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Monday, April 30, 2007

Rux to Baylor; Unstrung Reviews; College, Ojai News

Whew, there's a lot to get to this evening. First, Jordan Rux, one of the top seniors waiting until the spring to commit, has decided to attend Baylor in the fall. His announcement for The Tennis Recruiting Network, which I wrote, is here. Baylor's website also has an announcement.

The last of the college conference championships were played over the weekend, and Marcia Frost, of collegeandjuniortennis.com was in Purdue for the Big Ten's. Her account of Ohio State's second straight title is here.

The selection show for the 64 men's and women's teams who will be in the field is Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. EDT on ESPNews.

Rhiannon Potkey of the Ventura County Star has a thorough wrap of the final day at Ojai, including Gail Brodsky's historic win in the Women's Open.

And finally, two reviews of Unstrung. One by Tom Perotta of the New York Sun and one by my friend Bonnie DeSimone at ESPN.com. The more I hear about it, the more eager I am to see it, but it looks like that will have to wait until this fall.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Inside Junior Tennis Podcast; Junior Davis Cup, World Junior Tennis Qualifying begin Friday

The latest edition of the Inside Junior Tennis podcast is available via this link. Kevin McClure and I discuss the Easter Bowl winners, getting endorsed for national level events, swinging hard, 17-year-old pros and a little bit of college news.

While I was in California, I had the opportunity to find out who would be going to Montreal this coming week for the North American/Caribbean final round of qualifying for the Junior Davis/Fed Cup and World Junior Tennis competitions.

The girls Junior Fed Cup (16 and under) team for this event (not necessarily for the finals) consists of:
Lauren Embree
Asia Muhammad
Allie Will (presuming her ankle is healed).

The boys Junior Davis Cup team for this round of qualifying is:
Frank Carleton
Alex Domijan
JT Sundling

The girls World Junior (14 and under) team is:
Nicole Gibbs
Whitney Kay
Ellen Tsay

The boys World Junior team is:
Mika DeCoster
Emmett Egger
Christian Harrison

A recent comment on how the Junior Davis Cup team should be selected is a good one:
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Unseeded Formentera Wins Boys 16s in Third-set Tie...":

For the JDC Selection, I feel very strongly that the B16s and B18s Easter Bowl winner that are age qualified for the JDC should be a direct entry to the JDC Team. Those are current performance.

The second criteria could be the highest ranked American that is age qualified for JDC in the Top 100 ITF Ranking.

The third criteria could be the highest ranked age qualified junior in the USTA B18 Top 20 ranking category.

The fourth selection criteria could be an USTA Wild Card Selection set aside for the best double playeres that is age qualified for JDC according to the ITF Jr. Ranking Total Doubles Points obtained or anyone USTA desires.

The fifth & final criteria would be the Top Rank Junior in B16 category if he is not the Easter Bowl Winner already. If the Easter Bowl winner is the current #1 ranked boy, then the #2 rank b16 would move up.

Here are the selections for this year's JDC Team according to this suggested format:

Crit 1: Rhyne Williams
B18 Winner
Lawrence Formentera
B16 Winner

Crit 2: Rhyne Williams
#17 (4-23-07)

Crit 3: Rhyne Williams
#2 (4-25-07)

Crit 4: Devin Britton
70 ITF Doubles Points

Or Any USTA Suggestion

Crit 5: Alexander Domijan
#1 (4-25-07)

My only objection to this is that it gives the Easter Bowl too much importance. The JDC is played in September on clay. I think the winner of the 16s clays (provided they are age eligible) would make more sense.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ojai Update

From what I've heard, the Ojai, California tournament, which features junior, college and open tennis, is special. I know Southern California tennis reporters cover it as if it were a major professional event. Lauren Peterson of the Los Angeles Times has had daily stories since Thursday, covering college and high school matches and issues, while Rhiannon Potkey of the Ventura County Star and Eric Boal of the Los Angeles Daily News have also written well and often this weekend from Ojai. (One question, though--Doug Stewart's at UCLA? Am I missing something?).

For those who want the short version, the men's open will have No. 2 Lester Cook taking on unseeded Travis Rettenmaier, who beat top seed Brian Wilson today; the women's open will be for bragging rights at Weil Academy as Easter Bowl champion Gail Brodsky will play Tanya Raykova; the boys CIF title will be decided between Steve Johnson and Andre Dome; and the PAC-10 individual championships will feature Matt Bruch of Stanford against Alex Slovic of Washington and a rematch of last year's NCAA women's final when Susie Babos of California plays Lindsey Nelson of USC.

Ken Thomas will be there for the PAC-10 finals broadcasting via radiotennis.com, beginning at 12:30 EDT Sunday.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Michelle Larcher de Brito video profile; Donald Young Contrasted with Ryan Heller

This video profile, from what I understand is a British television sports feature show, marks the zootennis debut of YouTube. Michelle Larcher de Brito is the subject, and for all the discussion about Carlos Boluda that we've had, I haven't heard any comments on the best 14-year-old girl in the world. I'm a bit baffled however, about Larcher de Brito's affinity for Martina Hingis. I don't see any of the Swiss champion's game in Larcher de Brito's, but if she's hoping to add that kind of nuance to her already impressive power, I'm all for it.

The Chicago Tribune today had this interesting feature contrasting two tennis stars from the area: Donald Young and Ryan Heller. Heller, a senior at the University of Michigan, is competing this weekend in West Lafayette, Ind. at the Big Ten Championships. Young, well, you know all about him don't you? The interview with Donald Young Sr. has some new insights and the first reference to Young and college tennis that I can ever remember reading. And as realistic as Heller is about his place in the tennis pecking order, I hope that tennis remains a significant part of his life.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Easter Bowl Wrap

My tournament synopsis of the Easter Bowl was posted today at The Tennis Recruiting Network. While you're there, make sure to check out Julie Wrege's report on the ACC Conference Championships. Georgia Tech and Virginia won the women's and men's titles respectively, but here's a news flash--Audra Cohen lost, for only the second time this year, in the finals, to Yellowjacket Kristi Miller.

The Florida State High School championships are being played this week, and there's lots of coverage, with many notable names competing. The Naples Daily News had this article about Lauren Embree's title in 2A, and this one about Reid Carleton's win in 3A. Brennan Boyajian and Ryan Kim are also competing, at the 4A level.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Best 14-year-old in the World

According to this recent article in the Sunday Telegraph, that's Carlos Boluda of Spain. (I'm assuming they mean 14-year-old boy; Michelle Larcher de Brito has beaten a WTA Top 50 player). Boluda gets unrestrained praise from Rafael Nadal throughout the piece.

It's going to be very important the next two or three years," Nadal said. "But he has a big chance to be a very, very good player because when you are young and the best in the world it's easier afterwards. I was one of the best but when I was 14 I don't have any control.

"When I saw him he had total control of the ball. He can do everything - maybe he's better than me. When I was 14 I can improve a lot of things, but I think he can also improve a lot of things, except [for him] it's just [a matter of] perfecting things."
Boluda was signed by Prince last September, (press relase is here) so there is no question that Boluda will be a professional tennis player. He already is, as is Bernard Tomic, who, ranked No. 55 in the world, is also 14 (he'll be 15 in October). But as we've witnessed with Donald Young, who was signed by IMG, Nike and Head at age 15, and is mentioned in the article as being "rushed to the tour", that precociousness doesn't always translate to immediate tour success.

