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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Blumberg and Kecmanovic Reach Boys Final, Stollar, Kenin Meet for Girls ITF International Spring Title; Crawford, Subhash Claim 16s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Carson, CA--

Sunday's finals of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships will feature a first-time meeting to decide the boys title, and a second meeting more than two years after the first in the girls championship match.

Top seed William Blumberg and No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia have yet to drop a set in the their five wins this week, with Blumberg defeating No. 5 seed and doubles partner Nathan Ponwith 6-2, 6-3 in Saturday's semifinals and Kecmanovic topping unseeded Kalman Boyd 6-3, 6-3.

Blumberg had arrived in Carson after reaching the finals of the Grade A in Porto Alegre Brazil and admitted the adjustment to the hard courts was difficult at the beginning.

"After Brazil, I definitely had a ton of confidence, and I think that helped me through the first couple of rounds," said the 17-year-old from Connecticut. "Whether or not I was comfortable on the court, I was in the right place in my mind, so that helped. Throughout the week, I've definitely been improving, cutting off angles better and moving really well now I think."

Blumberg, who lost only one game against qualifier Johnathan Small in Friday's quarterfinal, gave Ponwith very little, going up a break early in both sets.

"I did everything well today," said Blumberg, who is in his third major ITF junior final since helping the US to the Junior Davis Cup title last September in Mexico. "I served really well. I took myself out of some tough situations with my serve and I was hitting my forehand really well, dictating the points, moving into the court, trying to find the net and be aggressive. I think I made him feel a little uncomfortable. I don't think he was playing his best tennis, not serving his best, so I got lucky on that part, but I think I played well myself."

Kecmanovic, who will be 16 is August, credited his serve as the primary reason he was able to get through in straight sets.

"I was really focused on my serve, to make a lot of first serves," said the Serb, who trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. "So I got a lot of easy points today most of the time, when I made my first serve. I also tried to make him play a lot, not rush the point to hit a winner, but make him miss."

Although he learned how to play tennis on clay courts, Kecmanovic enjoys competing on hard courts.

"Most of the years, I only played on clay, but for some reason, I like hard courts better," Kecmanovic said. "I have no idea why."

Although he has never played Blumberg in singles, the two have been in the same ITF junior tournaments, so there is some familiarity.

"I've seen him play lots of times and we've played doubles together," said Kecmanovic. "So I know how he plays and everything, so I think it's going to be interesting."

The IMG Academy has two students in the final, with No. Fanni Stollar earning her place with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Ingrid Neel, who also trains at the famous Bradenton site.  The 16-year-old from Hungary will play No. 2 seed Sonya Kenin in Sunday's final, after Kenin defeated No. 3 seed Michaela Gordon 6-2, 6-3.

The last time the two met was in the 2012 Eddie Herr 14s final, with Stollar coming back from a way behind to take to the title.

"It was so long ago," said Stollar, who has one Grade 1 title, which she won last year in Paraguay. "I was down 6-1, 5-2 and I won 6-3 in the third. I don't know how I did that. It was very tough, and she's tough to play against, but I've just got to focus on my game."

Stollar got only one break in the first set against No. 7 seed Neel, but she made it stand up. In the second set, Stollar went up a break 2-1, but gave it right back, broken at love to make it 2-2.  Neel had double faulted on game point in the first set to give Stollar the break, and that happened again at 2-2 in the second. Stollar consolidated and wasn't threatened on serve after that.

"We really know each other, really know what to do, both of us, it's tough," said Stollar. "My serve is one of the most important things for me and today it was pretty good. It was a little bit up and down in some games. But I had to stay aggressive throughout the points, push her down in the court or otherwise she will come to net."

Kenin avenged her three-set loss to Gordon in January's Grade 1 Coffee Bowl semifinals, primarily by improving her serving and her strategy.

