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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Korda and Ayeni in Adidas Easter Bowl ITF Boys Final; Douglas and Liu Return to Girls Championship Match; Navarro and Nakashima Claim 16s Titles

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Indian Wells, CA--

Sebastian Korda probably wishes he would have gotten off to a quicker start in his last two Easter Bowl matches.  On Friday, the tenth-seeded Korda dropped the first set to unseeded Jake Sands before winning the second and third sets with the loss of just one game.  On Saturday, the 16-year-old son of former ATP star Petr Korda lost the first set to No. 4 seed Sam Riffice, then rebounded for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

The reason Korda might have been in a hurry?  His two sisters, 18-year-old Nelly and 24-year-old Jessica, are in contention for the first LPGA major of the season just down the road in Rancho Mirage, and following them as they played the Mission Hills course was a priority.

"After every match I go over there, watch a couple of holes, then I go back to the house to relax," said Korda, who is staying there with his sisters, father and mother Regina. "I'm heading over there right now."

For Korda, the unlikely confluence of family at major sporting events in the Coachella valley doesn't seem out of the ordinary.

"Every time I play the Easter Bowl, they always play the tournament here, but it's the first year that it's the same week," said Korda, who is competing in his fourth Easter Bowl. "It's different."

Korda was 0-3 against Riffice in the past 12 months and lost to him 6-0, 6-1 in the first round here last year, but the Bradenton Florida resident was able to hold on to his game and his wits after a 5-0 lead nearly disappeared in the second set.

"He was playing well in the first set and I was pretty nervous," said Korda, who will be competing in his first ITF junior final at any level on Sunday. "After the first set, I went to the bathroom and told myself just to be positive, stay relaxed and just play your game, and I played amazing the next two sets."

After going up 5-0, Korda saw both breaks disappear and he didn't get to set point serving at 5-1 and 5-3.  But he recovered just in time, breaking Riffice to take the second set and closed out the match by building a 4-0 lead in the third set and holding on to one of those breaks.

"He started playing much better and I started coming into the net as much as possible," Korda said of the stretch of four straight games that Riffice won in the second set. "He was hitting some unbelievable winners. It was the same in the last set, but I stayed positive that I could hold serve and play my game."

Korda will face No. 8 seed Alafia Ayeni, who defeated No. 6 seed Patrick Kypson 6-3, 7-5 to reach his first Grade 1 final.

Ayeni didn't lose serve all day and said he was "ecstatic" about his level throughout the match.

"I thought I played a really professional game today," said the 17-year-old from San Diego. "My serve was untouchable. I faced a couple of break points, but I wasn't broken in the entire match, so I was proud of myself for that. I was really good on the backhand and the forehand as well. I think Patrick was trying to attack my forehand a lot and I was teeing off on it. I had a lot of confidence in my strokes. Everything went really well for me today. It was a great match from Patrick as well, I think it was really high quality match and I played my best tennis."

After getting the only break in the first set, with Kypson failing to get a first serve in during the fourth game, Ayeni had a good look at another break at 4-all in the second set, with Kypson falling in a 0-40 hole. But he held for a 5-4 lead, and Ayeni didn't let those missed opportunities faze him.

"I was so nervous at 0-40," said Ayeni. "I was like, oh wow, is it going to be this easy to break him after we've been holding serve for the past hour and a half?  I think I overthought it a little bit, started pushing my ground strokes, and he noticed I got a little tight. I was like, ok, I haven't lost my serve up to this point and I have a lot of confidence in my serve, so I'm just going to go for it. If he plays good enough tennis to break me, then he deserves the set. And thankfully, he didn't break me."

Three doubles faults serving at 5-all in the third didn't help Kypson's cause, and when he missed a backhand volley on the fourth break point, Ayeni had the opportunity to serve for the match. He didn't convert on his first match point, missing a backhand volley, but he got another chance after Kypson missed a return on a good second serve and on the second match point, Ayeni made a similar backhand volley to earn his place in Sunday's final.

Although not having played Korda before, Ayeni has some idea of what to expect.

"From what I've seen, and I haven't seen much, he's a very, very solid player and I like how he plays," Ayeni said. "He plays kind of like me--he comes to the net, uses his serve, plays very aggressive. It's going to be an interesting match; we both have similar game styles and I'm just hoping I can be more aggressive than him."

At the request of the Korda family, the boys final will be played first on Sunday, at 10 a.m., so they may watch Nelly, tied for 19th, and Jessica, tied for 11th, tee off after noon.

The girls final that follows Sunday will feature two players very comfortable on the stadium court, with top seed Claire Liu, who won the title there in 2015, playing No. 4 seed Ellie Douglas, who reached the final last year, falling to Alexandra Sanford.

Liu had no trouble with 14-year-old Whitney Osuigwe, beating the No. 3 seed 6-1, 6-1 in just over an hour.

"I think she made a lot of mistakes," said Liu, who accepted a wild card into the tournament after entering late. "I just had to stay there and make her hit one more ball."

