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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Top Seeds Kick Off Easter Bowl ITF with Victories, No. 4 Seeds Out as Weather and Action Heats Up in San Diego

©Colette Lewis 2021

San Diego CA--

The seeds took the courts for the first time Wednesday at the ITF Grade B1 Easter Bowl, with top seeds Madison Sieg and Juncheng (Jerry) Shang taking straight-sets victories in their initial appearances on the Barnes Tennis Center courts.

Neither Sieg, who beat wild card Gracie Epps 6-2, 6-1, nor Shang, who downed Cooper Williams 6-3, 6-2, played last week's Grade 1 International Championships of Southern California, but they didn't seem to need any time to adjust against players who had.

No. 2 seed Bruno Kuzuhara posted a routine win, taking out qualifier Alexander Chang 6-2, 6-0, and No. 3 seed Alex Bernard defeated wild card Preston Stearns 6-2, 7-6(6). No. 4 seed Ozan Colak, didn't have the best birthday, with the 17-year-old losing to wild card Jayden Templeman of Canada 1-6, 6-3, 6-2. Templeman, like Shang, who plays under the Chinese flag, is eligible to compete in the ITF Closed event due to either his formal immigration status or as a holder of a dual passport. Templeman was removed from the Easter Bowl entry list in error, and the only way to rectify the mistake was to award him a wild card. 

No. 2 seed and IOSC champion Alexandra Yepifanova got off to a slow start in her match with Katja Wiersholm, but she recovered to post a 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory. No. 3 seed Elvina Kalieva beat Kathryn Treiber 6-4, 6-0, but No. 4 seed Valencia Xu was blanked by qualifier Liv Hovde 6-0, 6-0. 

Another top seed, No. 5 Ashlyn Krueger, the reigning Orange Bowl champion, lost to friend and doubles partner Sarah Hamner 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.

"It's always hard playing Ash because she's my best friend," said Hamner, who split two meetings with Krueger late last year in ITF Grade 4s in Florida. "We were a little bit disappointed in the draw, but what can you do?"

Never far apart during a tournament Hamner and Krueger train together, room together and even warmed up together prior to their match today.

"We are both super competitive, so we know when we're in the match we're not friends and we've got to stay focused," said the 18-year-old South Carolina recruit. "About 30 minutes before we thought we were going to play, we just kind of separated, to zone in and focus."

Hamner said her serve played a key role in her victory.

"Ash is a great server--she's very tall--so I knew I needed to bring my A game for serves," Hamner said. "In the second set, she was on fire, crushing the ball, moving me like crazy. In the third, I just tried to focus, take deep breaths, just take one point at a time. Everyone says that, but I really tried to focus on each point, and take deep breaths before each serve, because I really needed to make my first serves. My first serve was important, and I returned well so that helped a lot."

Hamner's opponent on Thursday will be No. 9 seed Qavia Lopez, who defeated qualifier Julia Fliegner 6-2, 1-6, 7-5.

Five boys seeds exited in their first match, including No. 8 seed Victor Lilov, who lost to Sebastian Gorzny 7-6(3), 6-3. Gorzny, who has found his form over the past two months, was pleased with his performance Wednesday.

"I just think I've played a lot of matches and I'm kind of in a groove," said the 17-year-old, who made the Las Vegas Grade 4 singles final two weeks ago and won the doubles title at last week's IOSC. "I'm hitting the ball well, good timing and I'm pretty confident."

Although Gorzny had not played Lilov before, he had been aware of his results for years.

"He's always been on the top, since I was playing 12s and 14s, and that's my first time playing him in singles, so it was a good win," Gorzny. "I think today everything was working today. My backhand sometimes breaks down, but today it was really good. I made returns, made him play, played pretty well."

Gorzny can focus on singles this week, because his doubles partner, Nathan Cox, and his opponent in the final round of qualifying Eugenio Gonzalez Fitzmaurice, were defaulted from the tournament due to an irregularity in reporting the score of their match.

"I'm kind of bummed out, because we played really well together and could have won another title together," said Gorzny, who could not play with another partner due to ITF rules. "But it is what it is. I don't know that exact details; I just know they made up the score or something, broke the rules."

Gorzny said he has always thought he could compete at the level of the players ranked ahead of him, but hadn't been able to put all the parts of his game together.

"I feel like I've always been there, but I haven't performed up to their level," said Gorzny, who is from Southern California, but is currently training at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton. "So I'm finally playing at that level consistently."

Gorzny's opponent in the third round is No. 10 seed Aidan Kim, who advanced when Alexander Frusina retired at 2-6, 6-1, 4-2.

Two boys matches went over three hours, with Colton Smith saving a match point in his 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 win over No. 9 seed Benjamin Kittay, and No. 11 seed Azuma Visaya beating Sebastian Sec 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-4.

Wednesday was the first day in this two-week stretch that could accurately be called hot, with temperatures in the low to mid 80s, and play was slowed not only due to highly competitive matches, but also to players using their towels much more frequently than before.

The seeded teams in doubles also played their first matches this afternoon, with top seeds Kalieva and Yepifanova coming back for a 1-6, 6-3, 10-7 victory over Meera Jesudason and Akari Matsuno. Jack Anthrop and Shang defeated Rohan Murali and Bryce Nakashima 6-2, 6-2.

The top singles seeds in the 16s, Natalie Block and Emon von Loben Sells, earned straight-sets victories in today's second round, but girls No. 2 seed Yichen Zhao lost to wild card Stephanie Yakoff 6-2, 7-5. Boys No. 4 seed Greyson Casey lost in Tuesday's first round, as did girls No. 3 seed Karolina Jacobson.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Woestendick and Jovic Take 14s Adidas Easter Bowl Titles, Lam and Bielen Win 12s Championships, as 16s Division Begins and ITF Grade B1 Continues; Korda Reaches Miami Open Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2021--
San Diego CA

Tuesday was a day of firsts at the USTA Level 1 Adidas Easter Bowl at the Barnes Tennis Center, with three of the four singles champions in the 12s and 14s divisions claiming their initial coveted gold ball.

Unseeded Iva Jovic of Torrance won the battle of Southern California in the girls 14s final, beating Elena Zhao of San Diego 6-0, 6-2 to earn her first USTA National Level 1 title.

"I thought it was kind of cool that it was a SoCal final," said the 13-year-old Jovic, who had lost to Zhao in a third set tiebreaker in their only previous meeting. "It's weird, we kind of kept dodging in the draws."

In the rematch, Jovic was pleased with her aggressive play.

"I think I did a good job stepping into the court, not letting her push me back, and being aggressive," Jovic said. 

Jovic said she was a good player in the 12s, but has made steady progress recently.

"I was practicing the right things," said Jovic, who works with Peter Smith and Rylan Rizza at the Jack Kramer Club in Los Angeles. "And then when they started working, and going in more, then it was easier for me to win."

Jovic was just fine with her unseeded status coming into the tournament. 

"I think it was not that bad for me," said Jovic, who had not won any USTA balls before today. "I kind of like being the underdog and not expecting to win. But I didn't really look at the draw that much either, so yeah, it was good. I was focused on every match."

Top seed Cooper Woestendick had won gold balls previously, but in doubles competition, not singles. A finalist at the Easter Bowl in the 12s division two years ago, Woestendick thought his experience may have helped in his 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory over unseeded Jimin Jung.

"It helped me a little bit at first," said Woestendick, who won the Level 1 championship in Mobile earlier this month. "Having experience in bigger matches definitely helped me, definitely in my last tournament too, it helps me and it paid off."

Woestendick pulled away in the first set, but Jung, who had come back from a set down in two of his earlier matches wasn't about to concede, and he quickly rebounded in the second set.

"I knew he was going to be very tough," said Woestendick, who trains at Genesis Health Club in Kansas City.  "He's an interesting and crafty player....he played very well in the second set, kind of caught me off guard."

Woestendick got an early break, going up 3-0 and 4-1, but although he was glad to have a lead, he knew that match was not over. He took solace in his game plan, which helped him hold his nerve serving for the match at 5-3, 0-30.

"I like my backhand a lot, so I try to go backhand to backhand as much as I can, until I get a forehand short ball," Woestendick said. "If I see him slicing I'll take it out of the air, but he's very fast, so that's hard to do, so basically just pin him in one corner and attack."