"I was being aggressive and watching for her backhand down the line," said the 16-year-old Floridian, the reigning Orange Bowl champion. "I wasn't really prepared for that in Coffee Bowl. And my serve there wasn't good at all.  I was just missing a lot in Coffee Bowl. I mean, she's a good player, very smart and everyone has problems with her, so all respect to her, but I should have won that match."

The doubles champions were crowned Saturday afternoon, with both teams claiming the titles playing together for the first time.

Alejandro Tabilo of Canada and Benjamin Hannestad of Denmark, the No. 3 seeds, who defeated top seeds Blumberg and Ponwith 6-3, 2-6, 10-4, met at the IMG Academy but have known each other since the 12s, so were comfortable with one another on the court.

"I'm more of an attacking player and he can more control the points," said the 17-year-old Tabilo. "Today, I think it was a good balance between his power and serves and my reactions on the volleys," said Hannestad, 18. "And he has incredible hands, he's a legend. So we have a very good game together."

After dropping the second set, Tabilo and Hannestad rededicated themselves to their game plan.

"Whenever we came to the net, we made sure one stayed back, because we knew they were lobbing a lot, making sure to cover the court well," Tabilo said. "We got off to a good start, attacking second serves, good returning and coming in well, and that's why we won," Hannestad added.

The unseeded team of Caroline Dolehide and Ena Shibahara were two points from defeat in their final against No. 4 seeds Gordon and Raquel Pedraza, with Pedraza serving at 7-6(4), 5-4, 30-0.  But Dolehide and Shibahara won four straight points to pull even at 5, held and broke Gordon on a deciding point to take the second set, then dominated the match tiebreaker for a 6-7(4), 7-5, 10-3 victory.

"We just played out of our minds at the end," said Shibahara, a 17-year-old from nearby Rancho Palos Verdes. "We would make a return and go for poaches, because that's what we were missing in the first set."

"We just went for it," Dolehide said.

Dolehide and Shibahara served notice they would be a team to contend with when they defeated No. 2 seeds Neel and Stollar, who won two $10,000 Pro Circuit titles last month, 6-1, 6-2 in the first round.

"We played really good that day," said Dolehide, a 16-year-old from Illinois. "We knew we'd be all right if we played that way the rest of the tournament," said Shibahara.

Dolehide and Shibahara will also be playing together at next week's Easter Bowl.


No. 6 seed Oliver Crawford swept the titles in the boys division, while No. 15 seed Natasha Subhash won a marathon three-setter to capture the girls division.

Crawford blew through the first set of his 6-0, 2-6, 6-3 victory over No. 5 seed Andrew Fenty, but Fenty was able to work his way back into the match, breaking Crawford to open the second set and holding his own serve throughout to pull even. 

Crawford managed to claw back from a 0-40 hole in the opening game of the third set to hold, providing an important psychological turning point.

"It was very important to get the momentum back," said Crawford, who will turn 16 later this month. "That helped me out mentally and maybe put him back a little bit."

"That was a good hold for him," agreed Fenty, a 15-year-old from Washington DC. "If I would have broken starting out the third set, he probably would have been thinking, I can't win."

Fenty was broken serving at 3-4 in the third set, admitting he was beginning to tire in the late stages of the match.

"It looked like he was getting more tired as I moved him around more," said Crawford, who lives in Spartanburg, SC. "He didn't get to as many balls, so I tried to keep on him and I was able to do it."

In the final game, Crawford got four of five first serves in, a huge assist in finishing the match, and getting a title he thought he could win.

"I thought I had a good chance to win the tournament," said Crawford, who was a semifinalist in the Kalamazoo 16s last summer. "That's why I played the tournament, to try to see if I could win one of these. Easter Bowl (where he will be the No. 1 seed) is going to be tough, it's going to be hard."

Fenty is looking forward to building on his showing this week, and perhaps getting another shot at Crawford soon.

"I'll see him at the Easter Bowl," the soft-spoken Fenty said.

