©2016 Colette Lewis--
Thursday was not a good day to be a No. 3 seed at the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships, with Nathan Ponwith and Maria Mateas eliminated in starkly contrasting fashions. Ponwith went out to unseeded Alafia Ayeni 6-2, 6-1 in just under an hour, while Mateas's exit came after more than two and a half hours, with No. 14 seed Abigail Desiatnikov earning the 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) victory.
Ayeni, a 16-year-old from San Diego, has yet to lose more than three games in a set this week, but his play against Ponwith, ranked 27th in the ITF world rankings, surprised even him.
"I was shocked," said Ayeni, whose ITF junior ranking is 149. "It was a pretty competitive match, but just on a couple of the key points, I thought I was stronger than him. He had a couple of break points, we had some deuce games, and I felt like when I won those games it gave me a big advantage over him."
Ayeni lost last year in the first round of qualifying, so to reach the quarterfinals this year is a sign of his improvement.
"I think mentally is the biggest difference," Ayeni said. "I used to be a little bit more emotional. I would throw away a lot of easy points because I would get mad; the ref would make some calls and I'd get mad. But I felt like today I managed my emotions really well and that made a big difference. I played really freely, I was hitting my forehand really well, and I felt like that's a big difference from last year, I'm more aggressive."
Ayteni will play 2015 16s champion Oliver Crawford in the quarterfinals. Crawford, the No. 10 seed, defeated unseeded Kyrylo Tsygura 7-5, 6-2.
Unseeded Patrick Kypson, who had upset top seed Ulises Blanch in the second round, rolled past No. 16 seed Joshua Peck of Canada 6-1, 6-0. Kypson's quarterfinal opponent is No. 11 seed Liam Caruana, who recently began playing under the Italian flag. Caruana defeated No. 6 seed Brandon Holt 6-2, 7-6(2), playing a nearly perfect tiebreaker to avoid a third set.
Caruana is one of the three quarterfinalists representing countries other than the United States. No. 5 seed Duarte Vale of Portugal, who trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, was down 6-1, 4-1 to No. 9 seed Alexandre Rotsaert but came back to post a 1-6, 7-6(3), 6-1 victory. Vale will play No. 4 seed Sam Riffice, who defeated No. 14 seed Trent Bryde 6-3, 6-1.
Defending champion and No. 2 seed William Blumberg moved his Carson winning streak to nine, beating unseeded Gianni Ross 7-6(6), 6-1. He will play No. 12 seed Sebastian Arcila of Puerto Rico, who advanced to the quarterfinals when No. 7 seed Zeke Clark retired trailing 6-0, 4-2.
The girls quarterfinals will feature the top two seeds, with No. 1 Amanda Anisimova and No. 2 Kayla Day advancing in contrasting fashion. Anisimova made short work of No. 13 seed Ellie Douglas, who she had beaten twice before in ITF play, taking a 6-3, 6-1 decision, while Day escaped a serious challenge from Ann Li 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Day looked a bit sluggish in the opening set, but most of the credit should go to Li, who showed off an impressive all-court game to keep Day on the defensive throughout the first set. Day fought off the first eight break points she faced in the second set, and playing more confidently, rolled through an error-prone Li in the final set. She will play No. 6 seed fellow 16-year-old Californian Michaela Gordon, who beat unseeded Elysia Bolton 6-3, 6-1.
While Day was reversing her fortunes, Mateas was seeing hers go in the opposite direction. Desiatnikov had received attention from the trainer for back spasms, but it didn't impact her willingness to battle, even after seeing a match point elude her with Mateas serving at 4-5 in the third set.
"I had a passing shot and she hit two good volleys," said the 15-year-old, who lives in Atlanta. "It was a good point, she just played it better. She guessed right twice, so I couldn't do anything. I played the percentage shot, so I wasn't upset with myself, and I knew I was up, it would only be 5-5."
After the next game, Desiatnikov was down however, with Mateas getting an opportunity to serve out the match.
