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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.