The last three points of the match were confusing for everyone in the vicinity of Court 12, including the chair umpire and the players. With Woestendick serving at 30-40, he hit a serve that Jung had a play on, but called out. The chair overruled Jung, and because it was his third overrule of a line call, he received a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. That made it advantage Woestendick, although the chair called game, set, match before he was challenged by Jung. After the chair had corrected the score, play resumed, and Woestendick won a long rally to claim the championship.

Woestendick is not certain what his next tournament will be.

"Definitely going back to Kansas, keep working, keep practicing, keep working hard," said Woestendick, who would like to model his game after Jannik Sinner, the up and coming Italian star. "There's definitely some stuff I can work on."

The boys 14s finals was the only lengthy match of the four championship matches, with both the 12s finals, played at the same time as the 14s finals, going quickly.

The Eastern section came out on top in both, with No. 4 seed Shannon Lam and No. 4 seed Sebastian Bielen earning their first gold balls.

Lam defeated Thea Frodin, a No. 9 seed, 6-3, 6-0, getting all her nerves out of the way in the early stages of the match.

"In the beginning, it was kind of shaky because I was like tight, it was the finals," said the 12-year-old from New Jersey. "But I settled into the match, and played better by the end."

Lam said that she had heard a lot about the Easter Bowl, so playing it for the first time as a top seed was an adjustment.

"I definitely felt pressure in the very first match," said Lam, who trains at the Little Silver Tennis Club. "But it started to fade away as I got more into the tournament."

Lam also admitted that she probably benefited from playing not on the big Stadium Court, but on a court far removed from the main entrance.

"I don't prefer being on the big court, actually, because I'm still kind of new," Lam said. "So being on one of the back courts, it kind of relaxed me."

As for a celebration, Lam is extending her spring break from school in San Diego.

"I'm going to vacation, the beach, Sea World if it's open," Lam said. 

Beilen, who, like Lam, was playing in just his second USTA National Level 1 tournament, was pleased with his level in his 6-0, 6-2 win over No. 9 seed Kimi Basamakov of Thousand Oaks California.

"I think I played really well," said the 12-year-old from Long Island New York, who dreams not of winning the US Open, but has his sights set on the Wimbledon trophy. "I was executing my shots, I was consistent, I had very good energy and a good attitude."

Beilen, who trains at Robbie Wagner Tennis, didn't drop a set in his run to the final, and he was especially proud of his 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 7 seed Jack Kennedy, an Eastern rival, in the semifinals.
"I think I was playing good tennis from the beginning," said Beilen, who noted that his mother is his tennis coach and his father his fitness coach. "I knew the semifinal would probably be the most important match of the whole tournament, so I set my mind for that semifinal. I visualized, I trained for that moment and I pushed through it. We've known each other for a really long time and we've played each other a lot of times, we play doubles a lot together."

The doubles champions in the 14s and 16s were decided Tuesday afternoon.  The winners are pictured below, with the results in the captions.
Maxwell Exsted and Maximus Dussault d. Ian Bracks and Cooper Woestendick[7] 6-1, 7-6(5)

Amber Yin and Katie Rolls[1] d. Olivia Benton and Christasha McNeil 6-0, 6-3

Trenton Kanchanakomtorn and Jack Kennedy d. Colin McPeek and Navneet Raghuram[1] 6-4, 6-2

Abigail Gordon and Marcella Roversi[2] d. Isabelle DeLuccia and Kayla Moore[1] 7-6(5), 6-7(1), 10-8
Competition in the 16s division kicked off today, with top seeds Emon van Loben Sels and Natalie Block advancing in straight sets.

The first round of the ITF Grade B1 singles and doubles concluded today, with the seeds taking the court for the first time Wednesday.

Girls No. 1 seed Madison Sieg will face wild card Gracie Epps in the second round, while boys No. 1 seed Juncheng Shang will take on Cooper Williams.

At the Miami Open today, John Isner, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe lost their round of 16 matches, but Sebasatian Korda earned his first ATP Top 10 win, beating Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.  For more on Korda's first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal appearance, see this article from the ATP website.

Monday, March 29, 2021

IOSC Recap; 12s and 14s Easter Bowl Finals Set for Tuesday; First Round Action Begins in Easter Bowl ITF; Korda Among Four US Men Advancing at Miami Open

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

One week down and one week to go for me at the Barnes Tennis Center, with one tournament, the ITF Grade 1 International Open of Southern California, now in the books. I wrote my recap of that tournament for the Tennis Recruiting Network yesterday, and it's available on that site now, with details on the singles titles for Alexandra Yepifanova and Ethan Quinn and the doubles titles for Kimmi Hance and Reese Brantmeier and Sebastian Gorzny and Nathan Cox.

The semifinals in the Easter Bowl 12s and 14s were held today, and players from the Southern California section will be playing for titles in both age divisions.

In the girls 12s, Thea Frodin, from Woodland Hills California, will meet No. 4 seed Shannon Lam of New Jersey for the girls title. Frodin beat fellow No. 9 seed Meghan Rowley 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals, while Lam eliminated unseeded Kori Montoya 6-3, 6-1.

The boys 12s final will feature No. 4 seed Sebastian Bielen of New York against No. 9 seed Kimi Basamakov of Thousand Oaks California. Bielen posted a tough 6-4, 6-4 decision over No. 7 seed Jack Kennedy, also from the Eastern section, while Basamakov prevented an all-Eastern final by defeating David Clarke, a No. 9 seed, 6-1, 6-3.

Basamakov, who has yet to be forced into a third set tiebreaker that 12s play in lieu of a third set, was pleased with his performance, which took place on Stadium court.

"I played a really solid match," Basamakov said. "I played someone who hit the ball hard and I was able to maintain consistency. I'm liking my mental game right now, I'm not getting frustrated at all, and I'm hitting some pretty good shots."

As a resident of Thousand Oaks, Basamakov is familiar with the great players that come from that city, including former Easter Bowl champions Claire Liu, Marcos Giron and Sam Querrey, although he has yet to meet any of them, naming Taylor Fritz as the pro that he has actually spoken with, at a clinic at the USTA Training Center in Carson. But he is looking forward to adding his name to the list of Easter Bowl champions from Thousand Oaks, putting it on the tennis map "again."

A Southern California champion is assured in the girls 14s, with San Diego's own Elena Zhao, a No. 9 seed, facing unseeded Iva Jovic of Torrance. Zhao had the tougher match, needing three sets to defeat No. 3 seed Christasha McNeil 6-4, 1-6, 6-0, while Jovic beat unseeded Tianmei Wang 6-3, 6-0.

Jovic, who just turned 13, was not expecting to go quite this deep in the tournament.

"I knew that I could go far," said Jovic, who trains with former USC coach Peter Smith and Rylan Rizza at the Jack Kramer Club in Los Angeles. "but maybe not exactly this."

Jovic, who lost her first set of the tournament, but has not dropped one since, was happy with her performance in the semifinals.

"I think I played pretty well," Jovic said.
I was being aggressive and smart when I needed to; my backhand was really good today."

Top seed Cooper Woestendick advanced to his second Easter Bowl final with a 6-1, 6-0 win today over No. 4 seed A Filer. Woestendick, who lost in the boys 12s final in 2019 to Abhishek Thorat, will play unseeded Jimin Jung for the title on Tuesday.

Jung's 7-6(3), 7-5 win over unseeded Ian Bracks was a contentious affair, with Jung getting a game penalty for hitting a ball in anger after failing to serve out the set at 5-3 in the second, having received a warning and a point penalty earlier in the match. With the score at 5-5, Jung clarified with the chair umpire that the next code violation would be a default, not loss of a set, after the chair had warned him previously that the next instance of misconduct would be a default.

Brack took most of the loud shouts and celebrations from Jung in stride, but he did calmly speak with the umpire about Jung's behavior after Jung had directed a taunt at Brack. After two good returns with Brack serving at 5-6 deuce gave Jung the break and the match, he did not approach the net for a racquet tap (correction: Jung did tap racquets with Brack; I didn't see it, but Brack confirmed that acknowledgement at the end of the match) saying that he needed a more challenging match. Although with covid regulations, no handshake with the chair umpire is permitted, Jung did join Brack in thanking the chair umpire. 

The 16s division begins at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, while the first round of the Easter Bowl ITF Grade B1 tournament will conclude with the remaining 12 matches involving qualifiers on the schedule, along with the first round of doubles. Twenty first round singles matches were played today, with IOSC champion Ethan Quinn extending his winning streak on the Barnes courts to seven matches with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Aman Sharma.