"She didn't have a match point," said Desiatnikov. "I was up 15-40 and I took it. I played that game pretty aggressive, just went with the wind basically on every shot, and I just trusted myself."
In the tiebreaker, Desiatnikov went up 3-1 and 5-3, and reached match point when Mateas netted a forehand. Another forehand error on the next point, this one on a ball that went wide, gave Desiatnikov the match.
"I think I played very tight, but she also was tight," said Desiatnikov. "She made the errors, I didn't really do much special, just got the balls back in. I don't know if she was tired, or just that tight, but she made some errors and I got some chances."
Desiatnikov will play No. 5 seed Claire Liu, who also had to make a comeback to survive, beating unseeded Emma Higuchi 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Anisimova will face unseeded Carson Branstine in the quarterfinals, after Branstine recovered from a 6-4, 4-1 deficit to beat No. 10 seed Jade Lewis of New Zealand 4-6, 7-5, 6-0.
An unseeded girl will be in the semifinals, after Meible Chi and Rosie Johanson of Canada advanced to the quarterfinals. Chi defeated unseeded Sofia Sewing 6-2, 6-3, and Johanson beat a seed for the second day in a row, defeating No. 7 Morgan Coppoc 6-2, 7-6(3).
The semifinals are set in the doubles, with 2015 champion Ena Shibahara still in the mix for a second title. She and Hurricane Tyra Black advanced with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Bolton and Chiara Lommer and will face Dalayna Hewitt and Kariann Pierre-Louis, who are also unseeded. Hewitt and Pierre-Louis beat Nadia Gizdova and Whitney Osuigwe 6-3, 3-6, 10-7.
The other girls doubles semifinal will feature two seeded teams. Coppoc and Raquel Pedraza, seeded No. 4, will play Branstine and Taylor Johnson, the No. 7 seeds. Coppoc and Pedraza beat Kate Paulus and Alana Smith 6-4, 6-7(7), 10-7 and Branstine and Johnson topped Emma Decoste and Lea Ma 6-2 7-6(5).
In the boys doubles, top seeds Blumberg and Ponwith advanced to the semifinals with a 6-1, 7-6(7) win over Vasil Kirkov and Sebastian Korda. They will play No. 4 seeds Andres Andrade of Ecuador and Vale, who beat Sergio Hernandez Ramirez of Colombia and Juan Hernandez Serrano of Mexico 6-4, 3-6, 10-7.
No. 3 seeds Holt and Crawford beat No. 7 seeds Kypson and Bryde 6-4, 7-6(2) and will face No. 5 seeds Riffice and Brian Cernoch. Riffice and Cernoch saved seven match points in their 5-7, 7-5, 10-6 win over No. 2 seeds Blanch and Caruana.
The 16s semifinals are set for Friday, with just one unseeded among the eight semifinalists.
That would be Eryn Cayetano, who trains at the RAMP Academy at the tournament site. Cayetano defeated No. 9 seed Luba Vasilyuk 6-2, 6-2 to advance against No. 14 seed Jessi Muljat. Muljat beat No. 6 seed Peyton Stearns 6-4, 6-4. The other girls semifinal will feature No. 10 seed Hailey Baptiste against No. 15 seed Katie Volynets. Baptiste took out No. 16 seed Vivian Cheng 6-2, 6-3, while Volynets advanced when No. 12 seed Cali Jankowski retired trailing 6-4, 4-6, 4-0.
The boys 16s lost its top seed in today's quarterfinals, with Govind Nanda falling to No. 5 seed Vikash Singh of India 6-3, 6-3. Singh will play No. 6 seed Adam Neff, who beat doubles partner and No. 4 seed Tyler Zink 6-4, 7-6(4). The other semifinal will feature No. 12 seed Eric Hahn against No. 2 seed Axel Nefve. Hahn beat unseeded Matthew Segura 7-6(6), 6-1 and Nefve defeated No. 11 seed Jake Sands 6-4, 6-3.
Draws and Friday's order of play is available at the tournament web page.
Complete results from Thursday's action are below.