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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Underdogs Brooksby and Volynets Claim ITF Easter Bowl Championships; Miami Open Titles for Isner and Stephens; Di Lorenzo, Liu Qualify for WTA Volvo Car Open; ISC Grade 1 Begins Monday in Carson

©Colette Lewis 2018--
Indian Wells, CA--

Top seeds Alexa Noel and Tristan Boyer were both just a set away from ITF Grade B1 Adidas Easter Bowl titles Sunday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, but Northern Californians Katie Volynets, seeded No. 15, and unseeded wild card Jenson Brooksby had other plans for celebrating the holiday, coming back to surprise the favorites in third sets. Volynets posted a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory and Brooksby withstood a late comeback by Boyer in the final set to earn a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

In the girls final, Noel earned the first break as temperatures climbed into the high 80s Sunday morning, but Volynets was able to break right back for 3-3. At 4-4, Noel earned another break when Volynets' forehand began to go awry, but closing out the first set was not easy for the top seed. Down 15-40, Noel managed three straight points, but couldn't close on her first set point, with Volynets' overhead, solid throughout the match, saving it. But two missed returns gave Noel the first set, an advantage she didn't feel was entirely deserved.

"I really didn't play very well from the start," said Noel, a 15-year-old from New Jersey, who now trains at the Rick Macci Academy in Boca Raton Florida. "I didn't come out swinging like I should have, I didn't have the energy, and she stayed composed the whole match, which I didn't do."

Noel's slice and her unwillingness to engage in baseline rallies can frustrate most opponents, but Volynets demonstrated her ability to keep that exasperation at bay when serving for the second set at 5-3.

Up 40-15, with Noel looking and playing as if she just wanted to the set to be over, Volynets wasn't able to convert either of those two set points, or a third two points later.  Then Noel began to have the upper hand, earning four break points in the six-deuce game, but Volynets came up with several good first serves when she needed them, pulling even in the match, nearly two hours after it started, when Noel put a slice into the net.

Volynets was not going to assume that Noel was throwing in the towel, regardless of the negative self-talk Noel was voicing.

"From past experience, she never actually gives up," said the 16-year-old Volynets, who lost to Noel 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals of the 2015 14s Easter Bowl. "I knew I had to keep it tight and keep my focus at a high level and keep going for my shots."

The third set was all Volynets, with Noel unable to match Volynets' consistency.

"I feel like I started really quick," said the Walnut Creek California resident, who is coached by Mark Orwig and Richard and Sandy Tompkins. "I moved well and I made sure to stay low, and I kept being aggressive."

Noel said her inability to adjust in that game carried over into the third set.

"In the third set she got the best of me because I was so worried about all the horrible calls, so many different things going on," Noel said. "I didn't focus enough on the match itself."

Volynets was all smiles after the match, and excited to be moving on to the International Spring Championships in Carson. After reaching the quarterfinals of the US Open Junior Championships last year, her first junior slam, she is now looking forward to playing in Paris and London this year after this result.

"I imagine that it will be an awesome experience," said Volynets, who collected her fourth USTA gold ball with today's title.

Noel is not playing the ITF Grade 1 in Carson, electing to take some time off this month before traveling to Europe for the Grade A in Milan in May.

In the boys final, Boyer fell behind 5-2 in the first set, then won five straight games as the shots that Brooksby had been making all week didn't find their targets.

"Up 5-2 and I lost the game and I got frustrated," said the 17-year-old from Carmichael California. "I wasn't focusing at all. But I knew if I stuck to my strategy, I could pull it out."

Knowing that Boyer is at his most effective when he closing out points at the net, Brooksby was determined to keep him back at the baseline.

"He's really good when he's moving in," Brooksby said. "So I just wanted to get him off the baseline first and move him side to side, but I lost that later in the third set."

Brooksby also went up 3-1 in the second set, holding without much difficulty, while Boyer struggled in his service games. But again Boyer fought back, breaking Brooksby at love and holding for 3-all.  After three more holds of serve, Boyer fell behind 15-40 serving at 4-5. He saved one set point when Brooksby's backhand went long, but Boyer sent a forehand just wide at 30-40 to give Brooksby the game.

Boyer, who had played three consecutive three-set matches in the 95 degree heat leading up to the final, was not ready to resume play after the second set, and he ended up getting a time violation warning and a point penalty to start the third set.

"I was feeling tired, of course," said Boyer, a 16-year-old from Southern California. "It had been a tough two sets. I had to prepare my drinks, change shirts and everything, so I knew two minutes was not going to be enough time. I had to have as much time as I could. I didn't really care about the point. The break was worth probably a game at least."

Brooksby held to start the third set and broke Boyer in the second game, with the unforced errors starting to pile up for the top seed. But he continued to bounce up and down, even after falling behind 3-0, and his intensity didn't waiver even when he was broken a second straight time and Brooksby held for a 5-0 lead.