With so much going on here in San Diego, I haven't had the opportunity to follow the Miami Open closely, but I wanted to note that four US men have advanced to the round of 16: unseeded Francis Tiafoe, No. 18 seed John Isner, No. 22 seed Taylor Fritz and unseeded Sebastian Korda. Korda, who beat No. 10 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy in the second round, took out one of the tour's hottest players in the third round today. The 20-year-old defeated No. 17 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia 6-3, 6-0, and will play No. 5 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina Tuesday.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Qualifying Complete at Adidas Easter Bowl ITF Grade B1 in San Diego; Semifinals Monday in 12s and 14s Divisions; Bowers Wins ITF Grade 5 Title in Cancun

©Colette Lewis 2021 

San Diego CA--

Qualifying for the Easter Bowl ITF Grade B1 concluded Sunday at the Barnes Tennis Center, while elsewhere on the grounds the 12s and 14s age divisions whittled their competition down to the final four.

After one round of qualifying on Saturday, two rounds were played on Sunday, with five of the matches in the final round going to a match tiebreaker. One of those featured Bryce Nakashima, the younger brother of 2017 Easter Bowl 16s champion and current ATP Top 150 player Brandon Nakashima.  Bryce lost in the final round of qualifying in last week's ITF Grade 1, but this week he made the main draw, defeating Mitchell Deames 7-5, 1-6, 10-4.

Except for No. 2 seed Hugo Hashimoto, the other five boys qualifiers were unseeded: Nakashima, Alexander Visser, William Thompson, Nathan Cox and Alexander Chang. Cox, who won the doubles with Sebastian Gorzny at the Grade 1 IOSC Friday, is now assured of an opportunity to compete in the doubles again this week.

Yannick Rahman, the No. 13 seed, withdrew at the last minute, so lucky loser Eugenio Gonzales Fitzmaurice will take Rahman's place in the draw and receive his bye.

After top boys seed Juncheng Shang had pulled out of the IOSC last week to compete in the Miami Open qualifying, there was speculation that he might not play Easter Bowl either, but he did make the trip and will be ready to go on Wednesday. Madison Sieg, who did not play the Grade 1 IOSC last week, is the top girls seed, with IOSC champion Alexandra Yepifanova seeded No. 2.

The six girls to qualify include three seeds: No. 11 Julia Fliegner, No. 10 seed Salma Farhat and No. 12 seed Liv Hovde. Also advancing to the main draw with two wins Sunday were Tomi Main, Emma Sun and Bridget Stammel.

The qualifiers have Monday off, while the seeded players are not scheduled for singles until Wednesday. Doubles are expected to begin on Tuesday.  

While the Easter Bowl's ITF schedule features only 20 first round singles matches Monday, and the 16s don't begin until Tuesday, the 12s and 14s will decide their finalists on Monday after a busy afternoon of quarterfinal action Sunday.

Only one of Monday's eight semifinals will feature an expected matchup, with top seed in the boys 14s, Cooper Woestendick taking on No. 4 seed A Filer. Woestendick defeated No. 6 seed ShriKeshav Murugesan 6-4, 6-2 and Filer beat unseeded Darwin Blanch 7-6(5), 6-2.  The bottom half semifinal has unseeded Jimin Jung playing unseeded Ian Bracks, after Jung defeated No. 7 seed Mario Garcia 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 and Bracks advanced over Max Exsted, who retired trailing 7-6(4) 2-0. 

In the girls 14s, Iva Jovic and Tianmei Wang, both unseeded, will face off after they defeated seeds in the quarterfinals. Jovic beat No. 9 seed Claire An 6-4, 6-3 and Wang came from behind to defeat No. 4 seed Maya Iyengar 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.  No. 3 seed Christasha McNeil defeated Rachel Lee 6-1, 7-5 to set up a semifinal with No. 9 seed Elena Zhao, who beat Capucine Jauffret, also a No. 9 seed, 6-4, 6-4.

All four semifinalists in the boys 12s are seeded, with No. 4 Sebastian Bielen leading the way. Bielen defeated No. 5 seed jack Secord 6-4, 6-4 and will take on No. 7 seed Jack Kennedy, who beat 10-year-old Teodor Davidov 4-6, 6-3, 10-6. Davidov is ambidextous, playing only forehands and alternating between right-handed and left-handed serves. A short clip of Davidov in his match with Kennedy today is below.  In the top half, two No. 9 seeds will meet: David Clarke beat Nayneet Raghuram 5-7, 6-3, 10-8 and Kimi Basamakov cruised past Michael Antonius 6-3, 6-1.

The girls 12s will feature unseeded Kori Montoya against No. 4 seed Shannon Lam. Montoya took a 15-13 tiebreaker from Ashley Liang to advance, while Lam beat No. 9 seed Nicole Okhtenberg 6-0, 6-2. Two No. 9 seeds moved on in the bottom half, with Meghan Rowley beating No. 3 seed Isabelle DeLuccia 6-4, 6-3 and Thea Frodin downed No. 9 seed Clara Harding 6-3, 7-5.

The 12s semifinals are scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, with the 14s semifinals at noon.

While many of the top US juniors were in San Diego last week, 15-year-old Ashton Bowers won her first ITF Junior Circuit singles title at the Grade 5 in Cancun Mexico. The No. 3 seed won an all-US championship match, beating Lizanne Boyer 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Kurt Miller made his second straight final in Cancun, falling again this week when he retired to No. 8 seed Luis Alvarez Valdes of Mexico trailing 6-4, 2-3.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Wild Card Quinn, Top Seed Yepifanova Claim ITF Grade 1 International Open of Southern California Titles; Two More Top Seeds Ousted in Easter Bowl 12s and 14s Divisions, 16s Draws Posted

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

Top seed Alexandra Yepifanova and wild card Ethan Quinn earned titles Saturday at the International Open of Southern California Saturday, with the contrasts not only in their stature but in how the first sets of their first ITF Grade 1 finals played out.

Yepifanova saved two set points in the 74-minute first set of her 7-6(7), 6-2 win over No. 10 seed Reese Brantmeier, while Quinn needed barely 30 minutes to secure the opener in his 6-1, 6-4 victory over No. 5 seed Samir Banerjee.

The girls kicked off a clear and cool finals day at the Barnes Tennis Center with an opening set both were proud to have played. Even with six service breaks, the level was high, with long rallies and big hitting the rule, not the exception.

"Today I couldn't even be in a negative mood, because the entire first set was incredible," said Yepifanova, an 18-year-old from Florida. "I wasn't even that impressed with my tennis, but I felt like we had such quality points. Whenever I gave her a short ball, she would always step in and put it away; whenever she gave me a short ball or some advantage in the point, I would use it right away. We had really good points. So I wasn't getting that excited or upset, because of the quality of the match, and because I knew that at any moment, she could step in and hit an unbelievable forehand cross."

Brantmeier served for the first set at 5-4, but few first serves plus the aggressive returns by Yepifanova resulted in a break at love. After two holds, the tiebreaker was an up-and-down affair, with Yepifanova taking a 4-1 lead, only to watch as Brantmeier recovered to take the next five points and a 6-4 lead. She dropped the first set point with a backhand error; the second ended with Brantmeier netting a backhand pass, but that was after a thrilling rally that either girl might have won but for the other's defense. Yepifanova missed her first shot at a set point by sending her backhand putaway at the net wide, but she didn't get frustrated, and converted her second set point with a big forehand winner that ticked the net but landed in.

"She played a really good tiebreak," said Brantmeier, a 16-year-old from Wisconsin, who trains regularly at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona Florida. "I was happy with how I played them, just came up short. I think she carried the momentum of the first set really well into the second, got up 2-0 early. I was playing the right way, and I am happy with that, but the execution just wasn't there for me."

Yepifanova focused in the second set on continuing to keep her unforced error count low and, unlike the first set, was able to hold serve throughout.

"I was trying to limit the unforced errors, because at this level, giving points is just unacceptable," said Yepifanova, who now trains with Roger Anderson and Chani Scheepers at the Team Anderson Academy in Lake Worth Florida. "I felt like in the second set, she was kind of stuck in the first set. She couldn't really regroup as well. She was going for her shots, but it sometimes it was a little much, unlike the first set, when she was more consistent and playing a little smarter."

Brantmeier felt a better performance with her return may hold the key to getting into the win column against Yepifanova, who has won all four of their meetings.

