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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Big Ten Recap; Easter Bowl Slideshow; Isner Wins French Wild Card, Women's Semis Friday

My story on Sunday's Big Ten Men's Championship match is now available at the Tennis Recruiting Network. I haven't publicly thanked them recently for providing me with an outlet for my work, and one that allows me to offset the expenses of my travel to tournaments, but I do appreciate it. Please consider signing up for a Recruiting Advantage account if you don't already have one, to get the best the site has to offer.

It took longer than I would have liked, but the Easter Bowl slideshow and short YouTube videos are now complete. In addition to the Evan King video below, there are 11 others of Easter Bowl finalists at the TennisKalamazoo channel.

John Isner won the French Open wild card tournament today, beating Jesse Levine 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-4, according to this Sun-Sentinel story that went up only hours after the completion of the match. Sloane Stephens, who is quoted in this story after her win over Gail Brodsky, will play Nicole Gibbs on Friday. This will be something of a dilemma for the Junior Fed Cup qualifying that starts tommorrow--Gibbs was expected to play No. 1 singles on a team that includes Lauren Herring and Ester Goldfeld. I haven't seen the draw yet, but the rosters for all four events can be found at the bottom of this story at usta.com.

I'll update via Twitter (look left) when I get the results of the other two quarterfinal matches between Stacey Tan and Kristie Ahn and CoCo Vandeweghe and Lauren Embree.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Individual NCAA Selections Announced; Snubs of Ole Miss and Baylor Continue to Chafe

The individual selections are out for the NCAA Division I championships, and they are not likely to stir up a teaspoon of the controversy that the regional site selections did yesterday, when the No. 2 Ole Miss and No. 6 Baylor men, and the No. 16 Fresno State women, were sent on the road. (Lots more on that in a moment).

The men's committee went straight down Tuesday's ITA ranking list for singles, and for seeding. It appears that Florida State's Clint Bowles, at No. 58, was the last at-large selection.

In doubles, there were a few changes from the recent rankings: LSU's Michael Venus and Neal Skupski were dropped to No. 3 from No. 2, with Davey Sandgren and JP Smith of Tennessee going from 3 to 2, and USC's Robert Farah and Steve Johnson were moved down a spot, to a 5-8 seeding, while Georgia's Jamie Hunt and Nate Schnugg were moved up to 4.

The women's committee did a lot more juggling of the singles rankings. They moved Miami's Julia Cohen up to 2 from 3, based on a head-to-head win over Aurelija Miseviciute of Arkansas last month, and moved Georgia's Chelsey Gullickson from 9 to 8, switching her with Florida's Marrit Boonstra, whom Gullickson beat in the SEC conference tournament last week. I can't find any head-to-head for Duke's Mallory Cecil and Auburn's Fani Chifchieva, but Cecil moved up a spot to 5 and Chiefchieva down to 6. Since that is in the 5-8 seeding, I'm not sure why they bothered with that one.

The women's doubles seeding followed the rankings. Like the men, it appears that the last at-large spot went to the No. 58th ranked player. Arizona freshman Natasha Marks, who reached the Pac-10 final Sunday, will be playing in the individual championships in College Station. (I'll have more on the Ojai results tomorrow or Friday.)

For the complete list of participants, see the championship site at Aggieathletics.com.

Now for the controversy. Ole Miss nation has had plenty to say about the decision to send the Rebels to Baton Rouge, and it's not just the school and its fans. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger had this article about it. And in the ultimate sign that the snub has reached national news consciousness, the sports blog Deadspin has made fun of it. (Yes, some people are really passionate about college tennis.) Deadspin has a link to the Red Cup Rebellion blog's take on the issue.

The Waco Tribune-Herald has this story, which spells out just what caused the Bears to be shipped to Tulsa.

"Essentially, what (the NCAA does) is look at a 400-mile radius,” Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said. “That’s the bus limit. Beyond that, you fly teams. After they put together the initial bracket, they put together a computer model to minimize the number of flights. What happened in this case is that UMKC, the only location they could get to without flying was Tulsa. That resulted in us having to go to Tulsa for the first and second round.”
It turns out that Baylor will have 352 miles to travel itself, while University of Missouri-Kansas City, an unranked 49-64 seed, will drive 244 miles to Tulsa. Is the NCAA so truly out of touch that they have a program like UMKC's sitting in the front of the bus, so to speak?

I'm pretty good at geography, and I thought I'd check on another possible site, aside from the rejected Waco, that UMKC could drive to. Yep, it turns out that Illinois comes in just under the 400-mile limit. I know there are many complex factors that need to go into this, it's not as simple as saying send UMKC to Illinois, but I believe the NCAA tennis committee could have found a dozen other solutions that were more palatable to everyone. Why they didn't remains a mystery to me.

And here's the Fresno Bee's article on the 13-hour flights with two layovers that the No. 16 seeded Fresno State women's team is facing to get to Champaign for their regional.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NCAA Division I Bracket Talk

Obviously the big controversy from today's NCAA Division I tennis selections is that both No. 2 Ole Miss and No. 6 Baylor were not chosen to host Regional competition, which is traditionally played at the Top 16 seeds' home courts. To a lesser extent, Fresno State, the No. 16 seeded women's team, was also spurned, while Illinois, a 33-48 seed, was given a Regional.

The ESPNews selection show, which featured phone-in analysis from Mal Washington, made reference to "geographic distribution," but I can't find any reference to that on the NCAA site. I'm hoping to talk to someone who understands this process better than I do, but I am frankly stunned by what's been allowed to happen in the men's regional locations. Does anyone with a longer history of college tennis than I possess remember this happening before?

I'll be going through the draws for other items of interest, but please post your NCAA draw comments below.

Here's the reaction of Baylor head coach Matt Knoll, and here's what Ole Miss head coach Billy Chadwick and freshman Devin Britton have to say about it.

Fresno State's reaction to their upcoming trip to Illinois is here.

The men's bracket is here; the women's bracket is here.

Results from French Wild Card Tournament; Jenkins, Uriguen to Virginia

I'm getting ready for the NCAA Division 1 Selection Show in less than 30 minutes, and I'll have a post about that later this evening, but I wanted to pass along the results of today's French Open wild card tournament in Boca. Isner beat Pasha 2 & 0. Jenkins beat McClune 3-6, 6-0, 6-0. Young beat Williams 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 and Levine beat King 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.

The men's draw can be found here. The women's draw is here. (Sorry it's so small, but I couldn't find a link.) The first three matches of the women's tournament are Wednesday.

For those of you who missed the comment earlier today, the University of Virginia announced that Jarmere Jenkins, Julien Uriguen and Dino Dell’Orto had signed with Cavaliers. The press release can be found here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Coaches Q and A: What are some strategies for playing in the wind?

Spring is the season known for its wind, and that element can cause major difficulties on the tennis court. In this month's installment of Coaches Q and A, we ask Andy Brandi of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for some tips on playing in blustery conditions. Andy's advice:

Don’t we all hate to play tennis in the wind? It can be challenging; it can be frustrating; it can actually be a lot of fun!

Here are a few simple and effective guidelines to use when playing in the wind:

Most of the time, we act like the wind is only affecting our side of the court. Prepare for the reality that it is going to be ugly tennis and that it will be that way for both players. The one who mentally deals with it the best will be the most effective player, and the most effective player is going to win.

Concentrate on good footwork. You need to take small steps in order to adjust, to be in the right position. You must move your feet to the bounce. If you wait for the ball, it might never get to you.

Large safety margins are imperative. Do not hit the ball close to the lines. Start points up the middle and let the wind shift the ball for you.

Spin is the best way to control the ball and keep it in the court. Use topspin on your groundstrokes. Use a spin serve.