Young, now 17, won his first Futures event last week in Little Rock, Arkansas. Sally Milano at usta.com provides the details.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Unstrung's Website; Other Odds & Ends

The documentary Unstrung, which opens Thursday at the Tribeca Film Festival, now has a website where a trailer in available for viewing. Any reviews, however short, from someone who has seen it are welcome.

I've enjoyed reading all the comments lately about the 1991 birth year (actually, I'm not comfortable with using birth years as labels, but I can't figure out a better alternative) players. One of the more recent additions to this list of standouts, Lawrence Formentera, warranted a thorough story in the Los Angeles Times, after his Easter Bowl win.

The Desert Sun wrote about Rhyne Williams' win in the ITF boys division. And the Knoxville News Sentinel gave us a chance to read up on Nick Wood's win in the 12s at Delray Beach.

Monday, April 23, 2007

McClune Signs with IMG; Inside Junior Tennis Podcast now Available

An early post today, before we catch our flight back to Kalamazoo, just to pass along the news I heard at the Easter Bowl that 17-year-old Michael McClune of Irvine, Calif., has signed a professional contract with IMG. IMG hasn't issued a press release announcing the signing yet, but when they do, I'll mention it again.
Also, I managed to squeeze in another Inside Junior Tennis podcast in the middle of last week's Easter Bowl and it is now available at The Tennis Podcast website.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Unseeded Formentera Wins Boys 16s in Third-set Tiebreak at Easter Bowl; Gibbs, Williams also Earn Championships

©Colette Lewis 2007—
Rancho Mirage, CA—

Finals featuring third set-tiebreaks are rare, but probably not as unusual as an unseeded player defeating the third, second and first seeds in a tournament to win his first gold ball in only his third national event.

But that describes Lawrence Formentera, who blazed his way to the boys 16s Easter Bowl title with a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory over top seed Bo Seal on a picture-perfect day at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage.

Formentera, who lives in Colton, about an hour’s drive from the Palm Springs area, was something of a mystery to those outside Southern California.

“I’ve always been playing up,” said the 15-year-old, “and I never had the ranking to play nationals.”

But his father decided to change coaches when that strategy failed to produce victories or development, and once Formentera found his competitive level, the tournament wins came in bunches.

Any of the spectators at Sunday afternoon’s match can tell you how he did it—with pace, depth and an absolute laser of a forehand.

“He had an amazing forehand,” said Seal. “really flat and hard. He was able to hit winners on either side of the court, cross court or down the line. He had one of the best forehands I’ve ever played.”

Both players were on their games in the first set, with no breaks through the first nine games. But with Seal serving at 4-5, 30-40, Formentera used his power game to work his way to the net and hit a sublime backhand overhead to take the first set.

In the second set, Seal was down 3-0, facing a break point in the fourth game, but he regained his equilibrium, while Formentera had a letdown, and lost the next six games and the set.

“I thought it was over already,” said Formentera of his lead in the second set. “But the guy’s a fighter. I was just being an idiot.”

The vocal Seal, whose “c’mons” often sound like they have five or six syllables, was using the expression often during the third set, when he took a 3-1 lead. But this time it was Formentera who fought back to even it at 3-3, then 4-4. In the ninth game, which featured eight deuces, Seal saved two break points and put the pressure back on Formentera, who needed a couple of ads on the next game to even it at 5-5.

After Seal held for 6-5, Formentera was down 0-30, but two forehand winners later, he was out of trouble. But the sword cut both ways, and two forehand errors later, it was match point for Seal.

“He forced me to miss the shot,” said Seal of the Formentera forehand that produced the backhand error, “and then he played a great tiebreaker and came up with the goods.”

“I just miss or hit a winner,” said Formentera of his go-for-broke style. “I’ve been doing that my whole life. It’s just another match. Even though there’s a bunch of people watching and it’s going on TV, it’s just another match.”

For Fourteen-year-old Nicole Gibbs, the final against her friend Beatrice Capra, wasn’t just another match. It was an opportunity to chalk up her first win against her rival, which she accomplished by outlasting her 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 to win the girls 16s Easter Bowl title.

“I went in with a different strategy this time,” said the fifth-seeded Gibbs, from Cleveland, Ohio. “In previous matches, I had played both sides equally, and I think her backhand is probably a stronger side, so I played her forehand a little more.”

In the first set of the nearly three-hour match, Gibbs went up 4-2, but the unseeded Capra, last year’s 14s Easter Bowl champion, reeled off four straight games.

“I was a little frustrated with how I played in the first set,” Gibbs said. “But I focused in and said all right, I’m going to win the first game, get up early this set and see what I could do.”

It was an effective pep talk, because she won the first three games, and held on to even the match.

The 16s take a mandatory 10-minute rest break, and Gibbs and her coach zeroed in on moving her feet and getting her energy level up.
She was broken in the first game of the third set, but broke back the next game, a pattern that would continue throughout the final set.

“I’ve been having trouble with my serve,” said Capra, of Ellicott City, Maryland. “That’s why I was pumped up to win the next game. I knew if I lost serve, I had to win the next game.”

That pattern held until 5-5 in the third, when Gibbs held for 6-5, but Capra wasn’t able to earn the game she needed for a tiebreak.

“I was hoping I could win it again, but I came up short,” said Capra, whose Easter Bowl 13-match winning streak came to end. “Next year though.”

Gibbs complimented her friend on how she coped with the disappointment of such a close loss.

“Tricee is such a good sport, and I was really impressed by that match today,” Gibbs said. “She just handled it so well—smiling an congratulating me. That means a lot.”

The boys 18s match was the least competitive of the finals played on Sunday, with No. 5 seed Rhyne Williams defeating third seed Johnny Hamui 6-4, 6-2.

“Last week was pretty satisfying, getting to the finals,” Williams said of the International Spring Championships in Carson, Calif. “But I got to the finals here, and I thought, I’m out here, I might as well try to win the whole thing.”

Using a big serve and forehand to keep Hamui on the defensive, Williams twice broke Hamui late in the first set. After three straight breaks to open the third set, Hamui asked for a trainer, and was treated for a blister on his foot.

“My feet weren’t working today,” said Hamui, of Wesley Chapel, Florida. “My legs were very heavy, my back was a little tight. My game plan was to try to move him around, make him hit a lot of balls, but I wasn’t able to get to that second or third ball, because I was one step slow.”

Although Williams was up 2-1 when Hamui received treatment, the delay didn’t bother him.

“It was pretty hot out there,” said Williams. “I kind of needed a break too. I wasn’t complaining. I saw that it was his foot, and your feet are what you need most to play tennis, so the next few games I was really going to make him work, make him run. But fortunately the points were pretty short after that.”

In the first game after the timeout, Williams blasted four big serves by Hamui and when Hamui was broken in the next game, the outcome was no longer in doubt.

“In the second set it was unbelievable," said Hamui, 18, who expects to sign with the University of Florida soon. “He was painting the lines.”

The win was especially satisfying for Williams, who along with Hamui, will be heading to Europe for the ITF junior clay season, because Hamui had knocked him out of last year’s Easter Bowl in the round of 16.

“Revenge is sweet,” said Williams, of Knoxville Tennessee. “He did beat me last year, in a pretty long match, and I remembered that, but I just went out there and had fun today.”

Devin Britton won his second consecutive Easter Bowl doubles title, teaming with Brad Cox to squeak by Jarmere Jenkins and Austin Krajicek 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3). Amazingly, Britton and Cox saved four match points with Cox serving at 5-6 in the third set, exactly the same number that Jenkins and Krajicek had saved in their semifinal win over Britton and Cox at the International Spring Championships last week.