"She served really well, but for me, putting more returns in play would have been really helpful," said Brantmeier, who won the doubles title on Friday with Kimmi Hance. "I think I gave her a lot of free points that way. There were a lot of breaks in the beginning and that could definitely have made the difference."

Yepifanova noted the progress Brantmeier has made in her game since their last meeting in July of 2020.

"I think her game, it broadened," Yepifanova said. "Even though she always used the slice, she likes to play at the net, she won doubles here. Her forehand cross was great and a few times she hit a loopier, higher ball. I don't recall her having that. She has a bigger selection of shots now, and she uses them very well."

Both Brantmeier and Yepifanova are playing the upcoming Easter Bowl, but as seeds, will likely not play until Wednesday, giving Yepifanova several days to indulge at a Southern California favorite: In-N-Out Burger.

"It's a great feeling," said Yepifanova, who starts at Stanford in the fall, and had future teammate Valencia Xu cheering her on from the sidelines. "I get to celebrate at In-N-Out and I'm really excited about it. But overall, rather than the result, I'm more proud of my performance today and in previous matches, because I could not only build, but also because all the aspects of my game that I'm working on were working well."

Quinn had every reason to be nervous, playing his first match on Stadium Court this week, and having no experience in any tournament above a ITF Grade 4 until this week.

But the 17-year-old from Fresno dominated from the start running out to a 4-0 lead with a combination of big serves, bigger forehands and a slow start from Banerjee. 

"I definitely felt pretty loose going into the match," Quinn said. "I had a really high first serve percentage in the first set, so it was pretty tough for him to get into the points, as I was serving well and getting into the court and dictating. I also wasn't making many unforced errors, and throughout the match I felt super loose. I was going for shots, and I was making them."

Banerjee had made the final last week at the Grade 1 in Colombia, but he was unwilling to assign any blame for his loss on fatigue.

"Physically I was feeling a little tired, but all credit to him," said Banerjee, a 17-year-old from New Jersey. "I don't think it was my fitness that let me down, he just played an unreal match, all credit to him. Right from the get-go he put the pressure on me, he was forcing me to hit shots I wasn't able to hit, making me uncomfortable; everything I seemed to do, he countered it and did something better."

Banerjee regrouped in the second set, reducing his unforced error count and holding serve until 4-5, although he admitted the effort he had to expend to keep up with Quinn took a toll.

"My service games were long and I really had to dig deep to hold serve, and he was kind of holding with ease," said Banerjee, who defeated top seed Bruno Kuzuhara 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in Friday's semifinals. "That's tough, when I have a long service game and he gets just an easy service game. He was serving very well, I think he made most of his first serves, followed them in, and it was tough to return against him today."

Although his serve and his forehand will win him the majority of his points, Quinn believes his ability to come to net, volley and use touch shots makes his bread-and-butter game more effective.

"The opponent's not really sure what I'm going to do," said Quinn, who trains with Brad Stine in Fresno when Stine is not on the ATP circuit with Tommy Paul. "If I'm going to serve and volley, or stay back and rip a forehand inside in or inside out. It keeps them thinking, keeps them on their toes and if they do think they've finally figured something out, I'll throw something else at them, to slow them down a little bit, even if just by a half a step."

Quinn admitted that he got "ahead of myself" on Friday night, contemplating where his ITF ranking would be with a win.

"I really want to play in the grand slams," said Quinn, who will move from 542 into the Top 100 with this week's title and an appearance in the doubles final. "So I was looking at the points, and what this tournament has done for my ranking. Right now, I'll be right up there and definitely have a good chance with Easter Bowl coming up to get into the French Open, so I'm super excited."

The round of 16 in the 12s and 14s division of the Easter Bowl produced more surprises, with girls 12s No. 1 seed Kayla Moore going out to unseeded Ashley Liang 6-3, 6-1 and boys 12s No. 1 seed Trenton Kanchankomtorn falling to No. 9 seed David Clarke 6-3, 6-4.  Girls 14s top seed Katie Rolls had lost in the second round Friday.  Boys 14s top seed Cooper Woestendick, who saved match points in his second round win Friday, defeated No. 9 seed Calvin Baierl  6-1, 6-3 to advance to Sunday's quarterfinals. 

The 16s draws were released today, with the top 4 seeds listed below. As is the case with the 12s and 14s, the champions at the USTA Level 1 Spring Individual Championships are the top seeds.

The 16s draws, plus results in the 12s and 14s are available at the TennisLink site.

1. Emon van Loben Sells
2. Mitchell Lee
3. David Saye
4. Greyson Casey

1. Natalie Block
2. Yichen Zhao
3. Karolina Jacobson
4. Tatum Evans

Friday, March 26, 2021

Wild Card Quinn, No. 5 Seed Banerjee Reach IOSC Boys Final, Brantmeier and Yepifanova Vie for Girls Championship, Doubles Champions Crowned; Easter Bowl Girls 14s Top Seed Falls in Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

When Samir Banerjee played Ethan Quinn in the third round of the 2019 Easter Bowl 16s Championships, Banerjee, who went on to claim the title, didn't know who Quinn was. Quinn, playing in his first ITF Grade 1 tournament this week at the International Open of Southern California, will not take No. 5 seed Banerjee by surprise when they meet for the boys singles title Friday at the Barnes Tennis Center. 

"I never heard of him before then, but he was a good player," said Banerjee, who took out top seed Bruno Kuzuhara 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in today's semifinals. "He was hitting winners and everything. He was just a little bit inconsistent back then, but now he's definitely solidified himself up here."

"He really didn't know me too well," Quinn said of that Easter Bowl match, "and I came in loose and he was a little bit tight, especially when I got up on him a little bit, he was like, who is this guy? He'll know me now, but I'll definitely have to do some talking with my coaches for a game plan."

Quinn reached the final with a 6-4, 6-1 win over unseeded Braden Shick, eventually finding his rhythm after trailing 3-1 in the opening set.

"I started a little bit slow, but once I found my groove, I put my foot on the gas and I cruised forward," said the 17-year-old from Fresno. "I was controlling the points a lot with my forehand, and I was dictating a lot, not moving, so I was able to stay in the middle and play the way that I wanted to play."

Banerjee recalled his three-set loss to Kuzuhara in 2018's Easter Bowl 14s final, the last time they had played. 

"I think I developed as a player since the last time we played and he's also developed too," said the 17-year-old from New Jersey, who reached the final at last week's Grade 1 in Barranquilla Colombia. "He's had some good results down in South America, so he's definitely playing really well, but I thought I played a really smart match, didn't let him push me back, tried to come into the net whenever I could. I think I did everything right and I played a solid match."

After Kuzuhara took the second set, with a love break with Banerjee serving at 4-5, Banerjee was managed to regroup from that game, getting a break at 1-1, and a second to go up 4-1. 

"I knew one break against Bruno just isn't enough," Banerjee said. "He's always there, and he's going to fight back no matter what, so I really wanted that second break for some security. And even after that, we still had two tight games that could have gone either way, so it was a little tight at the end, but I pulled through."

The girls semifinals followed a similar pattern, with one match straightforward and the other a roller coaster of a three-setter.

Top seed Alexandra Yepifanova needed barely an hour to end the run of qualifier Elisabeth Jones 6-1, 6-2, while No. 10 seed Reese Brantmeier managed to overcome the loss of nine straight games to defeat No. 12 seed Kayla Cross of Canada 6-2, 0-6, 6-3. 

Yepifanova's power kept Jones defending, neutralizing the two-handed forehand that had helped Jones win seven matches in the previous six days. 

"Today felt really good," said the 18-year-old from Florida. "She kind of has a little bit unorthodox shots, the double-handed forehand, it's not very common, and it was very aggressive. I had to adjust a little bit to that in the beginning, but after that I just focused on me, and the score went my way."

Yepifanova said she felt short on match play coming into the tournament.

"I was playing a series tournaments, but in those tournaments I only played one or two matches and then I would lose, because I was trying to play professional tournaments," Yepifanova said. "I kind of had to get in that routine of building, staying focused match to match."

Brantmeier managed to win her third straight three-set match today, a result that looked unlikely after she trailed 3-0 in the final set.

"I came out playing really well," said Brantmeier, who needed just 30 minutes to claim the first set. "Props to Kayla, she's a great players and she didn't go away in the second. She come out strong, got an early break and really got a lot of momentum going in the second, which kind of carried on into the third."

Brantmeier got the break back in the third set, and then held on in a lengthy game serving at 2-3, which proved to be the turning point in the match.