Before every point, check which way the wind is blowing and then plan your strategy. If you are with the wind, use lots of spin and maybe some high heavy groundstrokes to force your opponent farther back and allow you to come forward into the court. Against the wind, you will need to flatten your strokes out and maybe use some drop shots or angles.

One thing you must realize is that it is easier to hit groundstrokes than volleys in windy weather. When at net, the wind can force the ball into your body. It also will affect whether you can run around your backhand at the baseline.

Finally, have a sense of humor. The ball is going to do a lot of crazy things. The best advice is to play with the wind as your friend and not your enemy. It will make you a successful windy day player. Good luck!

Do you have a question for Andy or Harold? If so, please send it to clewis[at]zootennis[dot]com with the phrase Coaches Q and A in the subject line.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ohio State Beats Illinois 4-1 for Fourth Consecutive Men's Big Ten Title

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Ann Arbor, MI--

The sixth straight meeting of Illinois and Ohio State for the Big Ten conference title ended as the past three had, with the Buckeyes holding the trophy.

I'll have a more formal recap for the Tennis Recruiting Network on Thursday, but I'll pass along a few observations from today's match, which dodged the bad weather that arrived less than an hour after it finished.

The doubles point didn't disappoint in what was expected to be a close contest, with Ohio State looking a bit shaky yesterday against Michigan, and Illinois playing exceptionally well against Indiana.

Ohio State was up big and early at No. 3, where Bryan Koniecko and Shuhei Uzawa had a 6-1 lead on Illinois's Roy Kalmanovich and Meedo El Tabakh. Illinois was up at No. 1 and No. 2, with Dennis Nevolo and Ruan Roelofse up a break over Justin Kronauge and Steven Moneke, and Marek Czerwinski and Marc Spicijaric up two breaks on Ohio State's Matt Allare and Chase Buchanan. There were twists and turns however, with Allare and Buchanan getting one break back to make it 7-6, and Nevolo losing his serve at 5-4, and Ohio State eventually taking a 6-5 lead. But at 6-6, Kronauge was broken and Czerwinski held at No. 2 to give Illinois the tie, moments after Koneicko and Uzawa had put Ohio State in the lead with an 8-4 win at No. 3. Now it was up to freshman Nevolo to serve out the match and give Illinois a lead going into singles. After a tense 30-30 start to the game, Roelofse took control of the final two points at the net, and Illinois had what would turn out to be its only lead of the day.

Ohio State Ty Tucker was effusive in his praise of Nevolo's doubles play after the match, calling him one of the best five doubles players in the country, while freely admitting that his team doesn't play great doubles. But the Illini couldn't sustain any of the momentum they had amassed when the singles began.

It certainly doesn't hurt the Buckeyes chances when one of the country's top recruits, Chase Buchanan, who joined the team last month, is filling their six slot. As he had done against Michigan on Saturday, Buchanan got an early point for the Buckeyes, , evening the match at 1-1 with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Brian Livingston. As the first set losses began to mount, Illinois must have recognized the feeling Indiana had on Saturday, when the Hoosiers were down early and often on nearly every court. Livingston and Abe Sousza at No. 5 had been outstanding for Illinois against Indiana, but not against Ohio State. Once all six first sets had been won by Buckeyes, it was then just a guessing game as to who would clinch and when. Kronauge gave Ohio State its second point by downing Kalmanovich 6-3, 6-2 at No. 2, and Koniecko put them on the brink with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Spicijaric at No. 1. When Souza was broken at 4-4 in the second set against Balazs Novak, the Buckeyes no longer on court and those who traveled with the team but didn't play, congregated courtside. It wasn't a long wait, with Novak holding at love to deliver the fourth point and the fourth conference title for the Buckeyes, who completed a perfect Big Ten season for the fourth year in a row.

As the staff distributed the hats and T-shirts proclaiming the Buckeyes Big Ten Champions, there was excitement and happiness, with the freshman and sophomores displaying the biggest smiles. For the seniors and Tucker, one of the emotions was certainly relief, but even with the NCAAs looming, Ohio State was going to take the time to enjoy it.

"Are you kidding me?" Tucker said, when I asked him if it gets old. "No, it's unbelievable. Sometimes the faces change, but they're all Buckeyes and they work hard, they fight hard."

For complete scores, see the Ohio State website.

Tucker still has a ways to go to approach the record that Claire Pollard is posting at Northwestern. Her women have now won 11 straight conference titles with a 4-0 victory over Michigan today in Wisconsin. For details, see the Northwestern website.

In the SEC, the Ole Miss men and Georgia women have earned conference titles. And in the Big 12, Baylor prevails in both men's and women's conference tournaments.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ohio State and Illinois for Men's Big Ten Title; SEC, Big 12 Finals Also Set

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Ann Arbor, MI--

There are a few things you probably shouldn't bet against: Nadal on clay, spring rain in Michigan and Ohio State and Illinois playing for the Big Ten men's tennis title. For the sixth straight year, the Fighting Illini and the Buckeyes will meet to decide the conference championship. Illinois won in 2004 and 2005, but Ohio State has won the past three years.

Second-seeded Illinois cruised into the final by crushing No. 6 seed Indiana 5-0 in the afternoon's second match, which was moved indoors when a thunderstorm line approached right around the 2 p.m. start time.

The only resistance the Hoosiers provided was in doubles, when their No. 3 team briefly tied it at 1-1, after Illinois's top team had taken the first match, but the No. 2 Illinois team secured the point, and things got worse for Indiana after that.

In the singles, Illinois won the first set in five of the six singles matches, and most of the those were by morale-sapping scores of 6-1 or 6-2. Only sophomore Lachlan Ferguson at No. 1 gave the Hoosiers any hope, taking the first set from Marc Spicijaric, but the Orange Wave engulfed him, too, and by the time Marek Czerwinski and Dennis Nevolo had finished off their opponents at Nos. 3 & 4 at the exact same moment, Ferguson had lost the second set to Spicijaric. The other two wins for the Illini came from Abe Souza at No. 5 and Brian Livingston at No. 6. For complete scores, see the Illinois website.

The Michigan - Ohio State match this morning was more interesting; the increasingly blustery winds forced all the players to make major adjustments. It didn't make for high quality tennis, but there were still plenty of amazing shots struck, with the degree of difficulty much greater given the conditions.

The doubles got interesting, when at 1-1, with Michigan winning at No. 2 and Ohio State at No. 3, Ohio State's No. 1 team came close to losing its two-break lead. But despite having three or four opportunities to get back on serve at 7-6, Jason Jung and George Navas couldn't convert any of those chances and Justin Kronauge and Steven Moneke put the point in Ohio State's column by an 8-6 score.

It didn't look like the doubles point would matter much when the Buckeyes took five of six first sets against the Wolverines. Steven Moneke at No. 3 and Chase Buchanan at No. 6 made it 3-0 Buckeyes, but George Navas got Michigan on the board with a straight set win at No. 5. Around that time, Jason Jung had earned a split with Bryan Koniecko at No. 1, while Chris Madden and Andrew Mazlin had already won second sets to keep the match going. All three Michigan men got down early in the third though, and although Mazlin got back on serve, Madden couldn't, and ultimately the dual ended when the sophomore lost to Matt Allare at No. 4 6-3, 1-6, 6-2.

For complete scores, see the Ohio State site.

If Illinois and Ohio State both play like they did Saturday, it could be another exciting chapter in their deep and bitter rivalry. And though there is no advantage to either team, given that both play indoors more than outdoors, there is rain in the forecast for Sunday.

In the women's Big Ten tournament, being played in Madison, it will be Northwestern going for its 11th straight conference title vs. Michigan. For more on that, see the Northwestern website.

The SEC conference championships will be decided on Sunday, with Ole Miss facing Tennessee for the men's title, and Georgia taking on Tennessee for the women's championship. For more on the semifinals today, see secsports.com, clicking here for the men and here for the women.