Liu, who will be 17 next month, has seen the dynamic change in the two years since she was the prodigy, winning major titles at 14.

"It's so much different when you're younger and playing older people," said Liu, who played the qualifying of the BNP Paribas Open just a few weeks ago. "I'm now like one of the oldest people in the tournament, and it's good for me to play younger people, deal with the pressure and the nerves."

Douglas defeated Liu last fall in the semifinals of the Grade A in Mexico, so Liu knows what she is facing in the final.

"She's a really good competitor and she won't go away until the very last point," Liu said. "So I think it will be a really good match."

Douglas demonstrated just how tough she could be in her 7-6(3), 6-3 win over No. 2 seed Taylor Johnson, who had beaten her in the final of that Grade A in Mexico.

Douglas was up 5-1 and serving in the first set before winning it in the tiebreaker, and in the second set, she failed to convert nine match points before Johnson finally double faulted on match point No. 10 to end the match.

Johnson had struggled on serve all day, but serving down 1-5 in the second set, she was able to come up with second serves that kept Douglas from attacking and used her net skills to save three match points in that game. After Douglas double faulted twice herself to lose her serve at 5-2, Johnson saved another six match points, only a couple of which were errors by Douglas.

"I think on the second match point I hit a great return at her feet and she dug a great volley and then I hit a great passing shot and she hit another amazing volley," said Douglas, a 16-year-old from Texas. "There wasn't anything I could do about it, so I just went on to the next point. I just had to continue to do what I was doing that got me up."

As she was last year at this time, Douglas is now without a coach, having recently parted ways with former ATP Top 10 pro Mariano Puerta. That change hasn't proven any impediment to success at one of her favorite venues.

"I had a tough tournament in Carson (where she lost in the third round last week), but I just love this view, this tournament, this site," Douglas said. "I think it's really important to love where you are as a junior. I think tennis is super mental, and I'm just really happy about being here again, in the final."

Before the ITF semifinals were played, the 16s division took center stage Saturday morning, with top seed Brandon Nakashima and No. 5 seed Emma Navarro claiming the singles championships.

Nakashima needed just over an hour to defeat No. 13 seed Stefan Dostanic, a pattern that he had followed all week in securing six straight-sets victories.

"It was tough, because I was the number one seed with all the pressure on you to win the tournament," said the 15-year-old from San Diego. "I just had to take it match by match and see how every match went...I played really well today, probably the best I've played the whole tournament. Stefan was really tough today, so I knew I had to play my best to beat him."

Nakashima has a well-known coach in Larry Stefanki, who was at the tournament earlier in the week observing his student.

"I've been with him about two, two and a half years now," Nakashima said. "He's been a great coach and mentor for me. He gives me a lot of good tips for my tennis game, and I have a lot of fun with him on court. It's a good relationship with him."

Dostanic, another 15-year-old Southern Californian, said Nakashima was just too strong in Saturday's final.

"He didn't make too many mistakes and just outplayed me," said Dostanic, who trains with Chris Lewis and Chuck Brymer at Woodbridge Academy in Irvine. "He was really solid. I played him about a year ago and it was the same result. He doesn't make too many mistakes and he shows no emotion. He doesn't really give you anything to work with. He's a very solid player, doesn't do anything wrong: really good form, moves great."

After three straight weeks of competition, having reached the finals of the Newport Beach Grade 4 and the third round of Carson last week, Nakashima said he will take a break before possibly entering a Southern California sectional event. He said Kalamazoo will probably be his last tournament in the 16s age division.

Although she won't be playing at the WTA Volvo Car Open in her home town of Charleston, girls 16s champion Navarro was planning her yearly visit to the event, perhaps as soon Sunday, after defeating unseeded Fiona Crawley 7-6(8), 6-0 in the final.

"I just love all the players' work ethic and composure," Navarro said of the pros she has seen play there. "It's really fun to go there."

Navarro showed some of that composure herself, when she failed to serve out the first set at both 5-4 and 6-5 and needed four set points in the tiebreaker before finally converting.

"What's going on on the outside is not always what's on the inside," said the 15-year-old Navarro, who trains with Peter Ayers at the LTP Tennis Club. "I was pretty nervous in the first set, especially, but I was able to get it together better in the second set. I set certain goals for the match and I always come back to those goals and not focus on the score as much as what I want to do in the match."

Navarro relaxed after that tense first set, and she was able to dominate after breaking Crawley in the second game.

Crawley, who beat top seed Briana Crowley in the first round, said she shook off her nerves after a few games.

"It was really tight and honestly it could have gone either way," Crawley said of the first set. "I don't know what happened in the second set. She got confident and she's a great player."

Crawley was scheduled to participate in a Texas sectional tournament this week, but her win over Crowley opened up her draw and she made the most of it.

"I was just really happy to make it to the final," said Crawley, who lives in San Antonio and trains at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels. "I've never done that well in a national tournament and it was an honor to be able to play on a stadium court at Indian Wells. I never imagined I would make it this far."

