lot of people who know me," said Soli, who was cheerful and composed after the match despite the tough loss.

Miller, who trains with John and JP Fruttero and Brian Garrow in Northern California, was also familiar with the area, as she comes to Carson occasionally to train with USTA Player Development.

"I actually just started a routine when I come a week every other month, or every month," Miller said. "I like it here; it's a great place. I kind of felt comfortable, it wasn't a new environment. It was good."

The girls 16s doubles title went to top seeds Kayla Day and Ryan Peus, who defeated No. 2 seeds Jada Robinson and Alana Smith 6-4, 4-6, 10-7.

McNally took his second International Spring Championships 16s title to close out the action on Saturday, partnering with Gianni Ross.  The No. 6 seeds downed No. 8 seeds Trent Bryde and Kypson 6-2, 7-5.

For complete results, see the tournament website.