“We’re both serve and volleyers,” said Britton, who won the 16s Easter Bowl titles with Chase Buchanan last year, explaining the eighth-seeded pair's recent success. "We were hoping we were going to get them this week again," said Cox of the 2006 US Open Junior finalists, who were seeded third. "We were glad it was in the final."

The girls 16s doubles champions are No. 2 seeds Alexandra Cercone and Jacqueline Kasler, who came back to defeat Jessica Alexander and Brooke Bolender, the fifth seeds, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Seal and partner Ryan Noble, the top seeds in the 16s division, fell to the fifth seeded team of Walker Kehrer and Kyle McMorrow 6-3, 6-4.

For 18s draws, click here.

For 14s and 16s, click here.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Brodsky, Herring and Egger Earn Easter Bowl Titles Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2007—
Rancho Mirage, CA—

The 40th Easter Bowl crowned three singles champions on a clear, calm and temperate day at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa, the tournament’s new host site.

No. 6 seed Gail Brodsky of Brooklyn, New York captured her first ITF Grade 1 event with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over unseeded Nadja Gilchrist in the girls 18s. In the 14s, top seed Emmett Egger defeated No. 17 seed Sean Berman 6-1, 6-3 to take the boys title, and unseeded Lauren Herring won the girls championship by a 6-4, 6-0 score over No. 17 seed Lauren Davis.

Brodsky, 15, has recently been been working on her consistency with her coaches at Weil Academy in Ojai, Calif. where she trains during the winter months, and it helped her take the first seven games of the match.

"I tried to stay consistent," Brodsky said, "because she couldn’t be very consistent. She couldn’t keep many balls in play. I used to be a really big hitter, try to go for everything and hit a winner off the first shot. Now I’m the one who’s trying to make the points longer."

The 16-year-old Gilchrist, who has considerably less tournament experience than Brodsky, admitted to some jitters.

"I was a little nervous when I came on the court," said Gilchrist, who trains at the Smith Stearns Academy in Hiilton Head, SC. "Gail played really well, it was definitely her day today. I could have played better."

Brodsky gave Gilchrist some different looks in the return game, and it often led to control of the point.

"She played really smart," said Gilchrist. "She knew how to dictate, and I had an off day today."

The girls 14s champion also took the court with a game plan and didn’t stray from it.

"I just went out there with the attitude to play long points, grind every point, and that’s what I did," said the 13-year-old Herring, of Greenville, NC. "It was strategic, to hit the ball, throw in some loopers and pin her back, then come in to net behind some good balls. I wasn’t going to lose, no matter what I did; I just said, I’m not going to lose."

But the much smaller Davis, from Gates Mills, Ohio, had other ideas, and even down a set and 5-0, she continued to fight, earning a game point in the long final game, and forcing the action. But it wasn’t enough.

"She kept the ball in play more than I did," said Davis, also 13. "I made a lot of errors compared to her."

The boys 14s champion, Emmett Egger of Issaquah, Wash., certainly kept his errors to a minimum, and used his volleying skills to maximum effect against Berman, who seldom approaches the net.

"I was serving well, hitting my groundies big, executing my volleys," said Egger, who lost to Berman the last time they played and with the win evened his record against the native of New Zealand now living in Irvine, Calif.

The match began with Egger holding after a long game in which he faced several break points. The 14-year-old right-hander picked his spots to approach the net, but when he did, he won the point, either knocking off a volley, or forcing an error from Berman on attempted passing shots. After that, Egger rolled through the next four games before Berman got on the board.

"He played really well today," said Berman, 14. "I was a bit flat today. Never played my best. I guess he was just too good for me today."

Although all three finals were straight-set wins that were light on drama, there was one match on Saturday that had spectators riveted: the boys 18s semifinal match between No. 4 seed Dennis Lajola and No. 5 seed Rhyne Williams, which ultimately went to Williams 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6).

Just as he had been in his semifinal match with Jeff Dadamo, Lajola, a finalist in last year’s Easter Bowl, was down a set and a break, but clawed his way back. Breaking Williams when he was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second, Lajola went on to take the ensuing tiebreak, hitting an exquisite drop volley winner at set point.

Back-to-back breaks opened the third set, but there were none thereafter, and in the final tiebreak, neither player had more than a one-point lead. But at 5-4, Williams had two serves coming, so the Tennessean was poised to finish it, only to lose both, one on a forehand winner by Lajola and the next when his forehand found the net. So it was Lajola who stepped to the baseline with the match on his racquet.

"He missed his first serve," the-16-year-old Williams recounted. "I ran around and hit a forehand, and then it was back and forth. I came in to the net and he missed a passing shot on the run. It was a pretty tough shot for him to make, especially at match point."

"I had a good look at a pass, and just missed it wide," said Lajola, of Aiea, Hawaii, who estimated that the shot was a couple of inches out.

After Lajola netted a forehand on the next point, it was Williams’ chance to end the match and he didn’t falter.

"I picked the right ball to go for it," said Williams of the forehand winner that put him in his second final of the past two weeks. "It was a perfect opportunity and it was open, so I went for it all out, hit a perfect shot."

"It’s what you practice and train for, when it comes down to the third set tiebreak," said Lajola. "That’s what makes it fun. If you don’t like being in a close match, then this sport’s not for you."

Williams’ win earns him a rematch with Johnny Hamui, who defeated Williams in three sets in the round of 16 at the 2006 Easter Bowl. Hamui, seeded third, earned his place in the final with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 12 seed Brad Klahn.

"I came into this tournament wanting to win one round," said Hamui, who lost in the first round at the International Spring Championships last week. "With the spring I’ve had so far, I wasn’t doing very well, and tomorrow I get to play for the championship."

The boys 16s final will feature No. 1 seed Bo Seal against unseeded Lawrence Formentera. Seal beat Matthew Spindler 6-1, 6-3 while Formentera upset No. 2 seed and 2006 Easter Bowl 14s champion Evan King 7-6 (6), 6-1. The girls 2006 Easter Bowl 14s champion is still alive however, as unseeded Beatrice Capra earned her way back to center court with a 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 7 seed Zoe De Bruycker. In a rematch of a 2006 Easter Bowl 14s semifinal, Capra will play No. 5 seed Nicole Gibbs, who took a 6-2, 6-4 decision from unseeded Kate Fuller.

There were three doubles titles decided on Saturday.

Mallory Cecil and Kristy Frilling, seeded fourth, defeated unseeded Chloe Jones and Asia Muhammad 7-6 (4), 6-3 to take the girls 18s title.

In the boys 14s, the No. 2 seeded team of Nick Chappell and Shane Vinsant downed Egger and Christian Harrison, the No. 1 seeds, 6-1, 1-6, 6-1.

The girls 14s doubles champions are Herring and Grace Min, the third seeds, who defeated Noel Scott and Erin Stephens, the No. 4 seeds, 6-4, 6-0. The singles and doubles victories earned Herring her fifth and sixth gold balls.

For complete results in the 14s and 16s, including third place and consolation matches, click here.

For 18s draws, click here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Brodsky and Gilchrist Reach Easter Bowl Final in Girls 18s; 14s Finals Slated for Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

No. 6 seed Gail Brodsky and unseeded Nadja Gilchrist will decide the girls 18s Easter Bowl title on Saturday, but the two New Yorkers, who have never played, are both dismissing the disparity in their rankings as irrelevant.

