Saturday, October 17, 2015

Holt Sweeps Titles at ITF Grade B1 Pan American Closed; Day Claims Girls Singles Championship

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Tulsa, Oklahoma--

Brandon Holt and Kayla Day will return to Southern California with ITF crystal after claiming three titles Saturday at the Grade B1 Pan American Closed.

Holt, a wild card, won both the singles and doubles championship, defeating JJ Wolf 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-0 for his first ITF title, then partnering Vasil Kirkov to take the tournament’s last match, the boys doubles final.

Day, the No. 2 seed, defeated roommate and friend Kelly Chen 6-4, 6-1 to collect her first ITF Grade 1 title, with the girls doubles championship going to Ann Li and Natasha Subhash on a cloudy and cool morning at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa.

Holt won the first five games of the match against the unseeded Wolf, but the score was deceiving, with Holt needing to save break points in each of his first two service games. Wolf was making errors and Holt was avoiding them, but that changed in the second set, despite Wolf going down 2-0 to start.

Breaking back to go up 2-2, Wolf then took his first lead of the match, holding serve for 3-2 from 15-40 down. Holt, who is the picture of composure most of the time, berated himself briefly, then held and broke to take a 5-3 lead. With Wolf making more forehands and hitting with more pace, the points offered high quality entertainment, and Wolf held to force Holt to serve for the match.  Holt didn’t get to match point, with Wolf forcing two errors from 30-all, but he got another chance when Wolf was broken at 5-all.  Again Holt couldn’t close, and he was broken in one of the quickest games of the match to send the set to a tiebreaker.

Wolf played well to earn a 6-2 lead, but Holt won three straight points to put the pressure back on Wolf.  Wolf delivered with a third-shot backhand winner, but if Holt was frustrated by the momentum swing in the match, he didn’t show it.

“He played an amazing tiebreaker,” said Holt, a 17-year-old from Rolling Hills. “I was a little down on energy, I don’t know why, but I guess it makes sense when I didn’t serve it out in two chances. I came back to 6-5, but he hit a too-good backhand cross court.”

Holt thought back to a time when he might not have handled the situation well.

“Probably three years ago, I would have been really, really mad after that and gone crazy,” Holt said. “Not go crazy like throwing my racquet, but go crazy in my head, why am I out here I had all these chances. But I thought, just come out and play like I did in the first set.  Against JJ Wolf, I’m happy to be in the third set any day. He’s been playing amazing, a great US Open, and he’s a great kid also, amazing sportsmanship.”

Holt was able to find that first set form at the beginning of the third, and Wolf was not able to match that level, with the racquet claps and “good shot” compliments that both boys displayed earlier coming mostly from Wolf in the final set.

“I think I kind of caught him by surprise,” said Holt, who like Wolf, won a sportsmanship trophy at Kalamazoo this summer. “He thought I may have been more down on myself.  But I played well, and I’m happy about that. At 5-0 you may think you have the match under control, but I was still nervous, because I know he’s not going to roll over.”

Three match points came and went with Wolf serving at 0-5, but the fourth went Holt’s way, with Wolf’s backhand catching the tape and bouncing wide.

Wolf was disappointed he could not get in front of Holt.

“When he gets up, it’s hard to come back,” said the 16-year-old from Cincinnati. “He gets more aggressive and more confident. He went after it a little more, and I didn’t. It didn’t seem to bother him too much, splitting sets after serving for the match. He got an early lead and I couldn’t get back in it. I did my best, but I made way too many errors, although he forced a lot of them.”

Prior to the girls final, Day and Chen were instructed by USTA coach Erik Kortland to give each other a little space. Day and Chen had roomed together all week, had eaten breakfast together, had come to the courts together and warmed up together, but neither had any difficulty putting that aside for the final.

Day, who had saved two match points in her 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) semifinal win over Abigail Desiatnikov, came out determined to play more aggressively in the final, and she took a 2-0 lead. The ninth-seeded Chen broke back and held, and Day stayed even, saving two break points for 3-3.  Chen was broken at love in the next game, but Day gave the break right back. One more break, the fifth of the set came next, giving Day a chance to serve out the set, and she did, cranking an ace to take it.