"I think that game was huge," said the 16-year-old from Wisconsin, who said she couldn't count the number of break points she saved in that game. "The whole match had a lot of momentum swings and that was a really big point. She had won nine games straight, I had just started coming back in the third, and I think that game, to make in even in the third, made all the difference."

Cross had a game point to go up 4-3, but two double faults helped Brantmeier secure the break, and she closed the match on a six-game run of her own.

Brantmeier and Yepifanova played a memorable match in the quarterfinals of the US Open Junior Championships in 2019, with Yepifanova coming back from 6-4, 3-0 down to beat Brantmeier on her way to the final. Yepifanova also defeated Brantmeier at the Grade B1 in Kentucky a month later, and at a UTR tournament last summer.

"At US Open, we both played really well, and I was up by a lot and she came back and beat me in the third," Brantmeier said. "I know she's never going to go away, so I need to be at the top of my game and keep my energy up the whole match."

"We've played each other multiple time, so we both know it's going to be a good match," Yepifanova said. 

Brantmeier already has earned on IOSC title this week, partnering with Kimmi Hance to take the doubles championships Friday afternoon. 

No. 6 seeds Brantmeier and Hance, who won the Orange Bowl title the last time they played together, defeated No. 7 seeds Victoria Mboko of Canada and Clervie Ngounoue 6-4, 3-6, 10-3.

After Brantmeier and Hance jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first, Mboko and Ngounoue found their form, winning three straight games before Brantmeier and Hance finally converted on their eighth set point.  Mboko and Ngounoue turned the tables in the second, taking a 5-1 lead and holding on to force a match tiebreaker.

The experience of Hance and Brantmeier showed in that match tiebreaker, as they made first serves, first volleys and returns, while keeping unforced errors to a minimum. They didn't drop serve, getting a comfortable lead when Ngounoue lost both points on her serve and Mboko double faulting at 2-7.

"I think coming off Orange Bowl, we had a lot of confidence that we could get it in the end," Brantmeier said.

Brantmeier and Hance had not played together since the Orange Bowl and had not had an opportunity to practice prior to this tournament, with Hance reaching the final last week at the Grade 4 in Las Vegas, which Brantmeier did not play.

"We definitely worked our way into it," Brantmeier said. "A couple of months not playing together, anyone is going to have a hard time in the beginning. But as we got more comfortable, we got back in our rhythm and I think we played some really good tennis at the end."

"We were aware that we needed to get back in our rhythm in our first match," said Hance, who has signed with UCLA for the fall. "We felt sometimes we were a little off, doing our own things, but as soon as we connected, we did a good job."

Hance and Brantmeier hope to continue their run of junior major titles at next week's Grade B1 Easter Bowl.

The boys doubles champions also had past success to buoy them, with Sebastian Gorzny and Nathan Cox now three-for-three in the tournaments they've played after the unseeded pair beat Quinn and his partner Nicholas Godsick 6-4, 6-3.

Gorzny and Cox, both singles qualifiers, didn't drop serve in their win today, dominating their unseeded opponents in just under an hour.

"I thought we played pretty well," said Gorzny, who won the Grade 4 title last week in Las Vegas with Braden Michna, with Cox not playing that event. "One of our best matches of the tournament for sure. We served well, didn't get broken, so it was pretty good."

"We have good communication and our games pair well with each other," Cox said. "His serve, me at the net is a good combination, and we run a lot of good plays, the lefty-righty combo works well. We both return similarly and we both like to go to the net."

Gorzny and Cox lost the first set they played in the tournament, but then went on to beat the No. 5, No. 1 and No. 4 seeded teams to advance to the final.

"Our first match, we didn't feel the greatest," Cox said. "We started off sluggish, not focused, lost the first set...but after that match, we started to play a lot better."

Gorzny and Cox are planning to play the Easter Bowl together, if they get in; with Cox a wild card in qualifying, their entry is not guaranteed.

Easter Bowl Grade B1 qualifying begins on Saturday, with those draws available here.

Second round singles matches in the Easter Bowl 12s and 14s divisions were played today, with girls 14s top seed Katie Rolls falling to Adriana Sciara 6-4, 6-1. Rolls had won the USTA Spring Individual Championships earlier this month.

In boys 14s, No. 2 seed Braeden Gelletich and No. 3 seed Nicolas Iantosca were beaten, with Jimin Jung downing Gelletich 6-2, 6-1, and Max Exsted defeating Iantosca 6-7(7), 6-2, 6-0.  Top boys 14s seed Cooper Woestendick prevailed in a third set tiebreaker over Vincent Yang.

Complete results can be found at the TennisLink site.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Top Seeds Through to IOSC Semifinals, But Second Seeds Fall; Easter Bowl 12s and 14s Begin with Rain Delays; Easter Bowl ITF Wild Cards

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

Top seeds Bruno Kuzuhara and Alexandra Yepifanova advanced to the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 International Open of Southern California on a cloudy and cool morning at the Barnes Tennis Center, but No. 2 seeds Elvina Kalieva and Great Britain's Jack Pinnington Jones both were eliminated, as was No. 3 seed Julia Garcia of Mexico.

Wild card Ethan Quinn, playing in his first ITF Grade 1 tournament, defeated Pinnington Jones, now No. 7 in the world junior rankings, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2.

"I had a pretty good game plan going into the match," said the 17-year-old from Fresno California, who had gotten a scouting report from doubles partner Nicholas Godsick, a doubles opponent of Pinnington Jones earlier this month in the Dominican Republic. "He said to play the backhand more, it's not as fierce as his forehand. His forehand was able to pull me off the court pretty easily, honestly, but I neutralized that pretty well by going to the backhand."

Quinn said he took advantage of the windy conditions, while Pinnington Jones had problems adjusting.

"He was struggling a little bit with the wind, the wind was for sure tough," said Quinn, who trains with Brad Stine in Fresno, when Stine is not traveling with ATP pro Tommy Paul. "So I kind of used that to my advantage, forcing him to make balls, and he was getting frustrated with the wind. I kind of forced that, by putting indirect pressure, making balls. I wasn't making many unforced errors."

Now that he's beaten his first Top 10 ITF junior, Quinn can admit that he wasn't sure how he'd do at this level.

"I was a little bit scared coming into the tournament because I was so low ranked, not really known by most of the guys," said Quinn, who had a ranking of 679 coming into the tournament. "I'm definitely making a name for myself in this tournament. But as I'm playing now, I'm a little bit looser to not have as much on my shoulders. I'm not having to defend anything, so I'm able to play freely, and it's nice for me."

Quinn's opponent in the semifinals, Braden Shick, also has that underdog mentality. The North Carolina State freshman survived a second straight grueling match, beating qualifier Nathan Cox 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4).

No. 5 seed Samir Banerjee, last week's finalist at the Grade 1 in Colombia, defeated No. 4 seed Jack Anthrop 6-2, 6-3 in the only straight-sets match in the boys quarterfinals. Banerjee will take on Kuzuhara, who survived a nail-biter with frequent doubles partner and friend Victor Lilov, the No. 7 seed, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.

Despite the frustration of dealing with the wind, both Kuzuhara and Lilov played well, with aggressive play from the baseline and occasional finishes at the net. Lilov double faulted serving at 4-5 in the second set tiebreaker, and Kuzuhara came up with a blistering forehand winner on the next point, which he celebrated with a loud roar.

Closing out the match serving at 5-4 in the third proved difficult for Kuzuhara, as Lilov maintained his focus and his aggressive play. After Lilov had saved two match points in the five-deuce game, Kuzuhara double faulted twice, but Lilov couldn't convert on either of the subsequent break points. Another match point came and went, but on the fourth, a good first serve produced a wide return from Lilov and Kuzuhara had survived.

Lilov and Kuzuhara met in the 2016 Junior Orange Bowl 12s final, with Lilov winning that in three sets, but in spite of their similar ages and schedules, they had not faced off in any event in more than four years.

In the girls quarterfinals, Yepifanova was able to get through in straight sets, beating No. 9 seed Clervie Ngounoue 6-2, 6-3. Yepifanova will face qualifier Elisabeth Jones, who staged a dramatic comeback to defeat No. 3 seed Julia Garcia of Mexico 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(5).  Garcia served for the match at 6-5 in the third, but Jones broke back, only to fall behind 5-1 in the tiebreaker before winning the last six points of the match.