"I don’t think seeding means anything, really," said the 16-year-old Gilchrist, who overpowered New Jersey’s Lauren McHale 6-2, 6-3 in Friday’s semifinal on Center Court at Rancho Las Palmas. "It means they have a lot of points, they play a lot of tournaments, that's all. My parents always told me it doesn’t mean a thing."

The fifteen-year-old Brodsky, who had a much tougher semifinal win, needing three sets to overcome unseeded Allie Will, agreed.

"Starting from the quarterfinals on, I don’t know if there were any favorites," said Brodsky, who trains at the Weil Academy in Ojai, Calif. "Everyone was very good, very equal."

Will, the Orange Bowl girls 16s champion in 2006, had beaten the No. 10, the No. 7 and the No. 4 seeds in straight sets, so Brodsky, who went three sets in three of her four matches, knew she was in for a battle, and she got it, advancing with a 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 victory.

"From day one I didn’t have easy matches; you know my easiest match was 7-6, 7-5," Brodsky laughed.

When Will took the first set, Brodsky kept her focus.

"I started playing a little better at the end of the first set," said Brodsky of her dominance in the second set, "and it just kind of continued on."

But the match was really decided at 1-1 in the third, when Will, who was celebrating her 16th birthday, rolled her right ankle, and went down on the court in tears. The trainer was called, and after a medical timeout in which the brace she was wearing on the ankle was removed and replaced with tape, Will resumed play, but she won only one game after that.

"I knew it was going to be tough for me to keep my focus," said Brodsky who practiced her strokes on court while Will received treatment. "I had to play every point like nothing happened, just keep fighting. I wasn’t going to feel bad because something happened to her."

"It wasn’t a very good birthday present," said Will, whose ankle was red and swollen when she returned to the site to watch a friend’s match. "I’m disappointed, of course."

Gilchrist’s victory over McHale was much more straightforward. Gilchrist broke McHale, also unseeded, in the first game of each set, and her confidence grew as her deep and powerful strokes kept McHale scrambling to stay in nearly every point.

"I played really well," said Gilchrist, who has trained at the Smith-Stearns Academy in Hilton Head, S.C. for the past three years. "I didn’t go out there thinking that I could beat her, that I could win easily, but I said if I play my game I can do this, and when I won the first set I thought, 'I’ve got this, this girl can’t beat me.' I was hitting it to her backhand and going for the open court."

The boys 14s and the girls 14s finalists were also decided on Friday. Top seed Emmett Egger earned another hard-fought 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over his frequent rival, No. 4 seed Mika DeCoster. Egger will face No. 17 seed Sean Berman, who recorded a 6-2, 6-4 win over Dennis Novikov.

It will be the battle of the lightly-regarded Laurens in the girls 14s championship match. Unseeded Lauren Herring downed No. 5 seed Sabrina Santamaria 6-4, 7-5 and will meet No. 17 seed Lauren Davis, who defeated No. 14 seed Belinda Niu 6-4, 6-2.

Both boys and girls 16s and boys 18s completed their quarterfinal matches Friday.

The highlight of the 16s competition was No. 5 seed Nicole Gibbs’ 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (5) victory over No. 4 seed Catherine Isip. Gibbs served for the match at 5-4, but Isip used her punishing forehand to even it, and in the tiebreak she kept striking it with abandon. A couple winners and a couple of errors later she faced two match points; she slammed a backhand winner to stay in it, but her next forehand was just long to give Gibbs the semifinal spot.

Another notable girls 16s match saw last year’s 14s Easter Bowl champion Beatrice Capra, unseeded this year, outlast No. 3 seed Hanna Mar 7-6 (11), 6-3. The first set alone took over an hour and a half to complete.

The boys 18s quarterfinals featured three three-setters. No. 13 seed Bradley Klahn emerged with a 6-0, 1-6, 6-4 decision over No. 6 seed Austin Krajicek and Dennis Lajola, the No. 4 seed, escaped with a 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 victory over unseed Jeff Dadamo. Dadamo was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but couldn’t hold, giving Lajola new life, and he took advantage of it, winning the tiebreak and then breaking Dadamo in the seventh game of the final set.

No. 5 seed Rhyne Williams, a finalist at last week’s International Spring Championships in Carson, cruised over Mateusz Kecki, the No. 2 seed 6-4, 6-2.

The fourth match, between No. 3 seed Johnny Hamui and No. 8 seed Jarmere Jenkins, didn’t finish before the raindrops began to fall in the Coachella valley. Jenkins won the first set 6-3, Hamui the second 6-4. In the third, Hamui hung on to an early break and when play was suspended, Jenkins was serving 3-5, 40-0. But the delay certainly didn’t help Jenkins—when the players returned to the court, Jenkins double faulted three times, the last of which was on match point to put Hamui in the semifinals.

The girls doubles final will be played Saturday afternoon, with Chloe Jones and Asia Muhammad, seeded No. 9, against No. 4 seeds Mallory Cecil and Kristy Frilling.

For 18s draws, click here.

For 14s and 16s, click here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tension, Drama and Excitement are Everywhere at Easter Bowl on Thursday

©Colette Lewis 2007—
Rancho Mirage, CA—

Thursday’s Easter Bowl action at Rancho Las Palmas produced more excitement than any one person could view or comprehend on a hot, calm and sunny Thursday. Here are some of my candidates for match of the day:

Was it boys 16s No. 1 seed Bo Seal’s 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 comeback over Jordan Cox?

Or unseeded Andre Dome’s 2-6, 6-4 7-6 (5) victory over No. 8 seed Tennys Sandgren in boys 16s, when Sandgren came back from a 4-0 third set deficit only to fall just short?

Or Boys 14s top seed Emmett Egger’s reversal of fortune against Michael Elortegui 3-6, 6-3, 6-1?

How about No. 17 seed Dennis Novikov’s’ 4-6, 6-3 7-6 (4) win over unseeded Jeremy Efferding, a 14s match that took over three hours to complete?

Or unseeded Lauren Herring’s 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 toppling of girls’ 14s top seed Whitney Kay?

What about No. 2 seed Mateusz Kecki’s 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (3) win over Devin Britton in boys 18s?

Or 18s No. 5 seed Rhyne Williams’ 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 decision over unseeded Dennis Nevolo, who was experiencing cramps so bad that he served underhanded in the match’s final game?

Could it be No. 6 seed Gail Brodsky, the only seed now remaining in the girls 18s, taking a 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2 victory from the precocious 14-year-old Christina McHale?

The answer, for me, is none of the above. It was unseeded Nadja Gilchrist’s 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4) win over No. 5 seed Melanie Oudin in the girls 18s quarterfinals.

When I settled down to watch the match it was 5-3 in the third, with Gilchrist up a break. Oudin held for 5-4, so Gilchrist was serving for the match. Twice she had a match point, but committed errors both times, and two deuces later, Oudin had evened it at 5-5. When Oudin held at love for 6-5, the pressure mounted, and before long it was Gilchrist who was one point away from a loss. On the first match point, Oudin sent a forehand long, but on the second Gilchrist scorched a backhand down the line, refusing to play it safe.

"My coaches and my parent always say ‘go for your shots’," Gilchrist, 16, said. 'keep going for it, always play your game.' So I'm thinking, 'you know what? I don’t care if that was close or not. I’m still going for it.'"

If there was any residue from their encounter in Mobile at the USTA Spring Nationals last month, won by Oudin 6-3, 6-0, it was hard to detect.