Day, a left-hander, said her serve was a bigger part of her success in the final than it had been in the semifinal.

“It was definitely better,” said the 16-year-old from Santa Barbara. “Not perfect, but better. When I serve wide on the ad court, it pulls them off the court, so I’m able to go open court or behind them, which is a good way to start the point. And on my T serves, the spin is just different, so it throws them off a little bit.”

Chen was broken to start the second set, and she had difficulty winning points after losing that game, with Day playing consistent, confident tennis while waiting for unforced errors. Chen held in the fifth game, but Day did not give her any opportunities to work her way back into the match.

“She played really well,” said Chen, a 16-year-old from Cerritos, California. “I thought I kind of lost my energy in the second, but she picked it up after the first set. I thought I had some chances in the beginning, but I didn’t take it, and that got me in trouble. Her serves were on today, so I had trouble returning, especially her first serves.”

Day was pleased that she could rebound from her long, tense semifinal win Friday afternoon.

“I think I was a little bit tired mentally, because it was a very dramatic match yesterday,” said Day. “On those match points, you’re just trying to stay in the match, you’re not focusing on anything else. I think it’s really great that I was able to come out and play great today, after a long, tough match yesterday.”

While Chen and Day have spent all week together, that ends today, with Chen heading to Florence, South Carolina for Sunday’s first round of qualifying for the $25,000 women’s Pro Circuit event there. Day heads back home after a long stretch away from the West Coast, having returned from the Junior Fed Cup in Madrid as a silver medalist, then trained at the USTA Center in Boca Raton prior to traveling to Tulsa.

“It was so much fun,” Day said of her week in Spain, where she won six of eight matches. “I had never played in a big team competition before, so it was a great experience. We had a lot of fun and did well. I really liked the clay.”

The girls doubles final was a close one, with Li and Subhash taking it 7-6(4), 6-3 over Hurricane Tyra Black and Meibel Chi, who also were unseeded. There were a total of nine deciding points in the no-ad format, with Li and Subhash winning seven of them.

Li and Subhash don’t claim to be particularly adept at deciding points, however.

“It depends on how we’re feeling,” said Li, a 15-year-old from Devon, Pa. “It’s just who plays better on that point,” added Subhash a 14-year-old Fairfax, Va. resident.   “So, yeah, it depends.

Li and Subhash have had success together in other tournaments, so this result, the first Grade 1 title for either, is not a surprise.

“We have fun out there and communicate really well,” said Li. “We know each other’s games.” “We’re really good friends too,” Subhash added.

The boys doubles final was even closer, with the unseeded Holt and Kirkov defeating No. 6 seeds Sebastian Arcila of Puerto Rico and Gerardo Penchyna Cardenas of Mexico 6-4, 2-6, 10-8.

Holds of serve were rare, with only five in the first set and two in the second set. That theme extended into the match tiebreaker, with half of the points going to the returner.

Holt and Kirkov went up 7-4, but lost four points in a row. Holt then won both his points on serve, with a backhand volley winner making it 8-8 and an ace getting his team to match point.  Arcila missed his first serve and he couldn’t handle the return of the second, with his backhand hitting the net cord to end the match.

“I was glad I picked up a good partner at the last minute,” said Kirkov, who was scheduled to play with Sam Riffice, who was injured during the Junior Davis Cup earlier this month in Spain. “I was really happy that he needed a partner, since he was in the finals of the US Open.”

Holt was impressed with Arcila and Penchyna.

“They were taking their returns really early, so we had to hit low first volleys on our serves,” said Holt. “It came down to a few points,” said Kirkov, a 16-year-old from Tampa, Fla. “They hit a couple of good volleys, a couple of good returns. But that didn’t get us down, and we played a couple of good points to extend the match.”

By winning both singles and doubles titles this week, Holt’s ITF junior ranking will rise dramatically, but other than its role in entry into tournaments, he isn’t too concerned about that number.

“I don’t know much about rankings,” said Holt, who will be heading back to classes at Palos Verdes High next week. “I don’t know how many points I’m getting for this or anything, but I’m not really worried about my ranking. It obviously affects seeding and stuff, but that didn’t affect me here."

Complete draws can be found at the ITF junior website.