"At 5-1, I was making a bunch of quick errors, I wasn't being patient enough," said the 17-year-old from Michigan. "I was thinking, it's just going by so fast, I don't even know what's happening. When I walked over to get my towel, my coach said it's not over, keep fighting and those words got to me."

Jones noticed that Garcia was not hitting with the same pace as she had been.

"I started attacking more and when it got to 5-4, I was like, I can do this, I can win this match," Jones said. "She kept taking off more and more pace. I think she was nervous. That happens to me sometimes, especially in a third set tiebreak, if you get up. I could kind of sense that."

In contrast to Garcia, Jones stepped up the pace on her two-handed forehand, hitting a clean winner to make it 5-3, and another that forced an error to make it 5-5. With the left-handed Garcia not getting a first serve in at 5-4 or 5-5, Jones had an advantage, and she hit another forehand winner to earn a match point. She converted immediately, with Garcia's forehand going wide after a brief rally.

With Jones now having beaten three seeds she is now set for a first encounter with Yepifanova, the 2019 US Open girls finalist.

No. 10 seed Reese Brantmeier was much more familiar with her quarterfinal opponent Kalieva, who had beaten her in the first round of the Grade A Orange Bowl back in December. But Brantmeier learned from that loss, taking a 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-1 victory over the tiring No. 2 seed.

"I've been working a lot on my game on moving forward and that was really an emphasis of mine," said Brantmeier, who has been training regularly with USTA National Coach Jermaine Jenkins at the National Campus since it reopened last year. "I think that really made the difference for me."

Brantmeier has only good memories of the Barnes Tennis Center as she won the USTA National 16s title here in 2019.

The only international player remaining in either draw is Canadian Kayla Cross, who took out Orange Bowl champion Ashlyn Krueger, the No. 4 seed, 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.

"I was just getting used to her in the first set," said the 12th-seeded Cross, who turned 16 on Sunday. "She hits really big, she has a really good serve, so I had to get use to the serve, setting up faster, being more prepared for the hard shots she was going to hit. I feel like in the second and third sets, I really stepped up my game on my returns, so we could start off the point neutral, so she wouldn't be always attacking me."

Cross didn't trail in the third set, with Krueger able to break back immediately after Cross took a 4-2 lead and hold for 4-4. But serving at 4-5, Krueger couldn't pull even a second time and Cross had her best win.

Cross reached the final of last week's Grade 2 in the Dominican Republic, which helped her get ready after competing sporadically this year.

"The first couple of matches were a little hard because I hadn't competed in a long time and when you haven't competed in a long time and you go back to competing you have a lot of nerves, obviously," Cross said. "But I think since I did well in Dominican and I had a lot of matches, that helped me today."

Brantmeier and Cross have not played each other in singles, but they became friends at the 2019 WTA Future Stars event in Shenzhen, with Cross competing in the 14s and Brantmeier, who won that title, in the 16s.

"We traveled to China together and not a lot of people spoke English there, so we got pretty tight," Brantmeier said. "There were only four of us from the Western countries."

Brantmeier has also advanced to the doubles final, after she and Kimmi Hance won their rain-interrupted semifinal against No. 5 seeds Krueger and Sarah Hamner 6-3, 6-0. Brantmeier and Hance, the Orange Bowl champions and No. 6 seeds, will face No. 7 seeds Victoria Mboko of Canada and Ngounoue for the title. Mboko and Ngounoue defeated unseeded Gracie Epps and Aubrey Nisbet 6-4, 3-6, 14-12.

One of the boys doubles semifinals finished before the rain arrived, with Quinn and Godsick advancing to the final when Ryan Colby and Ekansh Kumar retired due to Colby's injury trailing 5-2.

In Friday's final, Quinn and Godsick will face fellow unseeded team Nathan Cox and Sebastian Gorzny, who defeated No. 4 seeds Banerjee and Benjamin Kittay 6-3, 6-1.

The intermittent rain that moved into the area in the early afternoon played havoc with the first day of competition in the Easter Bowl 12s and 14s, with the doubles canceled and the uncompleted matches at alternate sites moved to Barnes to take advantage of the lights.

Top seeds Kayla Moore(G12s), Trenton Kanchankomtorn(B12s) and Cooper Woestendick(B14s) did win their first round matches today.

Main draw wild cards for next week's Easter Bowl ITF Grade B1 are:

Jonah Braswell
Kyle Kang
Nicolas Kotzen
Preston Stearns
Nicholas Godsick
Jayden Templeman(CAN)

Vivian Ovrootsky
Gracie Epps
Brooklyn Olson
Mary Stoiana
Anne Lutkemeyer

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Qualifiers Jones and Cox Oust Seeds to Reach Quarterfinals at ITF Grade 1 in San Diego, Top Seeds Out in Doubles; Texas A&M's Habib, Georgia's Jokic No. 1 in First ITA D-I Singles Rankings

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

Elisabeth Jones and Nathan Cox have little experience in ITF Junior Circuit Grade 1 events, which explains why they both had to win three qualifying matches just to reach the main draw.

But both have made the most of their opportunities this week at the International Open of Southern California, taking out seeds in Wednesday's third round action on a clear and cool day at the Barnes Tennis Center.

Jones defeated No. 11 seed Rebecca Lynn in the second round Tuesday, and was able to follow that up with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over No. 6 seed Valencia Xu, using her two-handed forehand to control many of the points.

"I love having both hands, I feel I can do so much with it," said the 17-year-old from Grosse Pointe Farms, who has verbally committed to Michigan. "I love taking balls early, that's probably the biggest part of my game. I can just step in and hit it and I feel like it has extra power too...it's very unorthodox, it throws people off and it's not a normal ball that I'm hitting."

Jones started playing with both hands on both sides at the Wimbledon Racquet Club, back when she was too small to swing a racquet with two hands.

"My coach Joe Shaheen told me to play that way," Jones said. "I was too weak to use one hand."

Jones said she had lost badly to Xu in the 14s.

"I did not do too well," Jones said of the 6-2, 6-0 loss she suffered in 2017. "It wasn't that close. But I think I had a good game plan going into this match, and my last two opponents have kind of had her game style too, so I just knew what I was doing, upping my game, especially on the big points."

During 2019 Jones had started to play more lower level ITF events in the United States, but the pandemic put an end to that. She lost in the second round of the Grade 4 in Las Vegas last week, but her relatively easy wins in qualifying provided the boost she needed.

"I've been having a lot more confidence this tournament," Jones said. "Usually I struggle with that, but I'm being more positive, believing in myself, that I can win this match, believing I can beat anyone here."

Jones will face No. 3 seed Julia Garcia of Mexico, who got a walkover from and injured Eleana Yu.

Jones is the only unseeded player remaining in the draw with seven of the eight seeds in action today advancing.  Top seed Alexandra Yepifanova made short work of qualifier Karsyn Evans 6-0, 6-0. Yepifanova will play No. 9 seed Clervie Ngounoue, who defeated Kimmi Hance 6-0, 6-3.   In the bottom half, No. 12 seed Kayla Cross of Canada will face No. 4 seed Ashlyn Krueger, who defeated Las Vegas winner Victoria Mboko of Canada 6-2, 6-0. Cross posted a 6-4, 6-4 win over Sarah Hamner to advance to the quarterfinals. No. 2 seed Elvina Kalieva, who barely eked out a victory yesterday in three sets, had a straightforward 6-2, 6-0 win over Vivian Ovrootsky in today's third round. She will play No. 10 seed Reese Brantmeier, who won the only three set match in the girls third round Wednesday, beating Madeleine Jessup 7-5, 5-7, 6-1.

Cox won the only three-set match in the boys third round, and he took down the highest seed yet to fall in No. 3 Alexander Bernard. After dropping the first set 6-3, Cox worked out a strategy that paid off in a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

"I made a lot of errors in the first set and I think it was because his forehand was really heavy, it was a big ball," said Cox, who was playing his second fellow left-hander in as many days. "But his backhand was a little bit weaker, so in the second and third set I started to attack his backhand more. That helped me a lot, keeping more balls in and keeping him on the run and me attacking, not him."

Cox had played only a few lower level ITF Junior events in Florida and the Caribbean, but the high school junior is now in the quarterfinals of the first Grade 1 he has ever played. He'll need to make the singles final this week to earn a special exemption into the main draw of the Grade B1 Easter Bowl next week.

Cox will play another of the unseeded players in the bottom half, Braden Shick, who defeated Sebastian Sec 7-6(2), 7-6(5) in the longest match of the day, with a duration of two and a half hours.

