Friday, April 2, 2021

March Aces; Top Seeds in Easter Bowl ITF Reach Semifinals, Blokhina Ends Run of No. 2 Seed and IOSC Grade 1 Champion Yepifanova; Four Wild Cards Reach 16s Semifinals

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

My monthly column for Tennis Recruiting Network, which highlights 15 players who won titles in March, was published today. It includes the singles champions from the IOSC last week, but for simplicity, all eight Easter Bowl singles champions will be included in the April Aces column.

The top seeds in this week's Easter Bowl ITF Grade B1 were taken to three sets in Thursday's third round, but Madison Sieg and Jerry Shang responded to those tests with convincing wins in Friday's quarterfinals at the Barnes Tennis Center.

Sieg defeated unseeded Bojana Pozder 6-1, 6-4 and Shang took out doubles partner Jack Anthrop 6-0, 6-3 on a clear and cool day in San Diego.  

Shang will face No. 7 seed Aidan Mayo, who ended the run of unseeded Nick Kotzen 6-2, 6-3, while Sieg's opponent in the semifinals is qualifier Liv Hovde, who defeated Sarah Hamner 6-7(5), 6-0, 6-4.

Last week's IOSC Grade 1 champion Ethan Quinn ran his winning streak on the Barnes Courts to 10 with a 6-4, 6-2 win over wild card Kyle Kang, but girls IOSC champion Alexandra Yepifanova saw her run end, with No. 6 seed Alexis Blokhina coming away with a 6-2, 6-4 victory.

Blokhina had lost to Yepifanova 6-1, 6-3 in a UTR money tournament last summer, a match that provided lessons she used in today's rematch.

"She definitely outplayed me there and I wasn't ready for any of her balls," said the 16-year-old from Florida. "She was playing really good then, and I wasn't on my game. Today I came out and just said give it your all. You've played her before, you don't really have pressure right now. She has pressure, she's the No. 2 seed, obviously she won the last tournament and she's definitely tired."

Blokhina said the key to her win was keeping the ball out of Yepifanova's strike zone. 

"I was moving her around really well," Blokhina said. "She's a great mover, but I was changing my shots and the rhythm a lot, because if you give it to her where she wants it, you're not going to get the ball back, she's definitely really strong. So I was just trying to move her around the best that I can and take balls early, not give her time to think about what she could do, so that was really working well."

Blokhina, who trains with Marcus Fluitt at Midtown Tennis in Weston, admits that she did not expect to go this deep this week.

"I just kind of said whatever happens, happens," said Blokhina, who lost in the second round at last week's IOSC. "I just try to enjoy myself instead of put pressure. And especially in the second set, when I had won the first, I was like oh wow, this could actually happen. I was like, don't get too excited, she's a great player so she can come back; even when I had two match points, I was like, she can play two great games and it could be back to 5-all, so you just have to focus on every point and don't think about the score right now."

Blokhina will face No. 3 seed Elvina Kalieva, who defeated qualifier Bridget Stammel 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals.

"I haven't played Elvina before," said Blokhina. "We used to train together when we were younger, but I haven't seen her since."

No. 2 seed Bruno Kuzuhara fell behind unseeded Sebastian Gorzny 5-0 in the first set, then climbed all the way back to force a tiebreaker, only to lose it. But rather than get frustrated by the result of that 75-minute set, Kuzuhara focused instead on what he had learned and took the next two sets in less time than it took to lose the first in his 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-0 victory.

"Down 5-0, I was just overplaying a bit too much," said Kuzuhara, who turned 17 on Thursday. "I feel like losing that tiebreaker wasn't terrible mentally for me, because I knew what I did to get back to 5-all, if I just kept on doing that for the next two sets, if I was able to get to the third, I'd like my chances of winning."

Kuzuhara said he wasn't certain of the number of set points he saved in that first set, guessing at two or three, as he prepared to focus on winning the second set.

"I told myself to just buckle down, start making more balls, try to get a bit more rhythm," said Kuzuhara, who trains at the USTA National Campus in Orlando and is at the tournament with USTA coach Brian Baker. "I knew if I was able to settle down, work the points a bit more, I would be able to increase my chances of winning."

Kuzuhara doesn't know much about his semifinal opponent Quinn.

"I've never played him, never seen him play," Kuzuhara said. "He's on a pretty good streak, so I know he'll go in with a bit of confidence, so for me, it's just to figure out what my game plan will be the first couple of games."

The doubles finals are set for Saturday, with top seeds Anthrop and Shang taking on No. 4 seeds Braden Shick and Colton Smith. Anthrop and Shang defeated unseeded Alex Michelsen and William Chase Thompson 6-3, 6-1, while Shick and Smith took out No. 2 seeds Alexander Bernard and Victor Lilov 6-4, 5-7, 10-5.

Both girls doubles semifinals went to match tiebreakers. No. 2 seeds Qavia Lopez and Valencia Xu defeated No. 7 seeds Sieg and Sophie Williams 5-7, 6-1, 10-7. Lopez and Xu will play No. 6 seeds Hamner and Ashlyn Krueger, who beat No. 8 seeds Elise Wagle and Katja Wiersholm 4-6, 7-5, 10-4.

Wild cards make up half of the semifinalists in the Easter Bowl 16s division, outnumbering the seeds who have advanced to the final four.

In the girls 16s, top seed Natalie Block defeated 16s Orange Bowl champion and No. 6 seed Valeria Ray 6-2, 6-4 and will face wild card Theadora Rabman, who beat Daniela Borruel 6-1, 6-2.  Tatum Evans, the No. 4 seed, who defeated unseeded Emily Deming  6-2, 6-0, will face wild card Stephanie Yakoff. Yakoff came back to defeat No. 5 seed Reese Miller 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Wild card Learner Tien defeated No. 9 seed Chase Fralick 7-6, 6-3 and will play unseeded Jelani Sarr, who beat unseeded Eli Stephenson 6-1, 7-6.  Unseeded Quang Duong defeated unseeded Nicolas Arts 6-0, 6-2 and will meet No. 9 seed and wild card Alexander Razeghi, who won the last five games of his 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 9 seed Nikita Filin.

Boys singles semifinals in 16s and 18s begin at 10 am Pacific on Saturday, with girls semifinals to follow.