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Monday, April 4, 2016

Smith Saves Match Points to Oust Top Seed Blanch, Bolton Downs Second Seed McKenzie in First Round Asics Easter Bowl ITF Action

©Colette Lewis 2016--
Indian Wells, CA--

Court 2, which serves as the stadium court for the Asics Easter Bowl, provided one surprise after another Monday on a hot and sunny day at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. The first three seeds to play on the court were dealt losses, with Elysia Bolton starting the trend with a 7-5, 7-5 win over No. 2 seed Kylie McKenzie.

Bolton, a 16-year-old from New York, saved five set points in the first set, two when she was serving at 3-5, and three when McKenzie was serving for the set in the following game.

Bolton knew she would face a barrage of big shots from McKenzie, a quarterfinalist here last year, but she more than held her own in that department, refusing to relinquish the offensive initiative to McKenzie. Bolton was also committed to a positive mental outlook.

"I knew that I needed to compete from the very start," said Bolton, who trains with the USTA in Flushing Meadows New York. "My goal was just to stay calm when I could, do whatever I could to stay in the rallies, finish points off when I could, and play my game. Then whatever happened, happened."

McKenzie, who had her ankle wrapped during a medical timeout at the 4-5 second set changeover, saved two match points to make it 5-5, but Bolton continued her aggressive play to hold in the next game, forcing McKenzie to hold serve to get into a tiebreaker. At 30-all, Bolton crushed a backhand winner to get a third match point, and McKenzie double faulted to end the match.

The next match on court 2 ramped up the drama, with Keegan Smith beating top seed Ulises Blanch 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(6) while saving match points and overcoming a controversial non-call by the chair umpire.

At 5-6, 30-all, Blanch, who had already missed five consecutive serves, hit a second serve that looked several inches long. Smith hit the ball back over the net, then realized that there had been no call, so he continued the point, which went to Blanch on a winner after a long rally.

"It's funny because he hit it and I almost stopped," said Smith, who would have had a match point had the double fault been called. "But I hit it anyways and I'm kind of waiting but she didn't say anything. I was playing the point kind of thinking about it, and I don't know, I tried to block it out,  it was a long point. But there's nothing you can do. You can't reverse time. The next point was kind of hard to block it out, but in the tiebreaker, I definitely did."

Smith, who had led 4-1 in the third set, started well in the tiebreaker, and was up 4-2 at the change of ends. Blanch then won four straight points, with Smith failing to get his first serve in on point in that stretch.

Blanch didn't get a first serve in at 6-4 and Smith was ready for the second.

"When I was returning, I thought, this is over," said Smith, a 17-year-old from San Diego, who is the nephew of USC men's coach Peter Smith. "The first serve, I'm thinking, OK this guy's got a huge serve, this could be it.  But he was missing his first serve a lot, so once he missed his first serve, I thought, I got to hop on this one."

Smith hit an excellent return right at the feet of Blanch, who was standing near the baseline, and Blanch netted the reply.

Smith hit a outstanding first serve on the second match point, then crushed a forehand winner to earn a match point of his own.  Blanch again missed his first serve and again Smith jumped on the second with Blanch not getting the return back in play.

Smith, who won the New Balance High School championships last summer in Boston, wasn't initially thrilled with his draw when he saw it Sunday night.

"To be honest, I was a little mad," said Smith, who trains with Angel Lopez in San Diego. "I'd heard of the guy, but I'd never seen him play. I was like, dang, I'm missing school, and now I've got to play the one seed, but as the night progressed, I began thinking there's no pressure on me, it's the first round so I might as well go out there and just play."

Smith is trying not to get too excited about his win over an ITF Top 10 junior.

"I don't think it's that big of a deal," Smith said. "It's just first round. Everyone's congratulating me, and it was good match, but it was just first round. I don't want it to be a fluke, people saying, oh the first seed must have been playing horrible. It's hard not to get a big head off the win, but I'm going to try to not think about. But I'm pretty stoked."

The next seed to lose on court 2 was No. 10 Jade Lewis of New Zealand, who fell to Ena Shibahara 6-3, 6-3.

Other seeds who were eliminated in the first round were No. 7 seed Natasha Subhash, who lost to Rachel Lim 6-4, 6-1, No. 16 seed Victoria Emma, who was beaten 6-3, 6-3 by Sofia Sewing and No. 15 seed Abi Altick, who lost to wild card Marlee Zein 6-4, 7-6(4). The only other boys seed to lose, aside from Blanch, was No. 12 seed Sebastian Arcila. Arcila, of Puerto Rico, was beaten 7-6(5), 6-2 by Alexander Keyser.

The remainder of the first round matches will be played on Tuesday, along with the first round of doubles.  Maria Mateas and Alexandra Sanford are the top seeded girls team, with John McNally and JJ Wolf the No. 1 boys team.

Live streaming of court 2 is available on the Easter Bowl website.

The semifinals in the 12s and 14s are scheduled for Tuesday. Results from the round of 16 and quarterfinals in those two age divisions are available at the Tennis Link site, with the first round 16s results also posted there.