Swan and Liu Return to Easter Bowl Finals; Riffice Shocks Blumberg to Reach Boys Final Against Fritz
Indian Wells, CA--
When Katie Swan and Claire Liu step onto the court Sunday for the final of the ITF Grade B1 Closed at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, both are likely to experience déjà vu. Swan lost in the final last year to CiCi Bellis, while Liu also fell one match short of an Easter Bowl title, losing to Katerina Stewart in the 16s championship match.
Swan, the No. 2 seed, defeated unseeded Kylie McKenzie 6-2, 6-3, while Liu, the No. 12 seed, avenged her two recent losses to No. 4 seed Raveena Kingsley 6-4, 6-1.
Liu, 14, will be looking for revenge again on Sunday, after dropping her only previous meeting to Swan 7-6(5), 6-2, in the first round of the US Open Junior Championships last September.
Against Kingsley, Liu said the conditions and her own effectiveness on serve made for a different result.
"At College Park (International Hard Courts) she trained there, they were her home courts," Liu said, explaining her two losses to Kingsley last summer and fall. "At Tulsa (Pan American Closed) it was indoors, so I think that helped her a little bit. "
Liu also said she was determined to get first serves in play, knowing that was necessary against Kingsley.
"You really need a good first serve against her, because she attacks every ball," said Liu, who won her first title at a pro tournament last month. "I think I was solid and I was getting every ball back. I also had a really good first serve percentage."
Liu was up 3-1 early, but Kingsley got the break back for 4-4, only to get broken to drop the set. Liu won a six-deuce game, breaking Kingsley for a 2-0 lead and kept the pressure on, building a 5-0 lead until Kingsley finally won a game, much too little too late.
Against Swan, Liu knows she must return well.
"She has a really good serve, getting a lot of free points off that," Liu said. "I need to make as many returns as I can."
Liu has seen her confidence improve since September, especially with her recent results.
"Winning that pro event helped me," said Liu. "Last year I lost in the finals, so I'm going to try to win it this year."
If Liu's confidence has increased this year, so too has Swan's after reaching the Australian Open girls final this year and winning her first pro event in Egypt last month.
Against McKenzie, Swan took an early lead in the first set, with McKenzie having difficulty finding her form on both her serves and ground strokes, with at least six double faults in the first set.
McKenzie found her rhythm in the early stages of the second set, taking a 3-1 lead, but McKenzie couldn't hold it, with three more double faults in her last two service games helping to seal her fate.
"She made quite a lot of unforced errors from the beginning," said Swan, who lives in Wichita, Kansas, but is a citizen of Great Britain. "In the beginning of the second set, she came out firing and was playing at a really high level. But when I broke back at 3-2, I think she was a little gone mentally too, so I took advantage of that."
Swan said she did feel some pressure, knowing one more win would put her back in the final, although her reason for playing the tournament was not based on a certain result.
"I wasn't really looking at it that I had to get to the final," said Swan, 16. "I love being here, I love this place, and I just wanted to play my best, and knowing if I do, I can compete with pretty much anyone in the juniors. Hopefully tomorrow I can get the win, but I'll just play my best and see how it goes."
One player willing to admit surprise at being in the final is No. 14 seed Sam Riffice, who defeated No. 2 seed William Blumberg 6-2, 6-0, ending the Carson champion's ten match winning streak, which included a win over Riffice last week.
"No," Riffice said when asked if he envisioned an appearance in the final. "This is what I've been training for the whole year, trying to get some results like this and it came."
Riffice said he knew an aggressive strategy was necessary if he were to reverse the result in Carson.
"He's a very good player and I knew if I let him play his game it wasn't going to be too good for me," said the 16-year-old from Sacramento, who is training with the USTA in Boca Raton. "So for this week, I tried to be a lot more offensive and dictate off the first point, because last week, he was being a lot more aggressive than I was, and I was running side to side."
"I thought I really dictated, executed all my shots, and on all the big points I thought I came up with some really big shots," said Riffice, who admitted he didn't sleep well Friday in anticipation of the match. "I was really on today. That was definitely one of the best matches I've played. I didn't make many errors and I was playing the right way the whole match."
Blumberg struggled with his backhand, and with Riffice forcing the action, didn't have much of an opportunity to work out his problems.
He also had difficulty overcoming some line calls he objected to. Serving at 0-1 in the second set, Blumberg saw a call on the far sideline well out and dropped his racquet to the ground when it wasn't called. Riffice continued playing, and the chair awarded him the point, calling the racquet drop a hindrance to Riffice.
After Blumberg continued to argue, he was instructed to play, but by the time he returned to serve again, he was given a code violation for delay of game, at which time Blumberg requested the ITF referee. She upheld the ruling, and Blumberg calmed down and continued to play, but he was broken at love, and won only five points after that.
None of it fazed Riffice, who waited out the discussion without comment, then closed out the match with a spectacular backhand winner off a Blumberg smash.
"It's 50-50, you've just gotta guess one way," Riffice said.
