Friday, March 5, 2021

February Aces; Shang and Babel Claim Grade A Banana Bowl Titles, Blanch and Bernard Win All-US Boys Doubles Final; Liu Advances to $25K Newport Beach Semifinals

Antarctica didn't manage to make the list of continents that hosted tournaments which produced the champions in my February Aces column for Tennis Recruiting Network, but the six others did, with current and former collegians and top level juniors winning titles in North and South America, Australia, Africa, Europe and Asia last month. February may be a short month, but the 16 individuals and four college teams featured prove that tennis is back to some semblance of a pre-pandemic schedule.

Due to local pandemic protocols, the ITF Grade A Banana Bowl in Brazil had to start on Monday and finish today, compressing the usual nine days of a Grade A (including qualifying) into five. No. 2 seed Juncheng Shang of China won the boys title, defeating qualifier Miguel Gomes of Portugal 6-2, 7-6(4). The 16-year-old, who trains in the United States, won the first Grade 1 on this four-week South American swing, and picked up his first Grade A title this week. 

Oceane Babel of France, the No. 3 seed, did not have the same level of success in that four-week stretch, but she peaked at the right time, taking her first Grade A title exactly one week after turning 17. Babel defeated unseeded Bianca Behulova of Slovakia 7-6(3), 6-4 in the final.

Babel fell one win short of a sweep, falling in the doubles final with partner Solana Sierra of Argentina. The third-seeded pair lost to the unseeded team of Kira Pavlova and Diana Shnaider of Russia 7-6(5), 6-2. 

In the all-American boys doubles final, top seeds Alexander Bernard and Dali Blanch defeated unseeded Aidan Kim and Jack Anthrop 6-2, 6-4. Bernard and Blanch won all three of the South American tournaments they contested, taking Grade 1 titles in Ecuador and Brazil before this one. Bernard didn't play the Grade 1 in Paraguay, going back to his hometown to play in the qualifying of the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit in Naples instead; Blanch played with Marko Topo of Serbia and lost in the semifinals that week.

The singles second round and quarterfinals both had to be played today at the USTA Women's $25,000 Pro Circuit event in Newport Beach California due to rain on Wednesday, with No. 5 seed Claire Liu, who made the final last week at the Boca Raton $25K, through to the semifinals.  Liu defeated Irene Burillo Escorihuela of Spain 6-1, 5-7, 7-5 in the second round and Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals. Liu will face qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil in Saturday's semifinals. The semifinal in the bottom half will feature unseeded Conny Perrin against the winner of the quarterfinal match between No. 2 seed Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia and No. 7 seed Danielle Lao(USC), which is still in progress. Lao defeated Hanna Chang 7-5, 6-4 in the second round.