"I didn’t believe in myself in Mobile," Gilchrist said. " I’ve played Melanie before and lost to her really bad. Every time I played her I got a little scared. But this time I really wanted it. This time I told myself I could do it."

The final tiebreak featured more errors than winners, but Gilchrist ended her losing streak against Oudin with a crackling forehand winner, earning a place in Friday’s semifinal against Lauren McHale, who is also unseeded.

In the other girls 18s semifinal, Brodsky will meet unseeded Allie Will, who rolled over No. 4 seed Mallory Cecil 6-1, 6-2, in what Will called one of the best matches she’s ever played.

The boys 16s and 18s and the girls 16s quarterfinal matches are Friday, while both boys and girls 14s and girls 18s semifinals are scheduled for Friday.

For 18s draws, click here.

For 14s and 16s, click here.

Carson Wrap

The Tennis Recruiting Network has my tournament synopsis of the International Spring Championships via this link.

I also wanted to mention that I'm experiencing a problem with uploading my photos since I've been here at the Easter Bowl. To get around that, I'm posting to Flickr and linking to them there as of Wednesday's post.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

McHale Sisters Both Reach 18s Quarterfinals at Easter Bowl; Will Upsets Boserup

©Colette Lewis 2007
Rancho Mirage, CA—

The girls 18s quarterfinals Thursday will contain almost as many McHales as seeds, with the two unseeded sisters from New Jersey and only three seeds earning victories Wednesday afternoon.

Fourteen-year-old Christina McHale continued her superb play with a quick victory over Ryann Cutillo, while older sister Lauren had a considerably tougher time with Nicole Bartnik, winning 7-5, 7-5.

No. 4 seed Mallory Cecil, the highest seeded girl remaining, teetered on the edge of elimination before defeating Stefanie Nunic 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-3. The match was moved to another court after the second set due to scattered debris from late afternoon wind gusts. No. 5 seed Melanie Oudin lost the first three games to unseeded Claire Bartlett, but won the next twelve in a row for a 6-3, 6-0 victory. No. 6 seed Gail Brodsky was down 5-3 in both sets against Hilary Davis but managed a 7-6 (4), 7-5 win.

Julia Boserup, the No. 7 seed, wasn’t able to hold on to a 5-1 first set lead, losing to unseeded Floridian Allie Will 7-6 (2), 6-4.

"I started to be aggressive and stop letting her dictate," said Will of her comeback over the hard-hitting Californian. "I was trying to push her back with a lot of spin and I started serving very well. think my serve is why I won the first set. I didn’t serve as great in the second set, but my serve really helped me today."

Also earning quarterfinal slots were Aeriel Ellis, the 2006 16s Easter Bowl finalist, who defeated Alison Riske 7-5, 6-4, and Nadja Gilchrist, who overcame Asia Muhammad 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in one of the day’s longest matches.

The boys 18s saw only one minor upset in the second round, with unseeded Jeff Dadamo downing 11th seed Ty Trombetta 6-4, 6-2. Sixth seed Austin Krajicek escaped with a 5-7, 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory over fellow left-hander Jared Pinsky.

"I was just glad to get through that one, it was a rough battle," Krajicek said. "He played really well, there wasn’t much I could do in the first set, he played outstanding. I calmed down a little in the second and the third was just a coin flip."

Pinsky served for the match at 5-3, but couldn’t finish it, which was unfortunate for him, because the winds, which had plagued the other sites all day, arrived at Rancho Las Palmas during the tiebreak.

"It helped me a little bit," Krajicek said of the sporadic gusts, recalling Pinsky’s three double faults in the tiebreak. "I was lucky he had a little bit of trouble with his serve."

Although a third set tiebreak is a dramatic ending, it was trumped by the conclusion of the match between No. 8 seed Jarmere Jenkins and Steve Johnson. Johnson was serving at 4-3, 40-0 in the third set when he cramped, and he had to be carried off the court, giving Jenkins a 6-4, 3-6, 3-4 retired win.

Although only the 18s are exclusively at Rancho Las Palmas, selected seeds in the younger age groups play at the host site, and several were upset on Wednesday.

The No. 2 seed in boys 14s, Christian Harrison, won the first three games against No. 17 seed Sean Berman, but came out on the short end of a 6-3, 6-2 score.

Girls 14s No. 3 seed Gabrielle Desimone, a finalist in the 16s at the International Spring Championships last week, dropped a 6-3, 6-1 decision to No. 14 seed Belinda Niu.

And Kaitlyn Christian, the No. 2 seed in girls 16s, was taken out by Hideko Tachibana 6-4, 1-6, 7-6.

In doubles action Wednesday evening, the No. 4 seeds in boys 18s, Ryan Lipman and Rhyne Williams lost to Ryan Harrison and Alex Llompart 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4). And the top-seeded team in girls 18s, Gail Brodsky and Reka Zsilinzska, fell to Lindsay Clark and Shinann Featherstone 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

For complete draws in 18s, click here.
For the 14s and 16s, click here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Damico, Thacher Fall in Boys 18s First Round Action at Easter Bowl

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Rancho Mirage, CA—

A day after the top three seeds in the girls 18s were eliminated, the boys field lost two of its favorites on a warm and calm day in the desert, when Reid Carleton defeated No. 1 seed Kellen Damico 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-2 and Bradley Cox outlasted International Spring Champion Ryan Thacher 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-4, both on Rancho Las Palmas’ Court Two.

Although Cox was seeded 14th and Thacher unseeded, most considered the big left-hander to be the favorite, given his victory in Carson and his 46-match winning streak. Even Cox himself admitted that he was a little bit of an underdog coming in. And when he was unable to convert six set points in the opening set, it looked as if Cox would have nothing more than a moral victory.

But the right-hander from Duluth, Ga., has a game style that few juniors see on a regular basis, and his commitment to serve-and-volley disrupted the quick and consistent Californian.

"I watched him a little bit last week," said Cox, who just signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Kentucky in the fall. "He doesn’t miss a ball, so I was able to come in a lot and take him out of rhythm."

Cox, who didn’t drop serve in the entire match, pointed to that as the difference.

"My biggest key was just my serve today," Cox said. "I was serving big and he was having a lot of trouble returning it , and if he did, it was normally an easy volley."

Carleton’s upset of Damico was less of a surprise, if only because he is one of the top juniors in the USTA rankings, who doesn’t play many ITF events due to his high school academic commitments.

Carleton also possesses one of the most fluid one-handed backhands in the junior ranks, and Damico, who is temporarily using one due to a wrist injury, knew that his wasn’t of that caliber. In fact, after Damico made a backhand error, he loudly commented in Carleton’s direction: "Maybe after the match you can teach me how to hit a one-hander," Damico said.

Damico saved a match point with a forehand winner serving at 5-6, and had the momentum when he took the tiebreak, but Carleton wasn’t discouraged despite that lost opportunity.

"It kind of affected me in the tiebreaker," said Carleton, who has committed to attend Duke in the fall. "But in the third set I tried to calm back down, thinking everything’s even now. I just tried to stay solid, not give him any points, make him work for everything."

Only two other seeds fell in boys 18s first round action, with Dennis Nevolo taking out No. 10 seed Adam El Mihdawy 6-4, 7-5 and Daniel Moss ousting No. 9 seed Ryan Lipman 6-2, 7-6 (4).

