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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Lim, Lutkemeyer Win ISC 16s Titles; Black Takes Out Top Seed Bilokin to Reach 18s Final vs Drummy; Boyer and Nakashima Meet for Boys 18 Championship

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Carson, CA--

Unseeded 13-year-old Anne Lutkemeyer didn't enter the 16s division of International Spring Championships, but when she received an email from the USTA offering her a wild card, she accepted. Six victories later, she was the champion, completing her impressive run with a 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 5 seed Maryam Ahmad in Saturday morning's final.

Lutkemeyer, from nearby Irvine California, showed no sign of nerves as she broke Ahmad in the third game and kept the pressure on throughout the opening set.

"Before the match you're always a little nervous," Lutkemeyer said. "But once you start playing, as soon as the first point starts, it just leaves. You're ready to play and you're just kind of in the zone."

Ahmad struggled to overcome the nerves she was experiencing, while giving credit to Lutkemeyer for her level throughout the match.

"This is one of the biggest tournaments I've ever gone to," said the 16-year-old from New York, who trains at Robbie Wagner Tennis. "I was terrified. She was playing really well and my movement wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. I wasn't hitting it as deep as I wanted to either."

Lutkemeyer broke to start the second set, but Ahmad settled herself, winning her next two service games, although she was unable to pressure Lutkemeyer. After holding for 4-2, Lutkemeyer broke for a 5-2 lead and served out the match.

"I think today my game came together," said Lutkemeyer who wasn't happy with her serve throughout the week. "One thing that worked well for me today was, I was opening the court up well with my forehand cross court. Usually I don't do that so well, but today that kind of clicked."

Lutkemeyer, who trains with Kevin Jackson and the Jackson-Bridge Academy, hasn't travelled outside of Southern California much, but has been playing 16s and 18s in her section, with just one loss in those six tournaments this year.

Even with her title at the International Spring Championships, which she called her first big tournament in the older age divisions, Lutkemeyer still was not satisfied with her performance.

"The result was nice," said Lutkemeyer. "Maybe the way I played can be improved a little bit."

Unlike Lutkemeyer, Boys 16s champion Zachery Lim was happy with his level of play throughout the tournament, particularly in his 6-0, 6-2 win over Max McKennon in the final.

"I played great, felt like I played really well," said the 16-year-old from Fairfield California, seeded No. 3. "There were a lot of close games and I came out ahead in a few more than he did, which made the score a little lopsided."

After losing a deuce service game to open the match, McKennon, the No. 5 seed, was up 40-0 in his second service game, but Lim came back to win that game, a blow from which McKennon could not recover.  In the second set, McKennon got his only break of the match and held for 2-1, but Lim was too steady in the final five games.

"Zach played a really good match," said the 15-year-old McKennon, who lost in the Easter Bowl 16s final a week ago. "He was very steady and wasn't making very many errors. There were a bunch of deuce points and he got the better of me in every single close game, except for two. They were all great points, he just fought hard to make the extra ball, just played very well today."

Lim started his three weeks in Southern California with a final at the ITF Grade 4 in Newport Beach, then played the Easter Bowl, losing in the round of 16 and making the doubles semifinals.

"Actually I'm pretty tired, to be honest," said Lim, who has been working for several months with top Northern California development coach Phil Cello. "I'm happy I got the energy in this match. In the beginning of the tournament I had some close matches, but at the end everything really came together and I played well in the finals. It's the first singles tournament I've won in a little bit, so I'm really happy about that."

The drama Saturday was confined to the girls singles semifinals, with No. 5 seed Georgia Drummy of Ireland rebounding for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 7 seed Hailey Baptiste, and No. 13 seed Hurricane Tyra Black coming back to defeat top seed Margaryta Bilokin of Ukraine 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Drummy fell behind early in the match, with Baptiste coming forward and pressuring her into errors.

"She started off serving really well, so I was just trying to keep in mind not to be so negative on myself, because she was playing aggressive and playing well," said the left-hander, who turns 18 later this month. "I was just trying to keep in the match, keep it close."

In the second set, Drummy sensed that Baptiste was tiring, so she concentrated on extending the rallies.

"I decided to make the points longer, because she started to look a bit tired," said Drummy, who trains at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton. "So I was staying in the rallies, while being aggressive."

In the third set, Drummy took a 3-0 lead, but Baptiste got back on serve at 3-4, only to be broken. Drummy was able to stay closer to the baseline throughout many of the rallies in the last few games, while Baptiste was forced side to side and deep just to stay in the point. Drummy served it out on her first match point to reach her first Grade 1 final.

"I'm trying to get into French main draw," Drummy said. "So I'm trying to get my ranking up. I think after this tournament, I'm looking to get into main draw."

Black will be playing in her second ITF Grade 1 final, with her first coming back in 2016 in Costa Rica. Having reached the semifinals at last year's International Spring Championships, Black looked to be going out at the same stage this year, when Bilokin cracked a forehand winner with Black serving at 4-5, 15-40 to take the first set.

But Black, who said she didn't remember much about her loss to Bilokin last year in Germany, earned a 4-1, two-break lead in the second set, with her forehand slices forcing Bilokin to generate her own rhythm and pace.

After Black gave one of the breaks back, and Bilokin held at love to close the gap to 4-3, Black smashed her racquet, which resulted in a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"I've always had a really bad attitude on the court," said the 17-year-old Floridian. "You've probably seen that before. I've been working on staying calm and I tried to stay calm the whole match, but finally I had to let it all out and I felt a lot better after that."

