Sunday, April 5, 2015

Blumberg, Kenin Claim Titles at ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2015--
Carson, CA--

Both William Blumberg and Sonya Kenin spent most of March competing on clay courts, but on a cool and breezy Sunday morning at the Stubhub Center, the American pair demonstrated a seamless transition to hard courts by claiming their first ITF Grade 1 titles at the International Spring Championships.

Blumberg, the top seed, defeated No. 2 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-2, 6-4 and Kenin, the No. 2 seed, outlasted No. 4 seed Fanni Stollar of Hungary 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-0.

A finalist on the red clay of the ITF Grade A in Porto Alegre Brazil last month, Blumberg took a quick 4-0 lead on the 15-year-old Serb, who had trouble finding his usual consistency in the opening games of the match.

A break and hold made it 4-2, but Blumberg remained the steadier of the two, with an unforced error on the backhand by Kecmanovic giving Blumberg the first set.

When Blumberg took a 2-0 lead in the second set, it appeared he might run away with the match, but Kecmanovic broke, only to commit yet another unforced error to get broken for the fifth time in the match. Blumberg held for 4-1, but Kecmanovic managed to hold in the next game to keep within striking distance at 4-2.

The seventh game was the longest of the match, with six deuces, and when it was over, Blumberg had failed to convert on six game points, with Kecmanovic playing his most aggressive tennis during that stretch. He then followed with a hold to make it 4-4, and when Blumberg went down 0-40 in the next game, a third set, and a huge momentum swing for Kecmanovic, loomed.

But Blumberg picked up his serving, winning the next five points and the game, to put the pressure squarely back on Kecmanovic.

"After I got broken and he held easy and I was down 0-40, I kind of had to regroup really quick," said the 17-year-old from Connecticut. "I made a bunch of good first serves, and that helped a lot."

Serving to stay in the match, Kecmanovic missed two forehands to give Blumberg two match points, but although he missed his first serves, he saved both, playing both good defense and good offense to force errors.  At deuce, Blumberg stayed patient, and after a long point put away an overhead to earn his third match point.  This time Kecmanovic got a first serve in, but Blumberg was ready for it, rifling it back with additional pace, which forced Kecmanovic into netting a forehand.

With a long, loud 'yeah', Blumberg celebrated, excited and relieved to have earned his first Grade 1 title.

"If I'm being completely honest, I was really nervous in the end," Blumberg said. "Trying to finish off the match for me was tough. It's not a pattern, but it had happened to me a couple of times...and I got a little tentative, a little nervous, it was my first Grade 1 I'd ever won.  Putting myself in position is good, but I need to continue to do a better job of being aggressive."

Although Kecmanovic said the breezy conditions had nothing to do with his performance, Blumberg said he noticed a difference in the weather from earlier in the week.

"It was way more windy today, for sure, than any other of the days I've played, so I thought I did a good job of serving," said Blumberg, who also reached the final of the B1 Pan American Closed in Tulsa last October. "I thought I hit my forehand pretty well and moved him around the court, put him in awkward positions. And I don't think he played his best today. I thought he was spraying balls, and his first serve percentage was pretty low."

Kecmanovic, who trains at the IMG Academy, agreed he was off his game Sunday.

"I was struggling to keep the ball in the court, and he made me miss a lot," Kecmanovic said. "Will played very good," he added. "I tried to stay with him, but I couldn't, playing the way I did. But he played very good, and congrats to him."

Although spectators were few, with most players and coaches already in Indian Wells for the Easter Bowl, Blumberg did have a small group of local supporters.

"My two cousins and my uncle, my mom's brother, who live in LA," Blumberg replied when asked who made up his cheering section.
"It was really nice of them to come out. The other two are my godparents and their son, who I stayed with the week before Carson, so it was really good they could all come out today. It helped a lot for me, with my energy."

Kenin, who reached a $10,000 Pro Circuit tournament final last month on green clay, rarely lacks for energy or confidence. She displayed those attributes again after letting two match points slip away in the second set tiebreaker against Stollar, who had beaten her in the Eddie Herr 14s final in 2012.

Stollar served for the second set after breaking Kenin in the ninth game, but was unable to earn a set point, with Kenin hitting a forehand winner at 30-40.  Both players held at love to send the set to a tiebreaker, which was close throughout, with Kenin earning her first match point when Stollar double faulted at 5-all.

Stollar overcame the double fault, crushing a backhand winner to save the match point, but Kenin wrong-footed her to earn a second. Again Stollar went to her backhand and another fine one forced an error from Kenin.  Kenin then missed two backhands, and suddenly Stollar was back in the match, although Kenin refused to see it that way.

"She started out really good [in the third set]," said Kenin, a 16-year-old from Florida. "She was up 30-0 on her serve and I was just trying to stay through it. I knew it was an accident that she won the second set, that her game wouldn't be like that the whole third set, which she'd have to do to beat me, so I just tried to stay through and try to fight."

Kenin saw Stollar's level drop even more quickly than she might have hoped.  After breaking for 1-0, then going down 15-30 in her service game, Kenin won 11 straight points.  Stollar broke the string with an ace to open the fifth game, but 12 minutes after the set began, she was down 5-0.

Stollar is capable of an ace or a double fault in any of her service games, and with the breezy conditions, her serve was even more erratic than usual.

"It was a really bad match for me," said Stollar, a 16-year-old, who, like Kecmanovic, trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. "I played pretty bad. She played pretty good, she fought hard. It wasn't my day, my serve didn't work. I couldn't expect anything. There were games up and down, but there was too much of that. It was really tough with the wind at every changeover."

In the final game, by far the longest of the set, Stollar saved two match points, but Kenin finally drew the error she was expecting, with Stollar's backhand going wide on the final point.

"I really love this tournament," said Kenin, who added her first Grade 1 title to the Grade A Orange Bowl title she won last December. "After losing in the quarterfinals last year, I just really wanted to play really good here and win."

Kenin, who reached the semifinals of the Easter Bowl last year, is looking to do well there again, with a goal of being seeded at the upcoming junior slams this summer.

"I'm going to be seeded pretty high, hopefully," Kenin said. "And it just gives me a ton of confidence going into Easter Bowl, knowing I won this tournament.  As the matches went on, I found a way to win and played good at the important moments."

Complete draws can be found at the tournament website.