The Big 12 will be Baylor vs. Texas for both the men's and women's titles. See the Big 12 website for more.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Girls 18s Nats Move to San Diego in 2010; Blogs from Europe; Brugues Profile

The big news out of the USTA Junior Competition meeting in Dallas last weekend is that the Girls 18s USTA National Championships have been awarded to San Diego's Barnes Tennis Center, the site of the girls 16s championship, beginning in 2010. The Girls 18s National Team Championships were awarded to Claremont Tennis Club, in suburban Los Angeles.

The Fed Cup semifinal tie between the U.S. and the Czech Republic begins tomorrow in Brno, and there are blogs galore emanating from it. Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens, the junior hitting partners, are writing a joint diary for usta.com. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez is also giving us her perspective in the Captain's blog. And over at the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour site, doubles specialist Liezel Huber is providing a much more detailed perspective. USC's 2008 NCAA doubles champion Kaes Van't Hof is helping the women prepare for the Czech encounter as a hitting partner, and will stay in Europe after the Fed Cup to play Challengers.

In addition to their diary, Stephens and McHale talk about their experience in this Q&A with Erin Bruehl at usta.com.

And Grace Min is providing a very funny and lively blog from Spain, where she, Chanelle Van Nguyen and Breaunna Addison are training, accompanied by National Coach Lori McNeil.

The country's top-ranked college player, Arnau Brugues of Tulsa, is the subject of this feature in today's Tulsa World. An MBA isn't a bad thing to have as you step out into the grind of minor league professional tennis, is it?

I'll be commuting to the Big Ten men's championships Saturday and Sunday in Ann Arbor, so look for a late post Saturday evening. To follow the live scoring, visit mgoblue.com.

If the Pac-10 individual championships are of interest to you, Ken Thomas of radiotennis.com will be internet streaming his commentary Saturday and Sunday from Ojai. It's free, and you need only do a simple registration to access the webcast.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Easter Bowl Wrap; Carson Slide Show, YouTube Videos

My weekly post for The Tennis Recruiting Network rounds up all the winners from last week's Easter Bowl. Many of the participants there were under the impression that the tournament might not be in the Palm Springs area in 2010; tournament director Bryan Hamilton Fineberg assured me there is a contract in place with Rancho Las Palmas to host the tournament next year.

I'm a tournament behind in my slideshows and videos, but I did finish processing the International Spring Championship visuals today. Below is the slide show and below that, short videos of the 18s champions Sloane Stephens and Mitchell Frank. There are additional videos of the six other players who reached the finals available at the TennisKalamazoo channel on YouTube.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

US Players Selected for ITF World Jr. Competition; Dates and Location of French Open Wild Card Tournament; Stephens Profile

Boca Raton, Florida will be busy in the next two weeks, hosting the North American qualifying for the ITF's World Junior and Junior Fed and Davis Cups, and the French Open main draw tournaments for men and women.

The junior competition, which has taken place in Mexico and Canada the past several years, will be at the USTA's National Training Center site at the Evert Academy, May 1-3. The boys 14s representing the U.S. in this qualifying are Joe Di Giulio, Nikko Madregallejo and Mackenzie McDonald. The girls 14s team is made up of Brooke Austin, Vicky Duval and Jamie Loeb.

The Junior Fed Cup squad team for this competition is Nicole Gibbs, Ester Goldfeld and Lauren Herring. The Junior Davis Cup trio is Jeremy Efferding, Dennis Mkrtchian and Shane Vinsant.

For the complete USTA release, click here.

The wild card tournament to decide the main draw berth in the upcoming French Open begins next Tuesday with eight men vying for the spot. The women's event, which will NOT be a round robin format, but rather single elimination and a 16-player draw, will be played from April 29 through May 2. The competition will be held at the Boca West Country Club.

As soon as I am notified of the participants, I will pass that information along. Juniors I spoke to in California who said they were planning to play the women's event were Kristie Ahn, Lauren Embree, Christina McHale, Nicole Gibbs and Sloane Stephens.

Stephens was recently featured on Yahoo's Rivals website. Click here for the story.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Virginia and Northwestern Retain Top Spots in Campbell/ITA Rankings; Helgeson in College Spotlight; Experts Lucero and Frost

I've been out of the college tennis loop for a couple of weeks, but that will soon be the focus of ZooTennis with the NCAA championships beginning in less than a month.

The selection show for Division I is set for next Tuesday, April 28th on ESPN News, although I can't find the exact time. The men's and women's Division I team championships will be available live via ESPNU and on tape delay on ESPN2 in a 90 minute edited version the next two days.

For all the details on this year's championships, download the participants manual from aggieathletics.com.

The Virginia men and Northwestern women retain their top spots in today's Campbell/ITA rankings, and texascollegetennis.com agrees, but only on that top spot and 6,7,& 8 in the women's top ten, and only the top spot in the men's top ten. For more interesting reading on college tennis rankings, see that same site's post entitled "Outliers: The Winners".

Brett Helgeson, a senior at Notre Dame, is the subject of this week's College Spotlight at usta.com.

And while I was busy with junior tennis, Marc Lucero and Marcia Frost were keeping tabs on all the important matches in college tennis; Marc at his blog, and Marcia at Examiner.com.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Duke Wins ACC Title in Thriller; Julia Cohen Feature

Today is a travel day for us, and after two weeks of daily tournament reporting, I'll just be posting a few items here and there. I'll be working on the slide shows from the ISC and Easter Bowl, as well as an Easter Bowl wrap for Tennis Recruiting Network, along with a few other assignments this week, before heading to the Big Ten men's championships in Ann Arbor this weekend.

With Ohio State the overwhelming favorite, I doubt there will be a final as remotely exciting as the women's ACC championship yesterday, where Duke won the title over Miami 4-3, with Reka Zsilinszka saving five match points in the decider at No. 3 singles in a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) win over Bianca Eichkorn. Zsilinszka was on the opposite side of a similar scenario last year against Clemson, as noted in this story from the Duke website.

The Raleigh News & Observer had this story about the Duke win and about Virginia's 4-0 victory over Wake Forest for the men's title.

Mallory Cecil contributed to Duke's win over Miami, scoring an impressive 6-4, 6-1 victory over No. 4 ranked Julia Cohen at No. 1 singles. Last week, Cohen was featured in this Miami Herald article about the Hurricane sophomore and her accomplished tennis family.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

King Wins Second Easter Bowl Crown; Price and Vinsant Claim 16s Championships

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

When Evan King and Tennys Sandgren met last week in an International Spring Championships semifinal it was, like most of their meetings, a long, tough match, when which to King in three sets. More of the same was expected in today's Easter Bowl final, but this time, the fourth-seeded King dominated, taking his second Easter Bowl singles title 6-2. 6-2.

The temperature at the Rancho Mirage Resort and Spa was over 100 degrees when the two took the court at midday, but Sandgren wasn't about to blame the conditions for his loss.

"It wasn't that hot really," the 17-year-old Sandgren said. "It's not humid here, so it doesn't feel very hot. Evan played very well. He served well--he made a few unforced errors, because our points were short and I wasn't giving him a lot of rhythm, just missing a lot. "

King earned his first break in the third game, hitting a backhand winner on the fourth break point. The first set was decided when King broke Sandgren for the second time at 4-2, when Sandgren double faulted at 30-40. King held at love, and in the first game of the second set, a struggling Sandgren once again double faulted on break point.

With Sandgren was broken yet again, to give King a 3-0 lead in the second set, the match's outcome seemed a formality, but Sandgren showed some signs of life when he broke King to make it 3-1. He was immediately broken again however and King was not challenged on his serve in the final three games of the match, closing out his first championship point with a blazing backhand winner.

King's reputation as an adroit defender was certainly upheld, and even Sandgren's laser-like forehand wasn't able to blast him off the court.

"I hit some really strong balls, and he would just take them early and hit them back really deep," said Sandgren, 17. "He played well and served well."