The third unseeded player in the bottom half quarterfinals is Ethan Quinn, who beat wild card Alex Michelsen 6-4, 6-1. He will play Jack Pinnington Jones of Great Britain, the only international player still remaining in the boys draw. Pinnington Jones defeated No. 14 seed Azuma Visaya 6-3, 6-3.

The top half will feature all seeds, with top seed Bruno Kuzuhara taking on No. 7 seed Victor Lilov. Kuzuhara took out Jayden Templeman of Canada 6-3, 6-3, while Lilov ended the run of wild card Rohan Murali 6-2, 6-0. Kuzuhara and Lilov met in the final of the Junior Orange Bowl 12s way back in 2016 and have been frequent doubles partners on the ITF Junior Circuit the past several years.

No. 4 seed Jack Anthrop, who defeated Alexander Razeghi 6-2, 6-1, will take on No. 8 seed Samir Banerjee, who advanced when Ryan Colby retired trailing 6-0, 1-0. Banerjee reached the final of the Grade 1 in Colombia last week.

Banerjee is half of the only seeded doubles team remaining in the boys draw after a series of upsets in this afternoon's action. Banerjee and Benjamin Kittay, the No. 4 seeds, defeated No. 8 seeds Visaya and Lucas Brown 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-8 to reach Thursday's semifinals. They will play Cox and his partner Sebastian Gorzny, who took out top seeds Bernard and Lilov 7-5, 6-3.

No. 2 seeds Kuzuhara and Aidan Kim lost to 16s Orange Bowl champions Quinn and Nicholas Godsick 2-6, 6-3, 10-8. Quinn and Godsick face Colby and Ekansh Kumar, who defeated the unseeded team of Templeman and Evan Lee 6-2, 7-5. 

The top two seeds in the girls doubles also lost this afternoon, with No. 7 seeds Mboko and Ngounoue beating No. 1 Kalieva and Yepifanova 2-6, 6-2, 10-4. Orange Bowl champions Brantmeier and Hance, seeded No. 6, defeated No. 2 seeds Cross and Xu 6-2, 6-1.   Brantmeier and Hance will face No. 5 seeds Hamner and Krueger in the semifinals, while Mboko and Ngounoue will play the last team to get into the draw, Gracie Epps and Aubrey Nisbet. Epps and Nisbet defeated No. 4 seeds Mia Kupres and Annabelle Xu of Canada 7-6(7), 2-6, 10-8.

The ITA released its first Division I individual rankings of the year today, with Texas A&M's Hady Habib No. 1 in men's singles and Georgia's Katarina Jokic No. 1 in women's singles. The top men's doubles team is Mississippi's Tim Sandkaulen and Finn Reynolds. The No. 1 team in women's doubles is Georgia Tech's Victoria Flores and Kenya Jones.

There was no change at the top of the team rankings, which were done by computer for the first time this week, with the North Carolina women and North Carolina men holding on to the top spots.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Half the Seeds Fall on Day Two of the ITF Grade 1 International Open of Southern California; Draws, Seeds Posted for Easter Bowl 12s and 14s; Five Americans Qualify for Miami Open

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

A brief shower Tuesday morning delayed the debut of the seeded players in the second round of the ITF Grade 1 International Open of Southern California, and when the singles matches finished under sunny skies at the Barnes Tennis Center, half of them had seen their hopes for a title ended. 

The top four seeds in both the girls and boys draws survived, but eight girls and eight boys seeds were eliminated, including both No. 5 seeds, who lost to Southern Californians.

Kimmi Hance of Torrance defeated No. 5 seed Annabelle Xu of Canada 7-5, 6-4 and wild card Alex Michelsen ousted No. 5 seed Aidan Mayo 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-4. 

Michelsen, who won the 2020 Southern California 18s sectional championships last fall, had lost to Mayo in straight sets last month in a UTR event in Newport Beach.

"I was prepared for this one, ready for all his antics," said the 16-year-old. "The first time I didn't know who he was, and he just came out and yelled at me on every point, but this time I was ready for it."

Michelsen is making his debut in the ITF Junior Circuit this week, but he is comfortable with the setting. 

"It feels great," said Michelsen. "I've won a few tournaments here, so hopefully I can get this one, that would be great."

Michelsen will play unseeded Ethan Quinn, who defeated No. 9 seed Benjamin Kittay 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Michelsen wasn't the only Southern California wild card to pull off an upset today, with Rohan Murali, who trains with Steve Adamson at the Barnes Tennis Center, beating No. 11 seed Yamato Sueoka of Japan 7-6(5), 6-3.

 No. 6 seed Ozan Colak was coming off a Grade 1 title last week in Colombia, but he was no match for Braden Shick today, who posted a convincing 6-1, 6-4 victory.

"We've played each other since 12s, so many times," said Shick. "We're really good friends too, so it's always a fun match. He's been playing really well and has made a huge jump in the past five months, but I didn't really think too much about that...I thought he might be a little tired after playing there all week, then flying here and playing two days later, it's pretty tough. I'm sure that played a bit of a role."

Shick, who was sporting his bright red Wolfpack half-zip to ward off the San Diego chill, enrolled at North Carolina State in January, where he is both literally and figuratively a red-shirt.

"I made a last-minute decision, like January 5th, and moved out a week later from my house, just for training pretty much," said Shick, who is from Greensboro North Carolina. "I thought it would be an advantage to train with college guys and still have the opportunity to come play here, so that's why I red-shirted: to play this tournaments, with the college training."

Shick will face unseeded Sebastian Sec, who downed No. 12 seed Pedro Rodenas of Spain 4-6, 6-2, 6-1.

Top seed Bruno Kuzuhara had his hands full with qualifier Sebastian Gorzny, but Kuzuhara survived 7-6(4), 6-3. Girls top seed Alexandra Yepifanova defeated Canadian Martyna Ostrzygalo of Canada 6-2, 7-5.

No. 2 seed Elvina Kalieva was pushed to the limit by qualifier Ahmani Guichard before pulling out a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory. Kalieva trailed 15-40 in both the eighth and final game of the third set, but managed to hold serve each time, outlasting Guichard in several punishing rallies to secure the win. 

 No. 7 seed Alexis Blokhina was not as fortunate, with Sarah Hamner coming back for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

"I've played Alexis a lot, especially in the past three months, I've played her three times, so I got a little nervous," said Hamner, who has committed to South Carolina for this fall. "But after the first set, I kept moving forward and taking time away. I knew it was going to be a grind, and I was a little nervous, but it's ok, I calmed down."

Hamner's doubles partner, No. 4 seed Ashlyn Krueger, had plenty of time to watch her friend's match after taking out Nikita Vishwase of India 6-0, 6-1 in less than a hour.

"I played well," said the reigning Orange Bowl champion, who used her serve and forehand to win a lot of points quickly. "I just focused on a lot of stuff I was working on in practice. She kind of had a game that set up what I was working on, so I just took care of business. She was super competitive and she played well; I just outplayed her today."

The quarterfinals are set in doubles, with seven of the eight seeded teams advancing in the girls draw, but only four of the eight boys seeds surviving.

Wednesday's order of play and completed draws are available at the tournament website.

The Easter Bowl 12s and 14s divisions begin on Thursday, and draws have been posted at the TennisLink site. The top four seeds in each draw:

1. Trenton Kanchankomtorn
2. Krishna Bhadriraju
3. Carel Ngounoue
4. Sebastian Bielen

1. Cooper Woestendick
2. Braeden Gelletich
3. Nicolas Iantosca
4. A Filer

1. Kayla Moore
2. Sena Yoon
3. Isabelle DeLuccia
4. Shannon Lam

1. Katie Rolls
2. Amber Yin
3. Christasha McNeil
4. Maya Iyengar

Qualifying has concluded at the Miami Open, with Ernesto Escobedo, Mackenzie McDonald, Bjorn Fratangelo and Emilio Nava earning spots in the main draw. 2019 Wimbledon junior champion Shintaro Mochizuki of Japan, who, like Nava, received a qualifying wild card, also advanced to the main draw.  Hailey Baptiste, also given a wild card into qualifying, is the only American woman who made it through to the main draw.

The women's main draw is here; the men's main draw is here.

Monday, March 22, 2021

No Days Off for Qualifier Gorzny, Hovde Wins Battle of Wild Cards in Monday's First Round at International Open of Southern California

©Colette Lewis 2021-- San Diego CA
I'll admit to being rusty today at the International Open of Southern California, as this was my first day covering the opening round of a junior tournament since December 2019's Orange Bowl.

