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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Firecrackers Start USTA Team Championships with a Bang; Kuznetsov, Kozlov Win Titles in Canada Futures; Kenin Receives Wild Card into BNP Qualifying; Grade 1 Banana Bowl Draws

©Colette Lewis 2016—
Mobile, AL—

The USTA National Spring Team Championships opened with abundant sunshine and plenty of close matches on the 48 courts of the Mobile Tennis Center.

The tournament kicked off with eight girls matches, and the Firecrackers, who defeated the Blue Jays 7-5, were one of 5 teams to advance by that score.

The clinching point came in the girls 12s doubles, when Lindsay Zink and Katherine Wurster defeated Rylie Hanford and Makenna Doyle 9-8(6) to earn the Firecrackers’ seventh point.

Firecrackers coach Jason Fleeman, a three-year veteran of this event, knows that the 12s are as capable as any age group of handling the pressure of team play.

“Every year I’ve done this, a lot of matches have come down to the 12s,” said Fleeman. “It’s nerve wracking, in that there’s a lot of pressure, but I try to be as relaxed as I can, because fun is still the focus of it. Every single kid here is nervous about playing, so it’s important to be a little light-hearted, with a serious edge. You just make sure the team’s the focal point, and fun’s the focal point.”

Fleeman, who coached boys teams in the first two years of the event, sported a firecracker-themed hair ribbon in his baseball cap, one of the noticeable differences in the genders.

“I enjoyed coaching the boys the last two years, and people say girls are a little different than boys but they make it fun,” said Fleeman. “They’ve got team themes, the cheers, and yeah, they’re a little bit different, but the competition is always at the highest level. They did a phenomenal job today.”

With the tournament starting a day earlier to take advantage of the excellent weather, the usual practice day on Sunday was forfeited, but Fleeman said the Saturday night banquet, a first for the event, helped in team building.

"I think having the mandatory banquet, where the team had to eat together and the coach was there, that was very well done. It was one more team thing to do. But once you introduced the kids and set a standard for what you want to be like--respect for the team and for each other--then you just want to start to have fun with them. The first [practice] day we did some singles, but mostly doubles and games and I think that brought them together rather quickly."

The only match in either the boys or girls draw to go to a match tiebreaker was the Angels win over the Bengals.  With the team score tied at 6-6, an 18s doubles match tiebreaker would decide who advanced to the quarterfinals. Janice Shin and Kolie Allen of the Angels defeated Hannah Zhao and Taylor Bridges of the Bengals 10-7 to give their team the 7-6 victory.

Half of the boys matches were decided by 7-5 scores, including, in the chill of the evening and under the lights, the Bears victory over the Raiders.  The Bears led 6-2 at one stage, but the Raiders fought back, winning the next three matches.  The boys 14s doubles would decide which team would advance to the quarterfinals, with the Bears' Billy Suarez and Max McKennon, who knew from 1-1 in the 8-game pro set that they were the last chance for their team to clinch without a doubles tiebreaker, taking an 8-6 victory over the Raiders' Keshav Chopra and Benjamin Kittay.

Bears coach Stewart Russell, also coaching in the event for the third straight year, decided not to have any of his team warm up for a the potential tiebreaker, instead asking his entire team to support the 14s from the sidelines.

"I spoke to my team and said, while [the Raiders] are warming up, thinking they're going to a super tiebreaker, this match is far from over, is how I look at it. I'm going to be there on every changeover. I never announced who would be participating in the super tiebreaker if it went to that, because that's just not fair to the two kids who are at 1-all in an eight-game pro set."

Suarez and McKennon were up a break early but lost it, then immediately got another.  Chopra and Kittay saved a match point serving at 5-7 but McKennon served out the match, hitting an excellent first serve at 30-all to earn the team's second match point, which he and Suarez converted when Chopra missed a volley.

Suarez had lost to Chopra 6-2, 6-1 in singles, while McKennon had beaten Kittay 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, with the length of that match responsible for the late finish.

"One of them got absolutely destroyed in singles and the other had a long three-set win, so he was not real fresh," said Russell. "The one who lost singles though, the smile on his face after winning that, thinking 'I was part of the clinching point', as opposed to, 'I'm why we went to a tiebreaker.'"

Girls quarterfinal matches, as well as the consolation matches, will begin at 8:30 on Monday, with the boys matches to follow.

Complete results can be found on the TennisLink site, with a drop-down menu of individual player results available.

At the $25,000 Futures in Canada, two Americans won titles. Unseeded Alex Kuznetsov took the singles championship, beating 18-year-old Tim Van Rijthoven of the Netherlands, also unseeded, 7-5, 6-3.

Stefan Kozlov, who lost to Van Rijthoven in the singles quarterfinals, partnered Kaichi Uchida of Japan to claim the double title, beating former Pepperdine star Sebastian Fanselow of Germany and Adrian Sikora of Slovakia 7-6(5), 6-3 in a battle on unseeded teams.

The women's qualifying for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells begins on Monday, with 10 Americans in the draw.  Sonya Kenin, who lost to Taylor Townsend in the pre-qualifying final yesterday, was given a qualifying wild card.  Also receiving wild cards into qualifying are Townsend, Raveena Kingsley, Julia Boserup, Maria Sanchez and Sachia Vickery. Other Americans in qualifying are Nicole Gibbs(16), Louisa Chirico, Jessica Pegula and Anna Tatishvili(23).

Draws for the Grade 1 Banana Bowl in Brazil are out, with 11 US boys and 8 US girls in the draws before the completion of the qualifying. The US boys who received main draw acceptance are Ulises Blanch(2), Nathan Ponwith(4), Sam Riffice(6), Zeke Clark(8), Alexandre Rotsaert, John McNally, Trent Bryde, Brandon Holt, Oliver Crawford, Patrick Kypson and Vasil Kirkov. The US girls are Abigail Desiatnikov(12), Caty McNally, qualifier Lea Ma, Natasha Subhash, Jada Robinson, Ellie Douglas, Sabina Dadaciu and Najah Dawson.