King was pleased with the way his first shot set up the points.

"When I made a lot of first serves, I got shorter replies," the 2006 Easter Bowl 14s champion said. "Whereas with second serves the points were grindy, long. Tennys is really good at taking advantage of weaker replies. I've been serving well all week. I've barely gotten broken all week, and I think it was definitely a factor in my win today."

After a trip to Brazil last month, and the two major ITF tournaments the past two weeks, both King and Sandgren are ready for a break before heading off for the European ITF Junior clay events, including Roland Garros.

"I'm at least going to take a week off, at least," said Sandgren, who will return home to Gallatin, Tennessee. "I don't want to injure myself, and I'm close right now to injuring something badly."

King, who is from Chicago, but is currently at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla., will take some time off, but he is hoping to duplicate the feat of 2008 Easter Bowl boys 18 champion Chase Buchanan, who won a Futures tournament shortly after his win last year in Rancho Mirage.

"I'll probably take a week off, rest, my groin's been bothering me a little, but I'm playing in the qualifying of two Futures in Florida," King said. "I'm going to try to do what Chase did, but I don't even have a (ATP) point, so I want to get an ATP point."

The boys 18s doubles championship went the No. 3 seeded team of Denis Kudla and JT Sundling, when the pair defeated unseeded Fred Saba and Jack Sock 6-3, 6-7(2), 10-8 in the tiebreaker. It was balm for the wounds of early exits in the singles, as Kudla, the top seed, lost in the first round to Raymond Sarmiento, and Sundling, seeded 12th, fell in the second round to Lawrence Formentera.

"I'm very happy especially after the disappointing first round loss in singles," Kudla said. "At least I got something."

"It feels good to go out strong," said Sundling, the 2005 14s Easter Bowl champion, who is in his final year of eligibility. "I wasn't feeling too good after my singles, but to win the doubles feels good."

The girls 16s singles welcomed a new junior star to the national stage, with No. 5 seed Caroline Price taking her first gold singles ball with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win over her doubles partner, No. 2 seed Whitney Kay.

Price, 16, is the daughter of former NBA All-star Mark Price, who was unable to attend the final because he is working with the Atlanta Hawks as they begin the playoffs.

The 5-foot-11-inch left-hander showed off an impressive serve and the ability to punish any short ball, but she knew better than to relax when she won the first set.

"Whitney's a great player," Price said. "I actually played her last week in a long three-set match, and I knew I couldn't let down, she's such a good player. But I was so nervous, I just had to calm myself down, breathe, walk back to the fence when I missed a couple."

Kay, who had twice come back from a set down this week, took control of the second set, breaking Price three times, the final time when Price was serving at 4-5. Kay knew she had an advantage when she could keep Price from playing first strike tennis, and the 15-year-old from Alpharetta, Ga. did just that in the set, extending the points and outlasting Price off the ground.

"I was trying to hit to her backhand mostly, because she has a pretty strong forehand, and stay in the points longer," said Kay, who lost that recent meeting, also in three sets. "She's got a big serve."

In the third set, Price got a two consecutive breaks to take a 5-2 lead, but some of her nerves and inexperience were revealed when she was broken serving for the match, throwing in two double faults, and never reaching match point.

But with the luxury of that second break, Price could hit out when Kay served at 3-5, and actually managed to hit a backhand winner with a broken string to make it 15-30. The girls exchanged forehand errors, giving Price her first match point, but again her forehand floated long. It was then that Kay's serve that let her down, with a double fault leading to match point number two. This time Price found the range with her forehand, hitting the far sideline with a clean winner to earn the Easter Bowl championship.

"This was my last 16s tournament," said Price, who turned 16 last month. "So I was just going to come out and see how I would finish it off. I was so surprised, I didn't expect it at all. I just came out to have fun."

Price collected her second gold ball of the day when she and Kay teamed for the girls 16s doubles title. The top seeds outlasted No. 3 seeds Lorraine Guillermo and Desirae Krawczyk 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to bring their set count for the day to six.

In the boys 16s singles, the third time was a charm for top seed Shane Vinsant of Keller, Texas, who had lost in a singles final the previous two weekends. At the College Station ITF Grade 4 two weeks ago, Vinsant lost to Jeremy Efferding in the final; at last week's International Spring Championships, he lost to Dennis Mkrtchian in the championship match. This week at the Easter Bowl, however, he avenged his losses to Efferding and Mkrtchian in the semifinals and quarterfinals respectively, and on Sunday rolled past No. 2 seed Marcos Giron 6-3, 6-0.

"I played pretty well today," said Vinsant, who rated his performance as an 8 or 9 on a scale of 10. "It was good quality. I don't think Marcus played as well as he normally does."

Giron held his own against Vinsant until 3-3 in the first set, but he didn't hold serve after that.

"He was keeping the balls deep and not letting me attack," said Giron, who lives in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "He was being more consistent than me and sometimes I probably went for shots I shouldn't have gone for."

Vinsant, 15, who lost only one set in his seven matches this week, was making up for his absence from the Easter Bowl last year, when he mistakenly failed to enter, and then spent several fruitless days onsite, hoping to get in as an alternate.

"It feels great," Vinsant said of his first Easter Bowl title. "I've got to keep working, but it feels good."

The sportsmanship awards were given to:
Spencer Papa, boys 14s
Spencer Liang, girls 14s
Jeremy Efferding, boys 16s

For complete results of the 18s, click here.

For the draws and results of the 14s and 16s, including consolation and third and fourth place matches, see the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage of the Easter Bowl, see easterbowl.com.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

McHale Defeats Embree for Easter Bowl Title; Austin and McDonald Win 14s Titles; Sandgren to Face King for Boys 18s Title Sunday


©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

The Easter Bowl is famous for its beautiful backdrop, its wind and its heat. In Saturday's finals in both 14s divisions and in the girls 18s, the breeze was absent, making the 97 degree temperatures feel even hotter.

Ironically it was three players from more northerly climates that took the trophies, with Brooke Austin of Indianapolis, Mackenzie McDonald of the San Francisco Bay area and Christina McHale of New Jersey who withstood the challenges of their opponents and the relentless desert sun.

The fourth-seeded McHale, 16, came out nearly as hot as the temperature, reeling off nine straight games against top seed Lauren Embree, who was a finalist in 2008. McHale's first serve was definitely a huge advantage for her, and even when Embree did manage to get one back, or get a look at a second serve, the 18-year-old from Florida had trouble staying in the points.

"She obviously played very well," Embree, the 2005 14s Easter Bowl champion, said. "She controlled the points from the beginning. If she got her first serve in, I couldn't do much. It was tough."

McHale was intent on starting strong.

"Everything seemed to come together in this match," McHale said. "I knew I had to be aggressive, because if not, she can dictate too. She has good volleys and gets a lot back, so I knew I had to be the one to get off to a good start. Everything just seemed to be working, so I just wanted to stick with that."

Embree won her first game down 3-0 in the second set, but she couldn't challenge McHale on her serve, so a comeback wasn't possible, and McHale, a five-time participant at the Easter Bowl, closed out her first title, 6-0, 6-3.

"I always look forward to this tournament," McHale said. "Everyone's here, all the age groups, all my friends I haven't seen in a while. It's definitely one of my favorite tournaments."

McHale gets on a plane again Monday, heading nine time zones east for the Fed Cup tie in the Czech Republic, where she will serve as a practice partner next week.

When she returns, she and Embree will be part of a large group of women participating in the USTA Boca Raton tournament that will decide the French Open main draw wild card.

In the girls 14s final, the second-seeded Austin, who won the 12s clay and hard court titles last year, added another "major" to her collection, taking a hard-fought 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory from top seed Julia Elbaba of New York.