With 16 matches to watch at any given moment this morning at the Barnes Tennis Center, and many players I knew by name but not by face after this long hiatus, I didn't park myself at any one match. But I think I saw everyone hit at least a few shots, and it felt great, on a sunny day with temperatures in the mid-60s, to be back doing what I enjoy most about this work.

I watched the third set of the match between wild cards Liv Hovde and Anne Lutkemeyer, with the 15-year-old Hovde posting a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory. Lutkemeyer, the 2018 16s champion at this tournament, when it was held in Carson, saved three match points, with Hovde serving for the match at 40-0.

"When it got to deuce, I was just like, ok, just breathe, calm down," said Hovde, who trains with Phil Dent at his academy in the Dallas area. "You can't let it affect your game."

Lutkemeyer looked determined to make every ball during those three points, and that strategy worked, with Hovde making four errors after long rallies to give Lutkemeyer a chance to break back, but Hovde cracked a winner on to save that break point, and it was Lutkemeyer who made the errors on the last two points of the match.

"She just has a really solid game overall," Hovde said. "So it's hard to figure out where to go, but I got in rhythm and found out where to hit the ball and it all came together."

Lutkemeyer had won a UTR Pro Tour $25K in January, while Hovde had had success in a UTR event in Texas last November, which provided her with some positive reinforcement after enduring the long pandemic layoff.

"That was a really good tournament, my first pro series thing, and I made the finals," Hovde said. "I made some money, too, always a plus. To do good in that tournament gave me a sudden boost of confidence, since it was one of my first tournaments in the past year or so."

Hovde may have had difficulty getting enough matches this year, but that hasn't been a problem for Sebastian Gorzny, who played his 12th singles match in the past 10 days today, beating Borys Zgola of Poland 6-3, 6-2. Gorzny reached Friday's singles final of the Grade 4 last week in Las Vegas as a qualifier, but didn't receive a wild card into the San Diego event, so he was required to play two matches Saturday in qualifying, before he won his final round qualifying match yesterday. But even before this stretch of daily matches, Gorzny was seeing his match count rise, as he played the USTA Spring Individual Championships in Mobile, going 5-1 at that tournament.

"I was in Alabama playing the National 1, and from there I went straight to Vegas, played three qualifying matches," said the 17-year-old, who has been training at the Evert Academy since January. "My legs were pretty drained after Vegas, but I've recovered the last two days. I didn't have too many long [qualifying] matches."

Gorzny, who also had notable results in Florida money tournaments in February, said his improvement has been physical and mental.

"I am pretty focused, and I'm serving well," Gorzny said. "I'm not having any loose points or games, working every point, every game. Before Mobile, I won 15 out of 16 matches in UTR events, so I was playing pretty well in Florida."

With the physical stamina he has shown this year, Gorzny has completely put behind him the frightening six days he spent in the hospital in Kalamazoo during the 2019 tournament.

"They don't know what happened," said Gorzny, who grew up in Southern California. "It was some type of illness or disease from a mosquito bite that infected my brain. I don't remember anything, because I was in a coma, but I was out for a month and a half with physical therapy and I started training again. I don't even think about it anymore. It was very scary for my parents."

Gorzny never considered dropping out of doubles this week, and after partnering with Brayden Michna in Las Vegas, he and Nathan Cox are through to the second round of doubles after a win today.  As with singles, the seeded teams in doubles do not play until Tuesday, with Alexander Bernard and Victor Lilov the No. 1 team in the boys draw, and Alexandra Yepifanova and Elvina Kalieva No. 1 in the girls draw.

I mentioned yesterday that Juncheng Shang of China, who was expected to play here this week, was not in the draw and the reason for that became apparent today, when he surfaced as a wild card in the Miami Open qualifying. The 16-year-old left-hander, who trains at IMG, gave ATP 158 Liam Broady of Great Britain a battle before falling 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6).

Americans advancing in men's qualifying at the Miami Open today were Brandon Nakashima, Mitchell Krueger, Mackenzie McDonald, Ernesto Escobedo, Bjorn Fratangelo, Jenson Brooksby and Emilio Nava.

US women winning first round qualifying matches were Kristie Ahn, Hailey Baptiste and Bethanie-Mattek Sands.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Yepifanova and Kuzuhara Top Seeds at IOSC Grade 1, as Americans Dominate Field; Fernandez Wins First WTA Title in Monterrey; Montgomery Receives Miami Main Draw Wild Card: UNC Fights Back to Remain Undefeated

The main draw of the ITF Grade 1 International Open of Southern California, previously held in Carson and known as the International Spring Championships, gets underway Monday at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego, and I'll be covering my first tournament onsite in over year throughout the week. The draws are reduced this year, from 64 to 48, with the seeds all getting byes in the first round. Juncheng Shang of China, who was on the acceptance list after the withdrawal deadline and played the recent South American tournaments, is not in the draw. Last week's girls champion at the Grade 1 in Colombia, Johanne Christine Svendsen of Denmark also was expected to compete, but is not in the draw.

Americans dominate the seeds, with 12 of the 16 seeds in the boys draw from the US, and 10 Americans seeded in the girls draw. The list of seeds (from US unless otherwise noted):

1. Bruno Kuzuhara
2. Jack Pinnington Jones (GBR)
3. Alexander Bernard
4. Jack Anthrop
5. Aidan Mayo
6. Ozan Colak
7. Victor Lilov
8. Samir Banerjee
9. Benjamin Kittay
10. Aidan Kim
11. Yamato Sueoka (JPN)
12. Pedro Rodenas (ESP)
13. Derrick Chen (GBR)
14. Azuma Visaya
15. Yannik Rahman
16. Adit Sinha


1. Alexandra Yepifanova
2. Elvina Kalieva
3. Julia Garcia (MEX)
4. Ashlyn Krueger
5. Annabelle Xu (CAN)
6. Valencia Xu
7. Alexis Blokhina
8. Chelsea Fontenel (SUI)
9. Clervie Ngounoue
10. Reese Brantmeier
11. Rebecca Lynn
12. Kayla Cross (CAN)
13. Qavia Lopez
14. Mia Kupres (CAN)
15. Sara Cruz Bonilla (ESA)
16. Elise Wagle

The final round of qualifying was played today, with 11 of the 12 qualifiers coming from the United States.

Las Vegas Grade 4 finalist Sebastian Gorzny, top seed Nicholas Godsick and USTA Individual Spring 16s champion Emon Van Loben Sels are among the six US boys advancing to Monday's first round.

Jingyi Li of China is the only international player to advance through qualifying.

USTA SoCal contributor Steve Pratt has been onsite throughout the qualifying and has interviewed several players about their recent travels on the junior circuit. Top qualifying seed Gracie Epps arrived in San Diego sans her luggage, and Gorzny had no day off between his appearance in the Las Vegas final and a two-match qualifying day on Saturday.  Today, Pratt highlighted several local Southern California players who advanced to the final round of qualifying in his notebook.

Nicholas Godsick
Emon Van Loben Sels
Masato Perera
John Kim
Nathan Cox
Sebastian Gorzny

Karsyn Evans
Elisabeth Jones
Katie Codd
Jingyi Li (CHN)
Mary Stoiana
Ahmani Guichard

Draws and Monday's order of play can be found at IOSC website.

Eighteen-year-old Leylah Fernandez of Canada won her first WTA title today at the WTA 250 tournament in Monterrey Mexico. The 2019 French Open girls champion defeated qualifier Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland 6-1, 6-4 in this afternoon's final. 

The qualifying and main draws were released today for the WTA portion of next week's Miami Open. Robin Montgomery who was initially announced as a qualifying wild card recipient, was awarded the eighth and final main draw wild card. The 16-year-old from Washington DC will face Magda Linette of Poland in the first round. Claire Liu and Bethanie Mattek-Sands received qualifying wild cards at the last minute.

At the $15,000 ITF Men's World Tennis Tour event in Croatia, 17-year-old Martin Damm fell in the final to top seed Corentin Denolly of France 3-6, 7-5, 6-0. 

In men's college tennis action today, No. 1 North Carolina fought back from 3-0 down against No. 14 South Carolina to remain undefeated, with Simon Soendergaard saving four match points, any one of which would have given South Carolina the victory, at line six. For more, see this article from the UNC website.