After all the shockers in the girls 18s second round, the third was tame by comparison. Christina McHale, who took out top seed Reka Zsilinszka on Monday, beat Emily Fraser 6-0, 6-0, and her older sister Lauren silenced the crowd gathered to watch local favorite Coco Vandeweghe with a 6-1, 6-3 win. Unseeded Allie Will defeated 10th seed Chloe Jones, and Hilary Davis took out Stephanie Vidov, the 12th seed, leaving only four seeds in the round of 16, and just one in the bottom half.

In one of the day’s longest matches, Asia Muhammad and Shannon Mathews played for three hours before Muhammad emerged with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory. And in another three-hour-plus marathon, this one in girls 16s, Mary Clayton bested Priscilla Annoual, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3. Annoual had beaten top seed Lilly Kimbell on Monday.

For complete draws in the 18s, including doubles, click here.

For 14s and 16s results, click here.

Michael Kosta, Comedian

It's likely to be another late evening post here from the Easter Bowl, so I wanted to put up a quick link to the story I wrote about former Michigan men's assistant Michael Kosta and his new career as a stand-up comedian.

Originally scheduled to appear it SMASH, the story never ran, so I'm thankful that The Tennis Recruiting Network found a home for it. I understand that the May issue of TENNIS magazine will feature a profile of Kosta by Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated. If that is posted online, I'll link to that too.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Top Three Seeds Lose in Girls 18s; Annoual Takes Out No. 1 Kimbell in Girls 16s at Easter Bowl

©Colette Lewis 2007—
Rancho Mirage, CA—

The first day of a tournament usually provides me with a chance to ease into my coverage, and although the 14s started on Sunday, there weren’t any notable upsets in the first round.

But when it rains, it pours, and after damp courts from overnight precipitation set back starting times by 2 ½ hours, the surprises came one after another. The girls 16s lost their No. 1 seed, the boys 14s their No. 3, and in the girls 18s, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 were all eliminated Monday.

I thought the story of the day would be unseeded Priscilla Annoual’s 7-5, 7-6 (6) victory over No. 1 seed Lilly Kimbell in the first round of the 16s. Since there were no scoring devices at Rancho Las Palmas, the tournament’s new host site, it was difficult to know what was going on unless you watched every single point of a match, but when I saw how long the two had been out there, I decided to see if an upset was brewing. Although there was no way of telling, I got there in the second set tiebreak, and two points later, Annoual had her biggest win.

“I had no pressure at all, so I just played aggressive, did everything I do in practice.” said the 15-year-old from Phoenix. “I think she wasn’t having a very good day, but my shots were working.”

The next surprise was Ken Sabacinski’s 6-2, 6-3 win over No. 3 seed Nick Chappell in second round boys 14s action. Sabacinski, who looks no more than ten years old, was an instant favorite of the spectators viewing the Center Court action, for both his size and his underdog status. Sabacinski’s ability to counteract the power of the much stronger left-hander was uncanny.

“His serve was really tough,” said Sabacinski, who is from Plantation, Florida and works with Nick Saviano in nearby Sunrise. “But I knew I was more consistent than he was from the baseline.”

Match point pretty much summed up the entire match. Chappell worked his way into position for an overhead, but Sabacinski anticipated it perfectly and hit a precisely placed winner deep in the court past Chappell.

“I was really nervous and neither of us wanted to make a mistake,” said Sabacinski, whose older sister Julie is also playing the Easter Bowl. “I knew I would just have to go for it off that overhead.”

The next match on Center Court also drew a big crowd for a contest between soon-to-be 15-year-old Christina McHale and No. 1 seed Reka Zsilinszka. Zsilinszka, 17, had beaten McHale twice in 2006, the last time by lopsided 6-1, 6-0 score at the Tulsa B1. But McHale made some adjustments in her strategy and walked away with a 6-3, 6-4 victory this time.

“I think I was a lot more patient this time,” said McHale. “Last time when I came to net I was going for too much, so I had to place it a little more, not be overly aggressive.”

McHale often took Zsilinszka’s high looping topspin shots in the air, to keep from being pushed too far back behind the baseline. Zsilinszka, who was bending over and coughing frequently during the match and afterwards admitted to vertigo, occasionally went with more pace, perhaps in an attempt to shorten points, but McHale had no trouble staying with her, and the younger girl’s overhead was flawless all afternoon.

“I was really surprised,” said McHale of the result. “I thought I could do it, but I didn’t know if I would.”

Earlier in the day, No. 2 seed Veronica Li was ousted by Cristala Andrews, and, in one of the matches pushed into the evening, No. 3 seed Missy Clayton, who is recovering from tennis elbow, was beaten by girls 16s Winter Champion Aeriel Ellis 6-3, 2-2 retired.

When I left at 8 p.m., there were still a couple of girls 18s matches being played under the lights. The boys 18s begin play on Tuesday afternoon. For the 18s draws, click here. For the 14s and 16s, click here.

Also, this week's Inside Junior Tennis podcast is now available atThe Tennis Podcast website.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thacher and Jones Earn Titles at International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2007—
Carson CA—

Ryan Thacher overcame not only Rhyne Williams on Sunday morning at the USTA Home Depot Training Center, but also what he called a personal “demon”—the wind.

The 17-year-old left-hander’s 6-1, 6-2 victory over Williams, his 46th straight win, was earned under less than ideal conditions for a tennis match. The cool temperatures didn’t affect play, but the blustery winds definitely had an impact.

“It’s just not conducive to playing your best tennis,” said Thacher, of Studio City, California. “Every game’s going to be tight—the wind’s going to blow one of your balls out, or it’s going to mess with your ball toss on the serve. I’m not a big fan of the wind.”

Thacher, an unseeded wild card, jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead, but Williams, who had overcome a 4-0 second set deficit against Wil Spencer in the semifinals, had opportunities to get back in it on Thacher’s next two serves. But Thacher’s outstanding defensive play denied those chances.

“I felt like I was playing a backboard out there,” said the seventh-seeded Williams, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. “He moves really well for a big guy, and he covers the court with his long arms. I didn’t really get any free points on my serve either. He’s so long, it seems he can reach any ball easily.”

There were no breaks early in the second set, although both players faced break points. Thacher was the first to convert with Williams serving at 2-2, and the 16-year-old right-hander’s frustration was on full display when he bounced a ball well out of the court and received a warning for ball abuse. The following game demoralized Williams even more when Thacher somehow ran down a perfect drop shot and sliding into the ball, flicked a winner. The few dozen incredulous spectators, who had been quiet throughout the match, broke into applause at the preposterous get, and even Thacher was impressed.

“That one was particularly good,” Thacher said. “Usually I run to that ball, I get there and miss. I can definitely move well on the court, and I’ve developed this weird sliding thing that’s helpful, as long as I’m not going to injure myself. The hardest part is to get to balls like that and still put them in play, and I just happened to be doing it today.”

Williams acknowledged another factor leading to Thacher’s domination of the match’s big moments.

“On the key points, he was a little mentally stronger than me,” Williams said. “He was willing to put in one more ball while I was kind of rushing my shots and going for the winner right off the bat, instead of setting up the point like he was doing to me.”

Although 18 months younger than Thacher, Williams' experience in ITF events is actually much greater. Thacher has only played two ITF events—the 2006 International Spring Championships and the 2007 ISC. His third will be next week’s ITF B1, the Easter Bowl, but despite his success in Carson, he’s not raising his expectations.

“It’ll be a great trip, I’ll have fun with it regardless of what happens, and I’ll just go out there and play, and hope for the best.”