Austin, who takes the ball early and hits it flat, hard and deep, broke Elbaba three times in the opening set, but fell behind 3-0 and two breaks in the second set. A point away from being down 4-0, Austin came back to close the gap to 3-4, but Elbaba attacked her second serve effectively and evened the match on a blistering return winner.

"I stayed in the point longer," the 14-year-old Elbaba said of her performance in the second set. "I tried to run down every single ball and wait for her to miss, instead of going for huge shots, although I did go for my shots when opportunities were given."

In the third set, Austin, 13, got up 2-0, but missed several of the swinging volleys that had finished points for her early in the set and lost her lead. She immediately got it right back however, and although she couldn't close out the match serving at 5-2, she broke Elbaba again to claim the title.

Austin, who energetically jogs back to her chair at every changeover, said she got too anxious and too much in a hurry to finish points in the second set. Her mindset changed at the beginning of the third.

"I realized that if I didn't stay calm, I wasn't going to do well," Austin said. "I wasn't going to be able to hit the ball in. In the second set, I was trying to hit a winner off the first ball and it didn't go in."

Elbaba acknowledged that Austin robbed her of her usual timing.

"Every ball I hit, she took on the rise, giving me very little recovery time. So I tried to mix up the pace, hit some high topspin, but she was playing good, moving well."

Austin was delighted to have won the Easter Bowl title, and hopes it is one of many.

"I love it here," she said, pleased with playing in front of an appreciative crowd. "I want to come back."

In the boys 14s final, No. 3 seed Mackenzie McDonald defeated his doubles partner Nikko Madregallejo 6-4, 6-2, a victory he hopes is just the start of a tennis career that will one day lead to being the "best tennis player who ever lived."

McDonald, who turned 14 two days ago, took a 5-1 lead in the opening set, but was unable to serve it out at 5-1 or 5-3. Madregallejo, who had finally begun to stay in the points after a series of unforced errors put him behind, couldn't pull even however, and McDonald broke him to take the set.

"Today it was just who made more balls, who had the most energy," McDonald said. "At this stage of the tournament, you've got to have a lot of energy to win this match, and today I had it, and I pulled it out."

In the second set, McDonald again got an early lead, and this time he was able to hold on to it and again break Madregallejo, a 14-year-old from the Los Angeles area, to take the match.

"It's always tough to play Mackie, we know each other's games so well," Madregallejo said. "Mackie just played really well, he's a good player. He was the better player today."

Although it was McDonald who took home the gold ball in singles, he helped his friend Madregallejo get one in doubles as the top-seeded pair defeated Floridians Roy Lederman and Ryan Smith, seeded ninth, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in the Saturday afternoon 14s doubles final.

And Elbaba also earned a gold ball to go with her silver one, when she and partner Alyssa Smith of California, the top seeds, won the girls 14s doubles, defeating Spencer Liang and Jamie Loeb, the No. 2 seeds, 6-4, 6-4. It was the first tournament Elbaba and Smith had played together.

"We'd played against each other before, but never together. I think we'll do it again," said Elbaba with a laugh.

Embree and Mallory Burdette, the top seeds in the girls 18s, won the doubles title via walkover, with travel considerations leading to No. 2 seeds Kristie Ahn and Monica Puig being unable to play the late afternoon match.

The other doubles final to be decided on Saturday was in the boys 16s division, with the unseeded team of Eric Johnson and Calvin Mark of California defeating No. 4 seeds Jeremy Efferding and Bjorn Fratangelo of Florida 6-1, 7-6(2).

The girls 16s finals, to be played on Sunday, will feature what is getting to be a theme of this year's Easter Bowl, doubles partners playing each other. No. 5 seed Caroline Price and No. 2 seed Whitney Kay, Atlanta area residents who will play in the doubles final Sunday, will first decide the singles title, much as McDonald and Madregallejo did on Saturday. Kay took out No. 4 seed Guiliana Olmos 6-4, 7-5 in one semifinal, and Price, the daughter of former NBA star Mark Price, cruised past No. 7 Kristen Dodge 6-3, 6-1.

In the boys 16s final, it will be No. 1 versus No. 2, as top seed Shane Vinsant of Texas meets No. 2 seed Marcos Giron of California. Vinsant defeated No. 17 seed Jeremy Efferding 6-2, 6-2 and Giron won his match 6-0, 2-2, when No. 4 seed Spencer Newman suffered a serious leg injury.

Newman's injury caused the boys 18s semifinal match between No. 4 seed Evan King and unseeded Raymond Sarmiento to be suspended, when an ambulance had to be summoned for Newman on the adjacent court.

King was leading 4-1 in the third at the time of that delay, which wasn't the only disruption in a contest that also featured a change of the chair umpire and the addition of several line judges.

"There were a whole bunch of pretty shaky line calls and I got po'd in the first set, then I got a ton of calls in the second set," King said. "It was big points, small points, you name it. It was really tough for Raymond, and I mean, I don't know what to do in that situation."

King, who was a finalist at last week's International Spring Championships, will meet No. 2 seed Tennys Sandgren, whom he beat in the Carson semifinals 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.

"We've played so many times, had so many three-setters, gone back and forth, I don't even know what our record is," King said. "It's going to be a fun match, I'm looking forward to it."

Sandgren, who beat friend and doubles partner Bob van Overbeek, 6-3, 6-1 in the other semifinal, echoed those remarks.

"We always have really, really long matches," Sandgren said. "Always. I'm expecting no less. It's going to be tough. It's going to be hot tomorrow, he's playing well, it's going to be tough."

For complete results in the 18s, click here.

For 14s and 16s draws and results, see the TennisLink site.

For additional coverage, see easterbowl.com.

Friday, April 17, 2009

McHale and Embree Meet for Girls 18s Easter Bowl Title; 14s Championships Also Set for Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

The temperature is rising in the Coachella Valley and so are the stakes at the 2009 Easter Bowl, with the girls 18s and boys and girls 14s championships scheduled for Saturday.

Top seed Lauren Embree, the 2005 14s Easter Bowl champion, will attempt to take home another title when she meets Christina McHale in the ITF Grade B1 girls final. Embree reached her second consecutive Easter Bowl final with a 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 9 seed and longtime friend Alexandra Cercone, while McHale eased past No. 2 seed Kristie Ahn 6-4, 6-3.

Embree, who had won a long quarterfinal contest with Ellen Tsay on Thursday, was in much better form under Friday's sorching midday sun, with temperatures reaching 93 degrees.

"I played really consistent, and I don't think I made too many errors," said Embree, who had lost to Cercone in three sets the last two times they've played. "Coming in I knew it was going to be tough. We usually have long matches, so I knew to stay positive and keep my energy up."

McHale attributed her win over Ahn to combination of patience and aggression.

"I tried to stay steady and also be aggressive," said McHale, who hasn't played a junior event since the Australian Open in January. "Because if you don't against her, she's going to take charge and really hit her shots. So I tried to be patient, but once I got the shot, to go for it."

McHale was up 4-1 in the opening set, but Ahn came back to even it at 4-4. McHale held for 5-4, and then earned two sets points when Ahn went down 15-40 on her serve. Ahn saved the first one, but not the second, and McHale was halfway there.

In the second set, McHale again took at 4-1 lead, but this time she held on to it, holding serve at each opportunity. Serving for the match at 5-3, McHale fought past one break point at 30-40, and with some very timely serving overcame a couple of forehand errors on match points, converting her third to earn the victory.

"She definitely played great," said Ahn. "Credit to her for making me work. It was really hot out there, and the heat also gets in your head a bit. I guess I really didn't execute the way I wanted to; a lot of time I had the right plays, but I couldn't really do it. It's not the end of the world, but it's a bit disappointing."

Embree and McHale haven't met since the 2006 girls 16s Clay Courts, where McHale beat Embree in a third set tiebreaker in the round of 16.