Subhash, who had already beaten No. 3 seed Taylor Johnson and No. 2 seed Alexandra Belaya during the week, took out No. 4 seed Victoria Flores 6-7(5), 7-6(0), 6-1 in the girls final, although she had to withstand Flores serving for the match at 6-5 in the second set.

The task of breaking serve wasn't a daunting one, however, as in the first set alone there were eight breaks, as neither girl could make first serves or avoid crucial double faults.

After earning the chance to serve for the match with a blistering forehand winner, Flores lost four straight points, then seven more.

"She played two really good points, I couldn't really do anything there, then I shanked two, and then she won seven points in a row," said Flores, a 16-year-old from Iowa. "She earned the tiebreak, she played really well in those, so I couldn't really do anything."

After more than two hours for the first two sets, the third set went quickly, which Subhash attributed to the revival of her serve.

"I found my serve again," said Subhash, a 13-year-old from Virginia. "I wasn't serving too well in the first two sets."

Subhash also eliminated many of the unforced errors in her game in the final set.

"I felt like I was in more control of my shots," said Subhash.
"I was much more smooth in the third set."

Subhash described the feeling of winning the tournament as "amazing. It's the first ITF I've played, so it's really good."

In the doubles finals, both top seeds won, but both were taken to a match tiebreaker.

Crawford, playing with Brian Cernoch, collected his second Tiffany Bowl of the day with a 6-3, 3-6, 10-6 victory over the unseeded team of Ryan Goetz and Ryan Seggerman.

The girls doubles title went to Alexandra Belaya and Emma Decoste, who defeated No. 8 seeds Jessica Anzo and Jenna Moustafa 6-3, 4-6, 10-5.

============================================Boys' 18 Singles (Semifinal Round)
Miomir Kecmanovic (2) (Boca Raton, FL)  def.  Kalman Boyd (Rancho Santa Fe, CA)  6-3, 6-3
William Blumberg (1) (Greenwich, CT)  def.  Nathan Ponwith (5) (Scottsdale, AZ)  6-2, 6-3

Boys' 18 Doubles (Final Round)
Benjamin Hannestad / Alejandro Tabilo (3) (Etobicoke, Ontario) def.  William Blumberg (Greenwich, CT) / Nathan Ponwith (1) (Scottsdale, AZ)  6-3, 2-6, 10-4

Girls' 18 Singles (Semifinal Round)
Sofia Kenin (2) (Pembroke Pines, FL)  def.  Michaela Gordon (3) (Saratoga, CA)  6-2, 6-3
Fanni Stollar (4)  def.  Ingrid Neel (7) (Bradenton, FL)  6-4, 6-4

Girls' 18 Doubles (Final Round)
Caroline Dolehide (Hinsdale, IL) / Ena Shibahara (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA)  def.  Michaela Gordon (Saratoga, CA) / Raquel Pedraza (4) (Claremont, CA)  6-7(4), 7-5, 10-3

Boys' 16 Singles (Final Round)
Oliver Crawford (6) (Spartanburg, SC)  def.  Andrew Fenty (5) (Washington, DC)  6-0, 2-6, 6-3

Boys' 16 Doubles (Final Round)
Brian Cernoch (North Bethesda, MD) / Oliver Crawford (1) (Spartanburg, SC)  def.  Ryan Goetz (Greenlawn, NY) / Ryan  Seggerman (Coronado, CA)  6-3, 3-6, 10-6

Girls' 16 Singles (Final Round)
Natasha Subhash (15) (Fairfax, VA)  def. Victoria Flores (4) (Fort Dodge, IA) 6-7(5), 7-6(0), 6-1

Girls' 16 Doubles (Final Round)
Alexandra Belaya (Melbourne, FL) / Emma Decoste (1) (Stuart, FL)  def.  Jessica Anzo (Temecula, CA) / Jenna  Moustafa (8) (Los Angeles, CA)  6-3, 4-6, 10-5