Sacha Jones won’t be at the Easter Bowl in Palm Springs, since it is closed to players outside the United States, but the 16-year-old from New Zealand was delighted to have won her second ITF Grade 1 event with her 6-3, 6-1 victory over Mallory Cecil.

“It was a good battle, and it’s so nice to win another Grade 1,” said Jones, whose brother GD plays at the University of Illinois. “I won another one in Asia just over a year ago, but this one is much bigger-- much tougher competition.”

Although she didn’t lose a set during the tournament, Jones, the No. 3 seed, had her share of tough sets. Against the fifth seeded Cecil, she jumped out to a 4-1, two-break lead to start the match, but had to hold on through a marathon game at 5-3 to secure the first set.

“It was really tough conditions to play in,” Jones said. “it’s not easy playing in such windy conditions, and I don’t know that either of us played our best tennis, but it was a good battle.”

Jones managed to keep the depth on her shots despite having to adjust to the gusts, and kept Cecil on her heels throughout most of the contest.

“I was spraying balls, I was playing more defensive and playing not to lose instead of playing to win,” said the 16-year-old Cecil. “I just didn’t close out those big points when I needed to. She and I play very similar, but she was the aggressive one, and I was the one who was put on defense.”

Cecil, of South Carolina, will now head for the Easter Bowl, while Jones is on her way back to New Zealand to play for that country’s Fed Cup team this week, and will also play several major junior events in the coming months.

“I would like to improve my senior ranking (she is #557 WTA now), but I’m also really looking forward to playing these juniors tournaments in Italy and Belgium and France, and take it from there and see what happens.”

For complete draws of the 2007 International Spring Championships, see usta.com.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Thacher and Williams in International Spring Boys Final; Cecil and Jones Meet for Girls Championship

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Carson CA--

Three Americans have reached the finals of the International Spring Championships in singles, and all eight contestants in the doubles championships on Saturday afternoon also reside in the United States. Unseeded wild card Ryan Thacher and No. 7 seed Rhyne Williams earned their first ITF Grade 1 final berths with straight set victories on Saturday, while No. 3 seed Sacha Jones of New Zealand and No. 5 seed Mallory Cecil will contest the girls championship Sunday morning.

The unseeded Thacher, from nearby Studio City, California, defeated top seed Kellen Damico 7-5, 6-1, coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the first set. Damico's previous opponents had attempted to capitalize on his injured left wrist, but the left-handed Thacher took a slightly different tack.

"In the beginning of the match, he had a strategy, trying to protect that side, so it opens up his forehand side," said the 17-year-old Thacher. "It took me a little while to figure it out, but I started playing to his forehand a little bit to open up the backhand, and then once he got on the run on his forehand, it didn't really matter how well I hit it to the backhand side, as long as I could put it there."

Thacher complimented Damico on how well he was moving in the first games of the first set, but that changed once Damico was broken serving at 3-1. The 18-year-old from Colorado received a warning for ball abuse after that game, and Thacher recounted the next Damico code violation during the 11th game of the match.

"He was serving 30-15 5-all and I won the point," said Thacher. "He was upset at the ball he hit and he yelled something. The ref heard it as an obscenity, I heard it as yelling--it could have been an obscenity, it could have not been an obscenity--I really don't know. But that was 30-40. Kellen went up and argued about five minutes, pulled out the head referee. He was really riled up about that and started directing irritation in any direction he could. After that he was still striking the ball all right on his forehand side, but his feet weren't moving the same. I guess he got a little demoralized and his feet stopped moving."

When Damico was broken for the second time in the second set to give Thacher a 4-1 lead, Thacher, playing in only his second ITF junior event, had a clear path to his 45th consecutive victory.

"It's really cool," Thacher said of the prospect of a Grade 1 final. "I was really excited just to be in the tournament. This is the only ITF I've ever played (in 2006 he lost to eventual champion Pavel Chekhov in the round of 16). I hope it will be fun, win or lose."

His opponent, 16-year-old Rhyne Williams, has also reached the final without dropping a set, although when he was down 4-0 in the second set against unseeded Wil Spencer, after taking the first 6-2, he considered the wisdom of letting that set go and concentrating on the third.

"In the back of my mind there was a little doubt whether or not I could come back," Williams said. "I was thinking maybe I'll just throw in the towel on the last couple of games and save up some energy for the third. But I realized his serve isn't huge and he's not jacking winners from the baseline left and right, so if I could hang in there a little longer, maybe I'll start playing better."

When Williams broke to get his first game of the second set, his comeback was underway, although Spencer served for the set at 5-3.

"I knew I was really going to have to grind through this match," said Williams, who has recently begun working and traveling with Andres Pedroso. "I was trying to take away the pace from him, trying to slow it down so he would have to generate his own pace, and I noticed he didn't like that as much. I would kind of bore him to sleep and then unload on a shot."

Williams used that strategy to win the final four games of the match for a 6-2, 7-5 win.

While Spencer and Williams and Thacher and Damico were deciding the boys finalists, No. 3 seed Sacha Jones defeated No. 2 seed Madison Brengle 6-4, 6-1 in a hard-hitting contest that hinged on the outcome of the ninth game of the first set. Serving at 4-4, Jones needed at least twenty minutes and numerous game points to put it in her column, but it was crucial, as Brengle won only one game after that.

"When you lose a game like that you can never feel great," said the 16-year-old from New Zealand. "I think she had two, maybe three game points, but I was happy at the way I played on the deuce points, and I finally converted it when I had my advantage."

"I thought it was a really high quality match," said Jones. "We both played really good tennis. I was just thankful that I could convert those big points. I knew I had to play well to beat her, and I was very, very happy I could do that."

In the second girls semifinal, Mallory Cecil may have played good tennis, but as the 6-1, 6-1 score indicates, her opponent, Zaruhi Harutyunyan of Armenia did not.

"She made a lot of errors," said Cecil of the small but powerful 16-year-old, who is training at the Weil Academy in Ojai. "Overall she's just a big hitter. Everywhere she was she tried to hit something big, so I just tried to keep everything as deep as possible, not allow her to come in and just whack winners."

Jones and Cecil know each other from their days at Bollettieri's (Cecil is still training there), but they haven't met in competition.

"Yeah, we've practiced, but we've never played practice matches or anything, so it will be interesting to see how it goes," said the 16-year-old from South Carolina. "She's a really good player. I'm looking forward to it."

The 18s doubles finals followed the singles matches, and the two singles finalists participating finished at .500 for the day. Williams won his singles semifinal, but he and partner Ryan Lipman, the fourth seeds, dropped a 6-3, 6-1 decision to last year's U.S. Open Junior doubles finalists Jarmere Jenkins and Austin Krajicek, the third seeds.

Brengle, who lost in singles, teamed with Kristy Frilling to take a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 7-6 (4) thriller from the unseeded pairing of McCall Jones and Asia Muhammad. The match, which took nearly three hours to complete, featured more changes in momentum than cars on an LA freeway, but the third seeds used their experience in third set tiebreaks (they won one in Friday's semifinal) to take the title. They won't be repeating at the upcoming Easter Bowl, however, as Brengle is not playing in Palm Springs, and Frilling will pair up with Cecil instead.

For complete draws, visit usta.com.

Sandgren and De Bruycker Win 16s Titles in Carson

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Carson CA--

Tennys Sandgren followed up his win two weeks ago at the ITF Grade 4 in College Station Texas with another impressive performance, defeating No. 10 seed Junior Ore 6-3, 6-3 to take the 16s title at the International Spring Championships. All six of the Gallatin, Tennessee native's victories here were in straight sets, and the 15-year-old has an explanation for his recent surge.