"We haven't played in forever, but I know how she plays just from growing up with her," Embree said. "I'll just come out, play my game, and not be too much on the defense, try to play offense and control the points."

McHale has a similar strategy.

"I'll focus on my game, and then alter it based on how things are going," said McHale, who admits that being back in junior competition is "nerve-wracking. When you play pro tournaments, it's normal nerves, but it's a different sort of nerves here."

In the boys 18s quarterfinals, drama was in short supply, as all four matches were decided in straight sets. Bob van Overbeek, seeded tenth, earned a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 3 seed Harry Fowler, and will meet second seed and doubles partner Tennys Sandgren in the semifinal. Sandgren eliminated unseeded Lawrence Formentera 6-4, 6-0. The other semifinal will feature unseeded Raymond Sarmiento, a 6-3, 6-1 winner over Fred Saba, against No. 4 seed Evan King. King prevailed over his doubles partner Jordan Cox, the No. 6 seed, 6-4, 6-4.

All the drama lacking in the 18s division on Friday could be found in the 14s semifinals, as all four matches went to three sets.

The girls 14s top two seeds, Julia Elbaba and Brooke Austin, both needed to stage comebacks to reach the final. Elbaba outlasted her doubles partner, fourth seed Alyssa Smith, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, and Austin squeezed past 12s Winter National champion Kimberly Yee, a 17 seed, 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles partners Mackenzie McDonald and Nikko Madregallejo will meet for the boys 14s championship in singles on Saturday morning, then take the court in the afternoon in pursuit of the doubles title. McDonald, the No. 3 seed, ousted top seed Trey Daniel 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 Friday morning, while Madregallejo, seeded fourth, got past Luca Corinteli, a No. 17 seed, 7-5, 0-6, 6-2.

The girls 16s semifinalists were decided on Friday with No. 2 seed Whitney Kay meeting No. 4 seed Giuliana Olmos Saturday and No. 5 seed Caroline Price facing No. 7 seed Kristen Dodge.

In the boys 16s, three of the top four seeds advanced to the semifinals, with No. 1 Shane Vinsant meeting Jeremy Efferding, a No. 17 seed, and No. 4 seed Spencer Newman playing No. 2 seed Marcos Giron for a spot in the Sunday's final.

The boys 16s doubles final, scheduled for Saturday afternoon, will pit No. 4 seeds Efferding and Bjorn Fratangelo against unseeded Eric Johnson and Calvin Mark.

In the girls 18s doubles final, top seeds Mallory Burdette and Embree will meet second seeds Ahn and Monica Puig.

For complete results for the 14s and 16s, see the TennisLink site.

For the ITF 18s results, click here.

For additional coverage of the Easter Bowl, see easterbowl.com. For Kristie Ahn and Denis Kudla's Easter Bowl blogs, see usta.com.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cercone Dimisses Capra in Easter Bowl Quarterfinals; Sandgren Escapes in Boys Third Round Action

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

Floridians Alex Cercone and Lauren Embree have been friends and rivals for years, and another chapter in their history will be written Friday, with the two facing off in the semifinal of the Girls 18s Easter Bowl.

Cercone, the ninth seed, earned her spot with a 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 3 seed Beatrice Capra in Thursday's quarterfinal, and the high school junior from Seminole was pleased with her level of play.

"I played really well," Cercone said. "I've never really played confident and calm like that. She was struggling a little bit, but we had really good points. I served really well too."

Cercone called for a trainer at 4-3 in the second set for some discomfort she was experiencing in her left wrist, but she said the taping helped her, and the right-hander could run around her backhand enough in the final three games to keep it from being a factor.

As for playing Embree, whom she beat in a marathon match at the Grass Courts last year and also in the South Carolina ITF last fall, but lost to in the Easter Bowl last year, Cercone knows exactly what to expect.

"I've played Lauren since the ten-and-unders," Cercone said. "We've played so many times. We'll see how it goes; she's been playing really, really well."

When Cercone finished her match, the top seed was still trying to subdue 2008 16s Easter Bowl champion Ellen Tsay, although Embree had wrested control of the two hour and forty minute contest, and eventually earned a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory.

"She got a lot back, she made me work for every point," said Embree. "It was longer than I wanted it to be."

In the opening set, Embree made more errors than usual, and Tsay was forcing the action by looping high deep balls, then going to the net to put away volleys. In the second set, Embree hit out more, and began to force Tsay to make a lot of overheads, but each and every point and game was struggle.

"I started hitting the ball more, went more on offense," said Embree. "I didn't let her come in as much and attack. She had really good hands at the net."

In the third set, Embree led 4-1, but Tsay kept herself in it, holding, after a lengthy game, for 4-2. In one of the few games that didn't go to deuce, Embree held at 40-30 by hitting a miraculous pop volley backhand winner when Tsay had drilled a passing shot at her. Embree must have begun to anticipate Tsay's patterns, because she hit nearly the same shot again in the next game, when she broke Tsay to end the match.

As for playing her friend, Embree echoed Cercone's sentiments.

"We've played so many times, it's not that hard any more," Embree said.

In one semifinal, the battle of Florida, in the other, the battle of New Jersey, as No. 2 seed Kristie Ahn faces No. 4 seed Christina McHale. Ahn quickly disposed of unseeded Shelby Rogers 6-1, 6-4 Thursday afternoon, while McHale had a mid-match hiccup before earning a 6-0, 3-6, 6-2 victory over No. 8 seed Nicole Gibbs.

The boys 18s quarterfinals are set, with three unseeded players making the final eight. Two of them, Raymond Sarmiento and Fred Saba, will meet in a Friday quarterfinal after Sarmiento defeated No. 15 seed Sekou Bangoura 7-5, 6-3, and Saba eliminated Clay Thompson 6-2, 6-2. Doubles partners Evan King, seeded four, and Jordan Cox, seeded sixth, will be across the net on Friday, with King downing No. 14 seed Sean Berman 6-4, 6-3 and Cox outlasting No. 9 seed Junior Ore 7-5, 7-6(1) Thursday.

In the bottom half, No. 10 seed Bob van Overbeek ousted No. 5 seed Bo Seal 6-2, 6-3, giving credit to his own serve and Seal's "clean ball" for the victory. Van Overbeek said he was able to find his rhythm in the long cross court rallies that are a regular feature when Seal is the opponent. Van Overbeek will take on No. 3 seed Harry Fowler, who dismissed unseeded Dan McCall 6-3, 6-3.

Unseeded Lawrence Formentera, the 2007 16s Easter Bowl champion, took out his second seed in as many days, defeating No. 8 seed Matt Kandath 6-4, 6-2. His opponent in Friday's quarterfinals will be No. 2 seed Tennys Sandgren, who managed to survive the powerful game of unseeded Dan Kosakowski 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Kosakowski played, and served, with such power and precision in the first set that Sandgren could do nothing but hope that the 17-year-old from Southern California would cool off. He did, with Sandgren finally earning his first break in the sixth game of the second set. In the third set, Kosakowski had an early break, but immediately lost it. Serving at 4-4, Kosakowski saved three break points, but a dazzling 360 reflex volley by Sandgren set up break point number four, and Kosakowski double faulted to give Sandgren the game.

Up 40-0 in the final game, Sandgren hit two forehands long, but a forehand volley that must have just caught the far sideline was called good by Kosakowski, and Sandgren had advanced.

The 14s semifinals are set, with No. 1 Trey Daniel facing No. 3 Mackenzie McDonald and No. 4 Nikko Madregallejo meeting Luca Corinteli, a No. 17 seed in the boys draw.

The girls 14s semifinalists are top seed Julia Elbaba versus No. 4 Alyssa Smith and No. 2 seed Brooke Austin against Kimberly Yee, a 17 seed.

For complete ITF draws, including the doubles, see the TennisLink site.

For the 14s and 16s draws, click here.

