Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Top Seed Johnson Saves Match Point In Nearly Four-Hour Win over Chen; Wild Card Nakashima Ousts No. 7 Seed Rubio in International Spring Championships Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

Although no precipitation fell Wednesday at the International Spring Championships, the effects of Tuesday's rain were felt all day, with a three-hour delay due to wet courts. Complicating the attempts to get back on schedule, two courts, including the primary show court 4, developed bubbling that kept them out of commission throughout the day and possibly all week.

What the tournament staff did not need in the midst of all these setbacks was a three hour and 46 minute match, but top seed Taylor Johnson and Kelly Chen played one anyway, with Johnson saving a match point in her 7-6(3), 5-7, 7-6(3) victory.

Chen was up 4-1 and serving in the first set, and 5-1 in the second set, but the windy conditions made holding serve difficult for both players throughout the match.  After Johnson had won four straight games in the second set to make it 5-5, Chen went down 0-40 on her serve, but won the next eight points and nine of the next 10 to even the match.

Both players held serve in the third set until Johnson was broken serving at 3-4, with three double faults in that game too much to overcome.  Chen didn't come close to serving out the match however, getting broken at love to make it 5-4.  Johnson held to pull even and Chen held for 6-5, putting the pressure back on Johnson.  Up 40-15, Johnson couldn't convert either game point and Chen won the next point too, with a great dipping shot at Johnson's feet as she closed the net.  Facing match point, Johnson hit a good first serve, but Chen handled it, only to hit a backhand well long when she had a good look at a down-the-line winner.  Johnson continued to serve well to close out the game, sending the match to a third set tiebreaker with a forehand winner.

Johnson took a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but gave one of the minibreaks back with a double fault.  Two forehand winners gave Johnson the luxury of four match points, but Chen responded with a forehand winner of her own to make it 6-3.  Johnson closed it out on her next chance however, when Chen's forehand went wide.

"I think I definitely did get frustrated," Johnson said of the challenging conditions. "I was definitely up and down. But in the third set, I just focused in and gave it all I had. I just really stayed calm."

Johnson knew that Chen, who received a wild card into the tournament, would be a tough opponent.

"She's been a really good player for a long time," said Johnson, a 16-year-old from nearby Redondo Beach. "She's had some unfortunate injuries, and I knew coming back, she was obviously going to try to go for it again. She's definitely getting back to her level, playing well."

Johnson also went three sets in her opening round match on Monday against Victoria Hu, and while not enthusiastic about her form, is happy to have survived.

"I'm obviously happy to have gotten through," said Johnson. "These were some tough first rounds and I think it's good for me to play tough right out of the chute. You have to play them all, so it doesn't really matter when. I know they're all going to be tough."

Johnson said she doesn't give much thought to her position as the top seed.

"Obviously it comes with a little pressure, but I really don't focus on that," said Johnson, whose coach Rosie Casals attended the match. "I just try to focus on the ball when I'm out there, not let any of that come into my head."

Two seeded girls fell in the second round today, with Ireland's Georgia Drummy defeating No. 13 seed Ann Li 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 and Salma Ewing beating No. 15 seed Victoria Emma 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.

In the boys draw, four seeded players lost, joining No. 1 seed Trent Bryde and No. 4 seed Sam Riffice, both of whom lost in Monday's first round action, on the sidelines.

Ryan Goetz defeated No. 8 seed Brian Cernoch 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, 2016 Carson 16s champion Axel Nefve downed No. 11 seed Sebastian Korda 7-6(3), 6-1 and Kyrylo Tsygura beat No. 12 seed Nicolas Mejia of Colombia 6-2, 6-1.

The fourth seeded player to go out Wednesday was No. 7 Alan Rubio Fierros of Mexico, who lost to 15-year-old wild card Brandon Nakashima 6-1, 6-4 under the lights on a chilly evening at the Stubhub Center.

Nakashima, who was a finalist last week at the ITF Grade 4 in Newport Beach, dominated in the first set, then fought back from 3-1 down in the second set to pick up his second Grade 1 win.

"I've been playing pretty well, playing with a lot of confidence," said Nakashima, who made his debut in Carson as a 12-year-old in the 16s division back in 2014. "I feel my game is doing really well right now."

With only three ITF tournaments on his resume, Nakashima's encounters with top international players are rare.

"I knew pretty much nothing about him," Nakashima said. "I knew he's pretty high ranked [34] and I knew he had to be pretty good, so I just played my game. He started playing better in the second set, and I just held my game together and played well at the end."

After going down 3-1, Nakashima won the next three games, but was broken at 4-3 to give Rubio hope. It didn't last long, as Rubio was broken back, giving Nakashima the opportunity to serve out the match. At 40-15, Nakashima showed some nerves, making unforced errors on both match points and the following point, likely the only time in the match he had made three consecutive unforced errors.  Rubio missed a forehand on that break point and then missed a too-casual backhand overhead to give Nakashima a third match point, which he converted when Rubio hit a forehand wide.

"I was getting a little bit nervous at that point," Nakashima said. "But I just played my game, consistent, just tried to hold my serve and play the points smart."

In the 16s, the boys lost two more top seeds, with No. 2 Eliot Spizzirri eliminated by Stefan Dostanic 6-2, 6-4, and No. 4 seed Martin Damm going out to No. 14 seed Andres Martin 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.  No. 5 seed Faris Khan is now the highest seed remaining.

Several girls 16s third round matches were still going after 8 p.m. Wednesday, with many having to play two singles matches due to Tuesday's rain.

See the tournament website for complete draws and Thursday's order of play.