After that code violation, Black held at love and broke Bilokin with a forehand winner and her composure did not waiver in the tight spots in the third set. After five holds, Bilokin went down 0-40 serving at 2-3, but brought it back to deuce, only to see Black's outstanding defense earn two more break points, converting the second on a forehand error. After Black held for 5-2, Bilokin again went down 0-40 on her serve, but Black failed to win those three match points and Bilokin held. Serving for the match at 5-3, Black went up 40-15, but Bilokin, who came back from being down 4-1 in the third in the semifinals, hit a forehand winner to save a fourth match point. Black again shrugged off that result and on match point No. 5, she prevailed, when Bilokin sent a backhand wide.

"I knew if I got upset, it would be harder to hit the ball, play the points," Black said. "She'd notice, and she would just keep fighting. But if I stayed calm and she knew that I was calm, she would also be nervous."

Black said keeping Bilokin off balance was essential.

"She hits a really good ball, especially when she has it in place, so I knew I had to keep her on the move," Black said. "She was also, as you could see, a little bit injured, everything wrapped, so I realized I just needed to place the ball, keep her on the run and go for my shots."

Black and Drummy will meet for the first time Sunday morning at 10 a.m., with each aiming for their first Grade 1 title.

The boys semifinals were straightforward affairs, with No. 2 seed Tristan Boyer ending his streak of three-set matches with a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 8 seed Tyler Zink, and No. 13 seed Brandon Nakashima extending his winning streak over qualifier Stefan Dostanic 6-2, 6-3.

Nakashima said he can't remember ever losing to his fellow 16-year-old, and he has now won three significant matches from him in the past year, in the Easter Bowl 16s final, the Kalamazoo 16s final and today at the Stubhub Center.

"He's been playing well all week, but I just played solid today," Nakashima said. "I know his game really well, we've played a bunch of times, so I knew the strategy going in and I followed through with it."

Boyer had been involved in eight consecutive three-set matches, winning seven of them, with his only loss coming in the Easter Bowl final.  Boyer said he wouldn't have been surprised to have been involved in a ninth, but wasn't surprised to finish in straight sets either.

"I played well, it was a good match," said Boyer, who turns 17 later this month. "In the first set, he was trying to come in a lot and being pretty successful, and he was volleying well. I was passing ok, but I was trying some different things, trying to lob, but when I broke him to go up 5-3 in the first set, he started to miss some volleys, and he went away a little bit in terms of his play."

Although Boyer and Nakashima are both 16-year-olds from Southern California, they have never played, or at least not in the past half dozen years.

"I think we played once, in under 10s," Boyer said. "It was 10-8 in the third set breaker. It should be a fun match. He's really solid mentally, really solid on the court, makes you hit a lot of balls, very balanced. So he's tough."

"I know he's really high up in the rankings, ITF," Nakashima said of Boyer, who reached the ITF Junior Circuit's Top 10 after reaching the Easter Bowl final. "He won a lot of tournaments at the end of last year, obviously is playing pretty good tennis here. I'll just have to play my game tomorrow."

The boys final will follow the girls championship match Sunday.

The doubles champions were crowned Saturday afternoon, with both winning teams claiming titles after pairing for the first time at the Easter Bowl last week.

Emilio Nava and Axel Nefve, the No. 5 seeds, defeated Boyer and Eliot Spizzirri, the No. 2 seeds, 7-5, 6-0 for the boys title, and Natasha Subhash and Katie Volynets, the No. 3 seeds, beat Drummy and Alexandra Vagramov of Canada, the No. 5 seeds, 6-3, 6-3 for the girls championship.

Nava and Nefve, who lost in the quarterfinals at the Easter Bowl, got off to slow start in the final, but broke back immediately when they were broken, and broke on a deciding point to take the first set.

"At the beginning I started a little bit shaky," Nava said. "I wasn't really moving my feet, I was just standing there. But after we won that first set, I found my groove a little bit. Axel told me a couple words, pumped me up, a little motivation and we came in clutch in the second."

"I told him to get his act together," Nefve joked. "Strict business got it done. But once we got done in the first set, we loosened up a little bit and we started playing our best tennis."

Nava and Nefve, who did not play a match tiebreaker all week, are now anticipating playing together at the Nationals in Kalamazoo this summer.

"A wild card for men's [US Open doubles main draw], that's pretty big right there," Nava said. "I can't think of a better tournament than Kzoo," Nefve added.

While Nava and Nefve received a walkover in the semifinals, Subhash and Volynets had the opposite experience Friday, saving three match points in their 5-7, 7-6(5), 13-11 win over top seeds Bilokin and Elli Mandlik.

"It was a nail-biter," said Subhash. "It was so close, I was really nervous in the tiebreaker."

In Saturday's final, Subhash and Volynets, who lost in the second round at the Easter Bowl last week, looked much more relaxed, and they adjusted quickly to playing two left-handers.

"We played really smart," Subhash said. "It's a little weird, but it's mostly strange on their serve, where it curves in and it's a struggle to get it past the net person."

During the two weeks in Southern California, Subhash and Volynets got increasingly comfortable as a team.

"We learned how to play our best together," said Subhash. "And help each other out," added Volynets.

For draws and Sunday's order of play, see the tournament website.