For additional coverage of the Easter Bowl, see easterbowl.com

International Spring Championships Wrap; Oudin Named to Fed Cup Team, Wins in Charleston

My weekly feature for The Tennis Recruiting Network is a review of the International Spring Championships in Carson, Calif. Click here to read. I will post a slide show and some videos from that tournament later next week.

2008 ISC and Easter Bowl champion Melanie Oudin has been named to the Fed Cup team that will compete in the Czech Republic later this month. At the WTA Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina yesterday, qualifier Oudin defeated No. 9 seed Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada, ranked 29th, 7-5, 6-0, and will face No. 6 seed Marion Bartoli of France in today's third round.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Saba Downs ISC Champion Frank; Top Four Seeds Advance to Girls Quarterfinals at Easter Bowl

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

Unseeded Fred Saba of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., the recent USTA Spring National champion, is playing in only his second ITF Junior tournament, having failed to qualify in his first last fall in the Grade 4 at the Evert Academy. Taking on one of the hottest players in the U.S. juniors right now, No. 7 seed Mitchell Frank, in the second round of the Easter Bowl, Saba showed that international experience and a number next to your name in the draw isn't a prerequisite for victory. The 17-year-old right-hander overwhelmed Frank, the champion at the International Spring Championships last week in Carson, 6-0, 6-3 on a cool and breezy day at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort.

Saba served well from the outset, and Frank's consistency, one of his major strengths, just wasn't there. The 16-year-old from Virginia is rarely the player to blink in a long rally, but his shot tolerance was uncharacteristically low Wednesday, with his backhand a frequent culprit.

Down 4-0 in the opening set, Frank commented to himself that he couldn't make a ball right now, and he would stare in disbelief when yet another shot went awry. After failing to win a game in the opening set, Frank may have been puzzled, but he wasn't discouraged, and at the set break, said "just like Brazil," a reference to a Banana Bowl match last month when he was down 6-1, 5-1, 40-15, but came back for the win.

It looked like Frank's comeback was about to begin in the second set, when he recovered from a 4-1 deficit, breaking Saba for the first time at 4-2 to get back on serve. But in the next game, a couple of Frank's shots were inches out on the baseline, and Saba broke at love to take a 5-3 lead, then served it out, cranking a forehand winner on match point.

"I didn't strike the ball too well, but I thought I played extremely smart," said Saba, who is 20-1 in 2009. "He's a very patient player, and to counter, you have to be patient and pick your spots. I thought I did that well, made a lot of balls, and served and returned well and took control of the point when the ball was there."

Saba will face unseeded Clay Thompson in the round of 16 Thursday. Thompson, a finalist in the Easter Bowl 16s last year, beat No. 11 seed Garrett Brasseaux 6-3, 6-2. Two other unseeded players reached the third round with wins over seeded players, with 2007 16s Easter Bowl champion Lawrence Formentera defeating No. 12 seed JT Sundling 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 and Daniel Kosakowski upsetting Denis Lin, the 13th seed, 6-1, 6-3.

The girls 18s quarterfinals are set, with two unseeded players making the final eight: 2008 Easter Bowl 16s champion Ellen Tsay and Shelby Rogers. Rogers defeated Danielle Lao 7-5, 7-6(5), while Tsay downed Gabrielle De Simone 6-2, 6-1.
The top four seeds eased past their opponents in straight sets, with No. 1 seed Lauren Embree posting a 6-3, 6-2 win over unseeded Mary Clayton and No. 2 seed Kristie Ahn taking out No. 15 seed Jessica Pegula 6-1, 6-3. Ahn and Pegula have similar games, but Ahn is both quicker and more effective using angles than Pegula, who recently won a qualifying match in a WTA event. No. 3 seed Beatrice Capra beat her doubles partner and friend Brooke Bolender, the No. 14 seed, 6-3, 6-1, while Christina McHale, seeded fourth, recorded a 6-3, 6-2 victory over unseeded Courtney Dolehide. Embree plays Tsay and McHale meets Nicole Gibbs, seeded 8th, in a rematch of their three-set quarterfinal contest last year. Ahn will face Rogers, and Capra will meet the only girl to need three sets, No. 9 Alexandra Cercone, who downed No. 5 seed Pamela Montez 1-6, 6-0, 6-4.

The 14s quarterfinals are also on Thursday, with boys top seed Trey Daniel still in the hunt after a three-set victory over No. 10 seed Jack Murray, and girls No. 1 Julia Elbaba advancing with a straight set win over a No. 17 seed, Peggy Porter.

The top seeds in the 16s, Belinda Niu and Shane Vinsant, have reached the third round with victories on Wednesday.

For complete draws in the 14s and 16s, see the TennisLink site. For the ITF results, click here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sarmiento Topples No. 1 Seed Kudla in Easter Bowl First Round

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Las Palmas, CA--

When top seed Denis Kudla and Raymond Sarmiento found themselves facing each other in the opening round of the Easter Bowl, it was an unlucky draw for both of them. Having recently spent five weeks together in Spain training with a group from the USTA, the longtime rivals and friends would undoubtedly have preferred to meet deeper in the tournament.

As they took to court 2 Tuesday afternoon, the notorious Palm Springs winds had begun to howl, and although the conditions may have contributed to more shanks and mishits, they didn't diminish the drama one bit. When it was over, Sarmiento had saved two match points en route to a 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(6) victory.

In the first set, Sarmiento struggled with the wind and keeping his shots in the court, but in the second set, he played less tentatively and began to drive balls through the wind.

In the third, he broke Kudla in the first game, but lost the lead in the sixth game, and Kudla held for 4-3. Sarmiento went down 0-40 in the next game, which went to five deuces, but he saved a total of five break points, with key serves and well-executed volleys when it counted. After Kudla held for 5-4, Sarmiento again fell behind serving, and at 15-40, he had no margin for error. On the first match point, Sarmiento stroked a first serve winner, and on the second, Kudla's backhand found the net. At deuce, Sarmiento hit a blazing backhand winner down the line, and got out of trouble when, on the next point, Kudla's backhand was wide.

After Kudla held, Sarmiento earned his way into the tiebreaker with another backhand winner down the line at 40-30, and a large crowd began to gather around the brick staircase that overlooks court 2.

Sarmiento got out to 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker, and leading 5-3, he had a chance to earn three match points when Kudla shanked a ball nearly straight up in the air. It blew over to Sarmiento's side of the net, and as he waited inside the service line for the ball to come down, the crowd held its collective breath. When he missed the overhead, there was a loud groan from those watching, but little reaction from Sarmiento.

"I just smiled it off," he said.

It certainly didn't affect his confidence, as he put an overhead away on the next point, to take a 6-4 lead.

Kudla wasn't finished however, with a wild forehand by Sarmiento and a backhand volley miss saving those two match points. The first real sign of nerves from Kudla came on the next point, when he double faulted, and then missed a backhand on the next point to give Sarmiento the win.

"Of course I was nervous in the tiebreak," said Sarmiento, who called today's win one of his best. "But it was a great match. I cared to win, but win or lose, it was a great match. We're really good friends, before and after the match."

A sign of that friendship and respect was the lack of discussion on line calls, as neither player questioned the other's calls, and often, on exceedingly important points, gave the other "the benefit of the doubt," as Sarmiento put it.

When it was over, Sarmiento shook hands and walked back to the sidelines with his hand on Kudla's shoulder, not reveling in the victory, but recognizing the disappointment his friend must be feeling.

"I knew it was going to be a great match," Sarmiento said. "He's a great player, and we both played well. It was a pretty big win."

Sarmiento wasn't the only player to save a match point on Tuesday. No. 14 seed Brooke Bolender was down 5-6 in the second set tiebreaker against wild card Brittany Augustine before earning a 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-1 victory in girls 18s second round action. Ellen Tsay, the 2008 16s Easter Bowl champion, didn't save any match points, but she had an impressive comeback in her 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-0 win over No. 7 seed Mallory Burdette. Gabrielle De Simone outlasted No. 11 seed Monica Puig 7-5, 6-7(2), 6-4 in a long, emotional contest.