The ITF doubles titles were decided on Saturday afternoon, with top seeds Caty McNally and Osuigwe taking the girls championship with a 6-3, 7-6(10) win over Johnson and Ann Li.  Johnson and Li had seven set points, two in the ninth game and five in the tiebreaker, but McNally and Osuigwe won them all.

"On the set points there was a lot of times I was returning and I told myself to go after my return, and play the right way," said McNally, a 15-year-old from Ohio. "I knew if they brought up a good shot, then it's too good by them, but there was a high percentage that we were going to win the point."

"I think we have the communication skills and we're good friends," Osuigwe said, citing the reasons for their success this week. "Our games fit with each other and we know how to pump each other up."

"Whitney hits a big ball obviously, and I have pretty good volleys and she's able to be at the baseline and I'm able to do what I want to do at the net. Also, we're good friends so we can laugh on the court and have a good time, which definitely helps."

The boys doubles final closed out the action on a warm and windless day at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.  No. 3 seeds Kypson and Oliver Crawford continued their dominant play with a 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 2 seeds Riffice and Brian Cernoch, their fifth consecutive straight-sets win.

Kypson and Crawford are frequent doubles partners, and finished third at Kalamazoo last year, but this is their first title as a team.

"We played one final in Italy last year, quarters in Milan, semis in Kalamazoo, we played well together and finally this week, we won five matches in a row," Kypson said. "We pretty much ran through it. Oliver carried, played some good dubs."

"We played solid, took care of business," said Crawford, who claimed his first USTA gold ball with the victory.

"I was surprised how the first set went," Kypson said. "You never expect to win a set in doubles 6-0 or 6-1. In the second set, it was a little bit tougher, and when we got that break at 4-all, I knew we were going to serve it out, so it was good."

The results from today's main draw action are below, along with the sportsmanship award winners. ITF draws are available at the ITF Junior website.  Live streaming for the ITF finals is available at easterbowl.com. For complete 16s consolation results, see the TennisLink site.

Saturday April 1

Boys’ ITF 18s Singles (Semifinals)
Alafia Ayeni (8) (San Diego, CA) def. Patrick Kypson (6) (Greenville, NC), 6-3, 7-5
Sebastian Korda (10) (Bradenton, FL) def. Sam Riffice (4) (Orlando, FL), 2-6, 6-4, 6-3

Boys' ITF 18s Doubles (Final)
Oliver Crawford / Patrick Kypson (3) def. Brian Cernoch / Sam Riffice (2), 6-1, 6-4

Girls' ITF 18s Singles (Semifinals)
Claire Liu (1) (Thousand Oaks, CA) def. Whitney Osuigwe (3) (Bradenton, FL) 6-1, 6-1
Ellie Douglas (4) (McKinney, TX) def. Taylor Johnson (2) (Redondo Beach, CA) 7-6 (3), 6-3

Girls' ITF 18s Doubles (Final)
Whitney Osuigwe / Caty McNally (1) def. Taylor Johnson / Ann Li (2), 6-3, 7-6 (10)

Boys' 16 Singles (Final)
Brandon Nakashima (1) (San Diego, CA) def. Stefan Dostanic (13) (Irvine, CA), 6-1, 6-2

Boys' 16 Singles (Playoff)
Andrew Dale (4) (Leesburg, VA) def. Ryder Jackson (8) (Nicasio, CA) 6-4; 6-2

Girls' 16 Singles (Final)
Emma Navarro (5) (Charleston, SC) def. Fiona Crawley (San Antonio, TX), 7-6 (8), 6-0

Girls' 16 Singles (Playoff)
Sedona Gallagher (3) (Henderson, NV) def. Dasha Kourkina (2) (Brooklyn, NY) 6-0, 7-5

Sportsmanship Awards:

USTA Boys’ 12s: Payton Young, Alamo, Calif.

USTA Girls’ 12s: Priya Nelson of Sacramento, Calif.

USTA Boys’ 14s: Martin Damm of Bradenton, Fla.

USTA Girls’ 14s: Kylie Collins, Savannah, Ga.

USTA Boys’ 16s: Andrew Dale, Leesburg, Va.

USTA Girls’ 16s: Dasha Kourkina, Brooklyn, N.Y.

ITF Boys’ 18s: Lukas Greif, Carmel, Ind.

ITF Girls’ 18s: Whitney Osuigwe, Bradenton, FL

Note: Tournament Chairman Lornie Kuhle presented the Jackie Cooper/Tory Fretz Sportmanship Award to Hailey Baptiste of Washington D.C.


Alex said...

Colette -

I really enjoy reading your blog. I feel like I'm more informed than ever about the future of the sport. I watched a few excellent matches at the Easter Bowl a few weeks back and was wondering about the future of some of the guys playing in the 18s draw. Do you have any updates on what the top players are considering for the future? College or Pro? Is there a deadline for their decision?

Colette Lewis said...

I've asked several of them their plans, but many in that group are still juniors in high school, and have not yet made any decisions or provided a time table as to when they might. Ross and Ayeni, the top seniors, are still undecided. Kirkov has turned pro. He signed with IMG last year.