"I'm playing the big points a lot better," said Sandgren, whose older brother Davey plays at the University of Tennessee. "Playing the 30-all and deuce points pretty well. It helps when you don't lose those."

Against Ore, a left-hander from Gaithersburg, Maryland, Sandgren had a strategy going into the contest.

"I tried to hit a lot of high balls crosscourt to his backhand, with my forehand," said the No. 2 seed, hoping to pick on Ore's one-handed backhand. "But he guarded that pretty well. He played tough, it was a tough match. I served really well today--I had a fair amount of aces. I hadn't served well at all this whole tournament, but I picked it up this time. And I returned well too. It took me a set, but I got it."

Zoe De Bruycker, the No. 7 seed in the girls 16s, had dropped only one set in the tournament, and the 15-year-old from Saratoga California continued her fine play in Saturday's final, outsteadying unseeded Gabrielle De Simone of Rancho Santa Fe, California, 6-4, 6-2.

"The first set was tough," said De Bruycker, 15. "We were both playing pretty well. She was playing pretty consistently, so I was trying to do some deep corners, maybe get her off the court with some angles, but it was tough."

The second set was less of a challenge. "After I won that first set I was feeling pretty comfortable," De Bruycker admitted. But the 5-0 lead was suddenly 5-2, when De Simone held and De Bruycker couldn't find the service box in the next game, her first attempt to finish it. Unforced errors by De Simone helped De Bruycker avoid the pressure of serving it out in the match's final game.

The girls doubles championship in the 16s division went to Nicolle Stracar of New York and Monica Yajima of Connecticut. The unseeded pair downed Los Angeles residents Sarah Lee and Sabrina Santamaria, also unseeded, 2-6, 7-5, 7-5.

Ore and partner Raymond Sarmiento, of Fontana, California, the fourth seeds, captured the boys 16 doubles with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 victory over the unseeded team of Brian Fang and Michael Lin, both of Southern California.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Cecil Upsets Zsilinszka; Damico Survives Another Three-setter at International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2007--
Carson, CA--

The winds that were the talk of Southern California on Thursday subsided to a bare whisper for quarterfinal matches in the 18s division, making tennis, not the elements, the prime focus on Friday morning.

No. 5 seed Mallory Cecil knew she had a long day ahead of her, because her opponent, top seed Reka Zsilinszka, can frustrate the impatient with a wide array of moon balls, lobs and defense.

"Last time I played her she killed me like 0 and 1," said the 16-year-old Cecil, who is from South Carolina and trains at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton. "I just wasn't mentally ready to go in there and have the patience I needed. But today, I knew in order to do anything, I was going to have to have that patience."

Those unfamiliar with Zsilinszka's game may have thought that the match would be a short one when Cecil took a 5-0 lead in the first set. But Zsilinszka began to find the range with the high deep offensive lobs she uses to maximum effect and brought it back to 5-3. Cecil found the right combination of offense and consistency to finish off that set, and although she was down a break with Zsilinszka serving at 4-3 in the second, she won the next three games to reach her first Grade 1 semifinal.

In that eighth game, Cecil showed her determination, when after a 30-plus ball rally, she needed to hit three overheads looking into a bright cloudless sky to finally get a winner by Zsilinszka. And on match point, Cecil stayed in a 38-ball rally until she could finally get aggressive with a shot, but she didn't hesitate to pull the trigger when she got the chance, earning a spot against unseeded Armenian Zaruhi Harutyunyan. Harutyunyan, who hasn't dropped a set in the tournament, defeated qualifier Coco Vandeweghe 6-4, 7-6 (2) in a match that featured more power tennis in one game that the Cecil - Zsilinszka match displayed in an entire set.

The other girls semifinal will pit No. 2 seed Madison Brengle against No. 3 seed Sacha Jones of New Zealand. Brengle dismissed unseeded Tara Moore of Great Britain 6-2, 6-2, while Jones had more difficulty before overcoming No. 9 seed Gail Brodsky 7-6 (2), 6-2 in a match that featured a great many arguments with the chair umpire over line calls. Brodsky received a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and was unable to collect herself mentally to challenge Jones in the second set.

In the boys action Friday, Wil Spencer and Ryan Thacher advanced to the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 with straight set victories. Spencer downed Devin Britton 6-3, 6-3, while Thacher took out Jose Hernandez of the Dominican Republic 6-2, 6-4, in quarterfinals that featured no seeded players. No. 7 seed Rhyne Williams bested No. 14 seed Adam El Mihdawy 6-1, 6-1, leaving top seed Kellen Damico and No. 8 seed Austin Krajicek as the final hope for a dramatic three-setter. The match did go three, but Damico raised his game, as he had done on Thursday after dropping the second set, and cruised to a 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-1 victory.

Damico, who injured his left wrist months ago, is hitting a one-handed backhand to protect it, and his opponents have been testing that shot, hoping to capitalize.

"Austin did a good job of pressuring my backhand and getting to the net," said Damico, who was a finalist at the International Spring Championships last year. "Good thing my lob was working today, because it got me out of a couple of tight spots."

Damico's serve is unaffected by the injury and his forehand, always his put-away shot, is as lethal as ever, so he has emphasized those strengths, and his volleying ability, to survive.

"I'm not going to win this tournament because I'm playing better than everyone else," said Damico. "I'm going to win it because I'm fighting harder and doing everything I possibly, humanly can to win. Also, experience helps a lot."

Against Thacher, Damico will face his second lefty in as many days, but he has no experience playing the Southern Californian, except in practice sets. Spencer and Williams will reprise their classic 7-6(5), 6-7(2), 6-3 battle (won by Spencer) in the round of 16 in Kalamazoo last year.

Williams has reached the doubles finals, teaming with fellow Tennesseean Ryan Lipman. The No. 4 seeds defeated unseeded Chase Buchanan and Bradley Klahn 6-4, 6-4 Friday afternoon. Krajicek and his partner Jarmere Jenkins, the third seeds, saved four match points at 2-5 in the third, winning the next five games from unseeded Devin Britton and Bradley Cox to take a 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 victory.

The girls doubles will feature Brengle and her partner Kristy Frilling, the No. 3 seeds, against unseeded McCall Jones and Asia Muhammad. Brengle and Frilling scraped by No. 5 seeds Brodsky and Tanya Raykova 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (2). Jones and Muhammad overcame another unseeded team, Nicole Bartnik and Carling Seguso, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

The 16s finals in both singles and doubles will be played on Saturday, along with the 18s doubles.

In the girls division, unseeded Gabrielle DeSimone will face No. 7 seed Zoe DeBruycker. DeSimone eliminated top seed Noel Scott 6-4, 7-6 (6), whle DeBruycker came back to oust No. 8 seed Tayler Davis 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

The girls 16s doubles will be decided between the unseeded teams of Nicolle Stracar and Monica Yajima, and Sarah Lee and Sabrina Santamaria.

No. 2 seed Tennys Sandgren and No. 10 seed Junior Ore will vie for the boys 16s singles title. Sandgren defeated unseeded Matt Spindler 6-3, 6-3 on Friday and Ore squeezed past John Huang, the No. 13 seed, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3). In the boys 16s doubles, Ore and partner Raymond Sarmiento, seeded fourth, take on unseeded Brian Fang and Michael Lin.

For complete draws, see usta.com.