Other than Kudla, the only boys seed to lose on Tuesday was No. 16 Campbell Johnson, who fell to Dan McCall 6-4, 6-3.

The No. 2 seed in the boys 14s, Joseph Di Giulio, lost in Tuesday's third round to Ryan Smith of Florida, a 17 seed, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, in a marathon match. Girls 16s No. 3 seed Blair Shankle was beaten by Shayne Austin 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in another lengthy match at Rancho Las Palmas.

For more coverage of the tournament, see easterbowl.com.

For complete 14s, and 16s results, see the TennisLink site. For the ITF results, click here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Embree and Ahn Survive Tough Openers at Easter Bowl

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Rancho Mirage, CA--

Girls 18s top seeds Lauren Embree and Kristie Ahn probably had hoped for slightly easier matches in the first round of the Easter Bowl, but they both prevailed in tough three-setters on a very warm and surprisingly calm opening day at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa.

Ahn, with a 324 WTA ranking, was last seen winning a $25,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Hammond, La., last month. Sometimes the step back down to the juniors is difficult, and it may have been an adjustment for Ahn psychologically, but there was no denying that wild card Cierra Gaytan-Leach was giving the No. 2 seed pro-level pace.

Gaytan-Leach has an impressive first serve, and her ground strokes were more than a match for Ahn in the opening set. Determined to go for her shots, Gaytan-Leach took a 5-2 lead playing aggressive first-strike tennis, and Ahn could not find the court with her forehand. Gaytan-Leach was broken serving for the first set at 5-3, but Ahn couldn't hold in the next game.

In the second set, Ahn began to return more consistently, and in one of her breaks of Gaytan-Leach hit three consecutive return winners, the final one on a well-struck first serve. Ahn evened the match with a 6-2 second set, and then took an early lead in the third.

Ahn was happy to have the luxury of two breaks in the final set, as she was unable to close it out serving at 5-2. A double fault on game point and then a hold by Gaytan-Leach meant Ahn would have only one more chance to finish it. But it was enough, as she played a smart final game, and converted her first match point at 40-15 to advance 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Ahn is blogging from the Easter Bowl for usta.com.

Embree had beaten Monica Turewicz last October in the quarterfinals of the B1 in Tulsa, so she knew what she was facing, and the crafty left-hander gave Embree even more trouble Monday, before the 2008 Easter Bowl finalist gained a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory. I was watching Ahn and Gaytan-Leach on stadium court while Embree and Turewicz were playing way out on court 17, so I can't comment on the standard of play, but I'm sure Embree is glad to have that encounter behind her.

The highest seed to fall in Monday's opening round was No. 6 Ester Goldfeld, who was beaten by Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-2. Other seeds who failed to make Tuesday's second round are No. 10 Nicole Bartnik, No. 12 Noel Scott and No. 16 Monica Yajima, who lost to Danielle Lao, Sabrina Santamaria and Maria Belaya respectively.

One excellent match that I caught the end of was No. 15 Kate Fuller against unseeded Mary Clayton. Both girls played composed and absorbing tennis in the final set--even after more than two and a half hours on the court. Clayton served for the match at 5-3, but Fuller hit several clean winners to get back on serve. Playing slightly less aggressively when serving at 4-5, Fuller went down 0-40, saved two match points, but couldn't save the third, and Clayton had claimed a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory.

For the complete 18s results, see the TennisLink site.

There were no major upsets in the 14s second round and in the 16s first round Monday. For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Stephens and Frank Collect International Spring Singles Championships

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Carson, CA--

It's rare that a match point tells the tale of any contest, but the one that gave Mitchell Frank the International Spring championship over Evan King Sunday morning was a perfect microcosm.

The ball went back and forth across the net dozens of times, with lines hit, sure winners returned, with a few net cords thrown in for added suspense. The couple of dozen spectators were certainly as exhausted as the players when Frank finally put away an overhead to earn a 6-3 6-4 victory, one that was two hours in the the making, and a marathon from the very beginning.

"The first game lasted about a half an hour and the second game lasted about another half an hour," said Frank, 16. "I looked over and saw the girls off the court, and we were like 3-2 in the first set; I was like, wow."

King, who called the match point "ridiculous," wasn't surprised by the length of the points and games.

"Both of us are pretty consistent players," said King, 17. "Neither of us miss a ton, which led to the long 4 and 3, but whoever can take advantage of more points got the better of it. It was a strategic battle to see who could get on offense; it was pretty fun out there."

Frank, who downed top seed Denis Kudla in three sets in Saturday's semifinal, credits playing well on the big points for his outstanding week. None were bigger than the point he won with King serving at 4-4 30-40 in the second set. King hit a good drop shot that was on its way to its second bounce when Frank somehow reached it and scooped it over the net. A surprised King, who admitted he was just watching his shot and not preparing for the next one, popped the ball back over the net, where a waiting Frank coolly volleyed it past him.

"He made a bunch of incredible gets, and that was just a perfect one," King said.

Frank doesn't consider himself a speedy player, but court coverage is one of his strong suits.

"I'm not necessarily a fast guy, I just have good court movement, pretty good court sense and anticipation," Frank said. "But that one, I didn't even think I was going to get to it, I was just running after it, but I got it, and he was pretty surprised."

Frank was broken only once in the match, in the second game of the second set, but that just brought King even. Although he doesn't have a notably big serve, Frank was holding more easily than King, and simply did not make errors when it counted. Serving for the match at 5-4, 15-30, Frank followed a good first serve to the net to put away a volley, and then outlasted King in a preview of the epic match point at 30-30, with King hitting a forehand long.

As Frank leaned over the net, trying to catch his breath while King approached for the handshake, he could think ahead, not only to next week's Easter Bowl, but to the French and Wimbledon Junior Championships in a couple of months.

"This should move me up to about 38 or 40," Frank said of his ITF ranking, which is currently at 88. "So that's a pretty big jump, and it means less pressure next week."

Girls champion Sloane Stephens, who defeated unseeded Grace Min 6-1, 6-2 Sunday morning, is not playing the Easter Bowl, so the 16-year-old has an opportunity to savor her first ITF Grade 1 singles victory.

The ninth-seeded Stephens, who trains at the USTA Training Center-West in Carson, played all six of her matches on Court 5, and also won the doubles title there on Saturday.

"I think this is my lucky court," Stephens said. "Last week when we were playing practice matches on these two courts (4 & 5), I never won a match over there, and I won all three matches over here."

In Sunday's final, Stephens broke Min at love to open the contest, and the precise power that Stephens displayed never gave Min a chance to get into the match.

"I wanted to come out really aggressive, because Grace fights really well, and she beat a lot of good players in this tournament," Stephens said. "I think she might have been a little nervous at the beginning, and she missed a few balls she shouldn't have missed. She couldn't really settle down."

Min disagreed with Stephens's analysis, at least on the surface.

"That was weird," Min said of her error-filled start. "I came in, I wasn't nervous, feeling good. I don't know. Maybe deep down I was nervous. I made more errors than I thought I would and it took me by surprise actually."

Min, who will have another match on Monday in Palm Springs, gave credit to Stephens's play.

"I had a tough time finding the court, and she doesn't give you anything," said Min, who turns 15 next month. "She was on me the whole time. I can't really say anything else, she just played a really good match."

Stephens dominated every match during the week, save the quarterfinal against top seed Lauren Embree, where she battled back from a set down to get the win. After a day off on Monday, she will continue training at Carson, then will accompany the U.S. Fed Cup team to the Czech Republic as a hitting partner later this month.

Stephens would probably like to pack up Court No. 5 and take it with her.

For complete results, see the TennisLink site.