Thursday, April 1, 2021

Shang Survives Challenge from Wild Card Murali, Kotzen Ousts No. 3 Seed Bernard to Reach Easter Bowl ITF Quarterfinals; Top Three Seeds Fall in B16s

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

Eleven days ago, 16-year-old Jerry Shang was an unknown wild card and heavy underdog in the first round of the Miami Open qualifying, battling ATP 158 Liam Broady to the finish before falling 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6).  In today's third round of the ITF Easter Bowl Grade B1 at Barnes Tennis Center, Shang knew exactly how Broady must have felt that day in Miami, with the top seed getting all he could handle from wild card Rohan Murali before grinding out a 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-3 victory.

"It was exactly the same in Miami, but the other way around," said Shang, who trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. "In the beginning I was actually surprised how good he's playing. Two, three games I got used to it, but he's a good player, we managed to have really good points. I got a little lucky, because he cramped at the end."

Murali, a blue chip sophomore, had no trouble digging out any balls that Shang directed into the corners, and he was especially effective when employing his drop shot. In the tense first set tiebreaker, Murali made only one unforced error and pulled off two drop shot winners, while Shang was not as solid.

"In the second I was figuring when he was going to do it, when I should actually run for it," Shang said of the drop shots Murali was using. "Sometimes in the beginning I was running for it, but there's not really a point wasting energy for those ones, because I'm not going to get to it."

Although Shang doesn't rely much on drop shots, he did see some of his own game in that of Murali.

"He's playing really similar to me, counterpunching, almost every point, so he's like running the whole match," said Shang, currently No. 4 in the ITF Junior Circuit rankings. "Same thing in Miami, I was the one running, now he's the one running, and it's really tough to hit a winner here."

With Shang up 4-3 and serving in the third, Murali began to show signs of cramping, and after a visit from the trainer during the changeover, Murali continued, but without the same spring in his step. Shang wasn't exactly fresh himself after the two-hour and 45-minute contest in warm and sunny conditions, but he had gotten what he came across country for: a chance to test himself.

"This tournament is known like the big seeds never win it," said Shang, who won the Easter Bowl 14s title two years ago. "It's always wild cards or qualifiers, so coming here must be really challenging, so it must be a good tournament."

Rohan Murali received the tournament's Sportsmanship Award 

Shang will face his doubles partner, No. 5 seed Jack Anthrop, in the quarterfinals, after Anthrop defeated unseeded Colton Smith 7-6(2), 6-2.

The only unseeded player in the top half of the quarterfinals is Nick Kotzen, who defeated No. 3 seed Alex Bernard 6-4, 6-2 in what he considers the best win of his junior career.

"He's No. 1 in my class, Top 10 ITF, for sure my biggest," said the 18-year-old from New Jersey, who trains at Center Court. "Coming into this, I'd never won a main draw match in a Super National, but I won my first round, then yesterday beat one of my friends from back home Adit [Sinha, seeded No. 14]. Today, I had no pressure coming in. I started out a little rusty, missed a few backhands I shouldn't have missed, and it was tight, at 4-all, but I won 4 and 2 and I played well, really well."

As has been the case with several players these two weeks, such as Ethan Quinn and Sebastian Gorzny, Kotzen didn't doubt he could compete at this level, but just hadn't shown it, with the lack of play during the pandemic no doubt a contributing factor.

"I knew I had the level, I've been told a lot I have the level, but it's just obviously my experience that's behind all these kids," said the 6-foot-4 Kotzen, a high school junior who has verbally committed to Columbia, where his brother Alex is on the team. "Bernard's been at the top of my class and the top of junior tennis as long as I can remember. I remember I was watching him on YouTube when I was injured two, three years ago, when he won 14s Easter Bowl, and it's crazy to think how far I've come after that double stress fracture, from 120 in my class, and now beating the guy that's at the top of my class. It's really crazy to think about. I knew I had the level, it was just a matter of time before I got a win like this."

Kotzen will face No. 7 seed Aidan Mayo, who defeated No. 11 seed Azuma Visaya 6-4, 6-2.

In the boys bottom half, No. 2 seed Bruno Kuzahara celebrated his 17th birthday with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over No. 16 seed Timothy Phung. He will play Gorzny, who defeated No. 10 seed Aidan Kim 7-6(5), 6-4. Sixteen-year-old wild card Kyle Kang took out last week's IOSC Grade 1 finalist Samir Banerjee, the No. 6 seed, 6-4, 4-6, 705, and will face IOSC champion Ethan Quinn in the quarterfinals. Quinn came back to defeat wild card Jayden Templeman of Canada, another Columbia recruit, 5-7, 6-0, 6-3.

Top girls seed Madison Sieg kept her cool after losing the second set to No. 15 seed Kimmi Hance to post a 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-0 victory. Sieg is the only seed remaining in the top half, after Bojana Pozder defeated No. 8 seed Alexia Harmon 6-7(3), 6-1, 6-1 and Sarah Hamner downed No. 9 seed Qavia Lopez 6-2, 6-2. Hamner will face qualifier Liv Hovde, who defeated wild card Anne Lutkemeyer for the second week in a row, this time by a score of 6-1, 6-7(8), 6-1. 

A second qualifier has advanced to the girls quarterfinals, with Bridget Stammel beating IOSC finalist Reese Brantmeier 6-4, 6-3. Stammel will face No. 3 seed Elvina Kalieva, who got her second win over Ahmani Guichard in the past two weeks, this time by a score of 6-2, 6-3.  IOSC champion Alexandra Yepifanova cruised past No. 16 seed Madeleine Jessup 6-1, 6-1 to set up a meeting with No. 6 seed Alexis Blokhina, who beat qualifier Emma Sun 6-1, 7-5.

The doubles semifinals are set for Friday, with the top boys seeds surviving a match tiebreaker, but the top girls seeds unable to do so. Anthrop and Shang came back to beat No. 5 seeds Ellis Short and Sinha 4-6, 6-3, 10-8; Kalieva and Yepifanova lost to No. 6 seeds Ashlyn Krueger and Hamner 1-6, 6-1, 10-8.  Orange Bowl and IOSC champions Brantmeier and Hance, seeded No. 5, lost to No. 2 seeds Lopez and Valencia Xu 4-6, 6-3, 11-9.

The top three seeds in the boys 16s singles went out in today's round of 16. Top seed Emon van Loben Sels, who won the USTA Level 1 in Mobile last month, lost to Chase Fralick 6-3, 7-5, while No. 2 seed Mitchell Lee fell to Nikita Filin 7-5, 6-3. No. 3 seed David Saye was eliminated by Eli Stephenson 6-1, 7-6, leaving just three seeds, all No. 9s, in the quarterfinals: Fralick, Filin, and Alexander Razeghi, who faces Filin for a place in the semifinals.

Top seed in the girls 16s, Natalie Block, is through to the quarterfinals, where she will take on No. 6 seed and 2020 Orange Bowl 16s champion Valeria Ray. No. 4 Tatum Evans and No. 5 seed Reese Miller are the other seeds to advance to Friday's quarterfinals.

For the results of singles and doubles in the 16s, see the TennisLink site.