Another key backhand winner helped top seed Taylor Fritz reach the final, who defeated No. 4 seed Nathan Ponwith 7-6(5), 6-0.
After failing to serve out the set at 6-5, Fritz earned his first three sets points of the match at 6-3 in the tiebreaker. But two dazzling forehand winners by Ponwith made it 6-5 erase two on them, and Ponwith was serving to save the third.
"He hit it deep so I knew I had to fall away from it," Fritz said. "I knew he came to the net, so I'd just get one chance to pass him. I couldn't handle not serving out the set, then losing a 6-3 lead when I had two serves. I just had to win that point."
Once he secured the first set, Ponwith needed to stay with Fritz, but he couldn't convert his two game points serving at 0-1 and never got another, as Fritz began forcing errors and Ponwith, who had played an outstanding first set, began to make unforced errors as well.
With Ponwith winning the past three matches they'd played, Fritz was not likely to take him lightly, and Fritz said his own improvement on the backhand side helped him in this match.
"It used to be I was just all forehands, and really no backhand," said Fritz, who declared himself over the jet lag after his trip from China last Monday. "When he went big to my backhand, I felt I could stay in the point still, while a while ago, when he'd just rip to my backhand, I'd give him an easy ball and that would be it. I think I've improved my backhand a lot in the past year or so. It's a lot more solid, and I'm moving a lot better, so that's what made the difference."
Riffice and Fritz played last October in the second round of the Grade B1 Pan American Closed, with Fritz winning 6-3, 6-2, but Fritz is not putting much stock in that result.
"He's so much better now," said the 17-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe. "He won Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl (16s) and has a lot more confidence, and he just beat Will. Will's been playing great lately, so it'll be interesting."
While Ponwith was unable to reach the singles final for the second straight year, he did capture the doubles title, with Cameron Klinger.
The unseeded pair defeated No. 6 seeds Riffice and Vasil Kirkov 6-2, 6-3.
Ponwith and Klinger were firmly in control of the match with four points to take a 6-2, 5-0 lead, but lost that fifth game of the second set on a deuce point, lost the next game, also on a deuce point, and then were broken to put the set back on serve. Kirkov was broken in the next game however, and in the next game, Klinger had to save a break point to get to a deciding point. Ponwith came through with a backhand winner up the middle to end the suspense.
"It was a lot of fun," said Klinger, who had last played with Ponwith in Kalamazoo in 2012. "Sam and Vasil played great, so it was a fun match."
Ponwith and Klinger got together this week at the last minute, when their originally scheduled partners decided not to play the doubles portion of the tournament.
"Destiny found us," said Ponwith.
As for what makes them a good team, Ponwith had a ready answer.
"We have a really aggressive games style on the dubs court," he said. "Cameron volleys and serves so well and I'm more of a baseliner, and I think we cover each other well."
"I hop on Nathan's back from time to time," Klinger joked.
Although Ponwith and Klinger had some history together, top seeds Swan and Sonya Kenin were playing together for the first time, but they came from behind to defeat Carson champions Ena Shibahara and Caroline Dolehide 4-6, 6-4, 10-6.
"I think one of the things we do together is fight really hard," said Swan. "They were a really tough team to play against. They won Carson and had a really good tournament here, but we kept fighting at got through it, played really well."
"Ena has really good volleys and Caroline has a really big serve," said Kenin. "If her serve is in a groove, it's tough, because Ena's right there at the net, and her touch is very good."
Even with no history together, Swan and Kenin felt comfortable from the first match of the tournament, and plan to play together at Roland Garros this summer.
"We felt we had good chemistry, and started off well together," Swan said. "Each match, I'd say got better and better and today was our best, which is always good."
Sunday's singles finals will begin at 10 a.m. with the girls match, followed by the boys match, not before noon.
Boys' 18 Singles (Semifinal Round)
Taylor Fritz (1) (Rancho Santa Fe, CA) def. Nathan Ponwith (4) (Scottsdale, AZ) 7-6(5), 6-0
Sam Riffice (14) (Roseville, CA) def. William Blumberg (2) (Greenwich, CT) 6-2, 6-0
Boys' 18 Doubles (Final Round)
Cameron Klinger (Elk Grove, CA) / Nathan Ponwith (Scottsdale, AZ) def. Vasil Kirkov (Tampa, FL) / Sam Riffice (6) (Roseville, CA) 6-2, 6-3
Girls' 18 Singles (Semifinal Round)
Claire Liu (12) (Thousand Oaks, CA) def. Raveena Kingsley (4) (Fulton, MD) 6-4, 6-1
Katie Swan (2) (Wichita, KS) def. Kylie McKenzie (Anthem, AZ) 6-2, 6-3
Girls' 18 Doubles (Final Round)
Sonya Kenin (Pembroke Pines, FL) / Katie Swan (1) (Wichita, KS) def. Caroline Dolehide (Hinsdale, IL) / Ena Shibahara (Rancho Palos Verdes, CA) 4-6, 6-4, 10-6