Fardanesh, Scott Win Asics Easter Bowl 12s Titles; Lee, Hrastar Take 14s Championships; Higuchi Eliminates Defending Champion Liu in ITF Second Round
©Colette Lewis 2016--
Indian Wells, California--
The heat continued on Wednesday, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the site of the first four singles championships of the Asics Easter Bowl.
Katrina Scott and Max Fardanesh captured the 12s titles in straight sets, as did 14s winner Ava Hrastar, with boys 14s champion Alex Lee the only competitor to need three sets to collect his gold medal.
No. 11 seed Fardanesh defeated top seed Sam Landau 6-4, 6-2, although not without a few speed bumps along the way. The Albany, California resident said the pregame announcer, the serve speed gun and the chair umpire took some getting used to.
"I was really nervous in the first three games," said Fardanesh, who turns 13 next month. "And then I got used to it. It was really cool to see how fast the serve was. The fastest one I saw was 96."
After Fardanesh shook off his nerves he began to overpower Landau, using pace and a willingness to finish at the net to his advantage over the smaller left-hander from Los Angeles.
"My coach really likes serving and volleying, incorporating net play," said Fardanesh, who is coached by Skip Redondo. "My favorite player is Federer, who comes to the net a lot."
Like Federer, Fardanesh has a one-handed backhand, but he has only been using that shot for a year, at the suggestion of his coach.
"It's going good," said Fardanesh, who now has an Easter Bowl title as validation for that decision.
Scott's 6-3, 7-6(5) win over top seed Nikki Yanez was a longer and more draining affair, with Scott getting off to a 5-0 lead in the opening set, but Yanez fighting back.
In the second set, Scott served for the match at 5-4, but four match points came and went, with Yanez getting the break. Yanez was broken in the next game, but Scott didn't come close to a match point in her second chance to serve it out. The tiebreaker was a tense affair, with Yanez hitting high balls to keep Scott deep in the court. Scott did manage a forehand winner to get to match point, her fifth, and she moved in and hit a backhand swinging volley to secure the title.
Scott, who will be 12 in June, said that although she hadn't played Floridian Yanez before, she was expecting the high looping balls and was determined not to let it disrupt how she wanted to play.
"I just wanted to play my game, not do what she did, and be me," said Scott, who lives in Woodland Hills, California. "Last year I lost first round, and I never thought I was going to make it to the final and even win it. It feels really, really good that I won and I feel amazing right now."
In the girls 14s final, No. 12 seed Ava Hrastar needed just over an hour to defeat No. 13 seed Skyler Grishuk 6-2, 6-1. Hrastar said she was able to play her best tennis of the week in the championship match.
"I think I played really well. I was more consistent than in the other matches in the tournament," said the 14-year-old, who lost her only set of the tournament in the semifinals. "I stayed aggressive and kept my composure, which helped a lot."
Hrastar, who trains with Brian de Villiers and Grant Stafford at Pro Tennis International in Duluth, Georgia, said she developed a strategy to take control of the match.
"She likes the forehand angles so I was trying to hit flatter so she couldn't generate the spin to go back cross," Hrastar said of the left-hander from Aliso Viejo, California, who is the daughter of two-time Olympic ice dancing gold medalist Oksana Grishuk. "I knew her serve was going to be curving, so I made sure to stand over a couple of steps so I'd be ready for that."
Hrastar never wavered, staying on offense and closing out the win with confidence.
"I think she played well, I just stepped in the court more and put balls away that I hadn't been doing in the past matches," said Hrastar. "I was really nervous at the beginning but I got more comfortable as I started playing and figured out her game style."
The boys 14s final was nearly three hours in length, with No. 12 seed Lee taking the title with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 5 seed Andrew Dale.
Lee was up 4-2 in the first set, but dropped four straight games to lose it to the left-hander from Leesburg, Virginia. In the second set, Lee built a 5-1 lead, lost both his breaks, but broke for the set before Dale could get back on serve.
In the third set, with Dale serving at 2-3, he took a bad fall, landing awkwardly on his left side and hand. Play was stopped at 30-40 and the trainer came out, but Dale resumed play, only to drop serve. He kept shaking out his hand in the subsequent games, and the pace on his shots decreased, but he did manage one more hold of serve before Lee served out the title, hitting a volley winner on match point.
"It definitely affected him the first two games or so," said Lee, who is from Illinois but trains with Lance Luciani in Bradenton, Florida. "I don't think the injury affected him mentally. He still fought. But physically, he just didn't play as well."
Lee said staying aggressive paid off as the match wore on, although he too began to feel the strain after two sets in the midday heat.
"The first two sets, it didn't really matter," said Lee, 14. "The third set, it began to have its affect."
While three of the four finalists had never met prior to today, that wasn't the case for No. 3 seed Claire Liu and Emma Higuchi, who met just last week in the third round of the Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson. Higuchi, who had beaten Liu in Carson in 2015, lost their rematch last week after holding a 6-3, 4-2 lead.
Today Higuchi, an 18-year-old from Los Angeles, got her revenge, taking out the defending champion and Carson finalist 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Higuchi, who had also lost to Liu in the qualifying at the $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Rancho Santa Fe in February, said it was the first time she had beaten the 15-year-old Liu from a set down.
"I started off a little slow," said Higuchi. "I was swinging, but I was missing a lot, too much. So I said, keep swinging, but bring the targets in a little bit."
Higuchi, serving up 4-3 in the third, had to save a break point to keep her lead. Liu then went up 30-0 serving, but Higuchi won the last four points of the match, with Liu missing a backhand on match point.
Higuchi, who will start at Stanford this fall, is motivated to do well in her final Easter Bowl.
"It's my last year at the Easter Bowl, I can't even believe it," said the 2012 14s champion. "It's such a big thing for me, and I just want to stay here longer. Hopefully, I will."
Liu was joined on the sidelines by No. 5 seed Morgan Coppoc, who lost to Ann Li 6-4, 6-1. Top seed Maria Mateas beat qualifier Nicole Conard 6-2, 6-3 and Hanna Chang took out Carson semifinalist Meible Chi 6-4, 6-3.
Two boys seeds fell on Wednesday, with No. 8 seed Brandon Holt going out to Kyrylo Tsygura 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 and No. 16 seed Alafia Ayeni falling to Sangeet Sridhar 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-2.
Third round action for the ITF tournament will take place Thursday, and the semifinals of the 16s will also be played Thursday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
The Tennis Link site has all the 12s, 14s and 16s results.
The full results from the ITF order of play are at the ITF Junior site.
Links to the four live streaming courts are at Easterbowl.com.
Main draw results are below:
Boys' 16 Singles (Round of 16)
Helen Abigail ALTICK (USA)  / Jade LEWIS (NZL) def. Emma DECOSTE (USA) / Clarissa HAND (USA) 6-0 6-2