Boyer held at love to get on the board and Brooksby didn't reach match point in his first attempt to serve out the match, with Boyer breaking at 30-40. After winning the first point in the next game, Boyer could be heard telling himself "one point at a time," and with a forehand winner at 40-15, he had his third straight game.

Serving for the match a second time, Brooksby went down 0-15, and after a double fault made it 0-30, he yelled "how is this happening"?. But in the nick of time, Brooksby collected himself, winning the next four points to shut the door on Boyer.

"My God, I thought I had that at 5-0," said Brooksby, who is coached by Joseph Gilbert at JMG Tennis in Sacramento. "He's a fighter, man he never gives up. He's so good at that. He really made me frustrated, but somehow I pulled it out. But kudos to him, he's a huge fighter."

Boyer agreed that his hours on court early in the tournament were a factor in the result, but he thought his edge in composure might see him through for a fourth time.

"The way the whole match was going, I was always in it," Boyer said. "The way we were both behaving, I think my body language and composure was always there and his was liable, I was hoping to take advantage of that. If I could win a few points, I knew he would get a little bit upset. It almost worked, but a little bit of a loose game at 5-3, so that was unfortunate, but that was the goal."

Brooksby, who needed a wild card into the event because he rarely plays junior events, now has two gold balls, with his previous one coming in the boys 12s USTA Hard Courts back in 2013.

"A long gap," Brooksby said. "It was a lot of hard matches, but believed I could do it, right from the start, but I'm very happy to do it. It's amazing."

Boyer is on to Carson, but Brooksby will not be playing at the Grade 1 event, with his next junior tournament expected to be Kalamazoo, where he was a 16s finalist in 2016.

The doubles champions were also crowned on Sunday morning, with top seeds Caty McNally and Hailey Baptiste culminating their march through the draw with a 6-0, 6-0 blanking of unseeded Savannah Broadus and Kylie Collins.  McNally and Baptiste, playing together for the first time, did not lose more than four games in any set all week.

"I think both of our game styles are somewhat similar," said McNally, who won the Easter Bowl doubles title last year with Whitney Osuigwe. "We both like to come into the net and we like to volley, so I think that helped."

Baptiste and McNally decided to team up at the Easter Bowl when both were at a Pro Circuit tournament in Tampa, where McNally won the title with Natasha Subhash, one of her three pro doubles titles this year.

"Obviously I knew that she's a good doubles player," said Baptiste. "I think I'm a good doubles player myself, so I had no doubt we'd be a good team."

McNally said it didn't take long for their individual doubles skills to mesh.

"I think we both know how to move in the doubles court already," McNally said. "So maybe the first game of the first match, but after that we were pretty much fine."

McNally is not playing Carson, so Baptiste will be teaming with Peyton Stearns next week.

Boys doubles champions Trey Hilderbrand and Govind Nanda, the No. 2 seeds, have played together only twice, but have won both ITF Grade B1s they entered.  Last October, they won the Pan American Closed in Tulsa; Sunday they came back to defeat unseeded Tyler Zink and Christian Alshon 3-6, 6-3, 10-7.

Hilderbrand and Nanda agreed that an improvement in their return game helped them overcome the loss of the first set.

"They played well and we were struggling a little bit on the return," Hilderbrand said. "They were able to capitalize and take the first set from us."

That changed in the second set, according to Nanda.

"We started making a lot of returns, started making a lot of first serves, started being more aggressive," Nanda said. "That was the key in that set."

Hilderbrand and Nanda went up 8-3 in the match tiebreaker, but Alshon and Zink closed the gap to 8-6 and 9-7 with some excellent volleys. But Nanda finished off the championship with a forehand down the line winner to keep the team perfect in ITF Junior Circuit competition.

Hilderbrand and Nanda will be playing together at Carson next week.

Americans claimed all four titles at the Miami Open this weekend, with Sloane Stephens taking the women's singles, beating Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia 7-6(5), 6-1. Stephens will make her WTA Top 10 debut on Monday.  John Isner won his first ATP Masters title, defeating Alexander Zverev of Germany 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4 and will return to the Top 10 in the ATP rankings.  The Bryan brothers won the men's doubles title and CoCo Vandeweghe took the women's doubles title with Ashleigh Barty of Australia.

Qualifying is complete for the WTA Premier Volvo Car Open, with former Ohio State star Francesca Di Lorenzo and 2017 Easter Bowl champion Claire Liu advancing to the main draw, along with Caroline Dolehide.

The draws are out for the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships in Carson, with Drew Baird and Margaryta Bilokin of Ukraine the top seeds.  Tristan Boyer, the No. 2 seed this week, has drawn Easter Bowl semifinalist Siem Woldeab in the first round. Woldeab, who won the 16s ISC title last year, received a special exemption into the ISC main draw based on his Easter Bowl results.

Play begins on Monday at 8 a.m. with 16s singles first round matches.

See the tournament website for draws and the order of play.


Blaze "Rola" Over Opelka said...

Former Ohio State Buckeye, Blaz Rola, defeats Reilly Opelka 3,1 in the Panama City Challenger