Saturday, April 3, 2021

Top Seed Shang Faces IOSC Champion Quinn in ITF Easter Bowl Boys Final, Qualifier Hovde Ousts Top Seed Sieg to Reach Girls Final Against Kalieva; Evans and Rabman to Decide G16s Title, Razeghi and Tien to Meet in B16s Championship

©Colette Lewis 2021
San Diego CA--

Both ITF Easter Bowl boys finalists have made big jumps, top seed Jerry Shang in the past two years, Ethan Quinn in the past two weeks. 

Two years ago, Shang lost to Aidan Mayo, the No. 7 seed this week, 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals of a Grade 3 in the Dominican Republic. In today's semifinal, Shang turned the tables, beating Mayo 6-3, 7-5, and giving himself an opportunity to add an adidas ITF Easter Bowl title to his Easter Bowl title in the 14s in 2019.

"He was the better player that time," Shang said. "He pretty much plays the same, but everything's gotten better. Now he's more consistent."

The first break of the match came in the eighth game, and Shang managed to serve out a multiple-deuce game to claim the first set. In the second set, Shang got another late break and served for the match at 5-4, but after hitting a forehand long at 30-40, he was broken, and so was his racquet. Shang received a warning for racquet abuse, but he regained his composure quickly, breaking Mayo in the next game and closing out the match with a love service game.

"I knew I had it, it was in my hand and I was like, here, give it away, play more," said Shang, who trains at IMG with Johnny Parkes, who is traveling with him this week. "I was very annoyed, but when it gets to 5-5 the game has to go on. So, let's play again."

Shang says the biggest strides he's made in the past year or two have been in his physical strength.

"Physically, it's most important," said Shang, who credited hitting with the pros at IMG, including Sebastian Korda with helping him build that part of his game. "Before, playing with the big boys, I could last one set, one set and a half. Now I can go for three sets two days in a row. And I've learned how to attack the ball, rather than just defending and counterpunching, so my game has gotten a lot more aggressive."

Shang knows he can't afford to be passive against Quinn in Sunday's final. 

"I saw him play earlier this week a little," Shang said. "A rocket forehand, big serve. It should be fun to play."

Quinn's winning streak on the Barnes Tennis Center courts reached 11 today when last week's IOSC champion came back to defeat No. 2 seed Bruno Kuzuhara 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. 

Quinn said he has been warming up for at least a half hour before even hitting a ball before his match, just to get the muscles working again.

"I'm definitely feeling it," said the 17-year-old Quinn, who was ranked 542 entering the two tournaments this week in San Diego. "Each morning when I wake up, it's 'oof, that's a little bit sore.'"

Quinn's forehand was all over the place in the first set, but he managed to hold until a bad game at 5-all gave Kuzuhara the opportunity he needed and he closed out the set with a love hold.

But Quinn, who had come from a set down in his third round match, got his forehand under control in the second set, and that was enough to earn him his second ITF Top 10 win of this two-week stretch.

"I switched racquets and it was a little bit tighter, so my forehands weren't going long," Quinn said. "I was able to control it a little bit more, and that made a difference; I was able to dictate with my forehand and gain a lot of confidence in it. I was hitting forehands even in the ad side of the court, just ripping forehands, and he wasn't having an answer."

Quinn got a break in the eighth game of the second set, and aided by a let cord ace and another forehand winner, he evened the match.

An early break set the tone for the third set, and when Quinn went up a second break, another final for Quinn seemed inevitable. Kuzuhara took a medical timeout for a massage of his right arm down 4-1, but the momentum stayed with Quinn and he took the victory in just under two-and-a-half hours.

"It's definitely crazy," said Quinn of his run this fortnight, which also included a quarterfinal appearance at the Las Vegas Grade 4 two weeks ago. "I was telling a few of my friends about my wins this week and last week, and they're like, it's hard to believe you're this good. Most of them don't get to watch me, especially with Covid. They can't even come to the club where I practice, because they don't allow guests, and they're not going to travel to San Diego or out of the state, so they say it's hard to believe you're beating these kids that are so good, and you're so good too. It's crazy."

Quinn is missing high school tennis matches at Fresno's San Joaquin Memorial while he's in San Diego, but he's trying to keep in touch with the team.

"Unfortunately, when I've been gone, I've been missing the matches, but I've been making sure I text everybody good luck and stuff like that," said Quinn, who trains with Brad Stine at the Fig Garden Country Club. "Coming here to San Diego, I wasn't thinking I was going to be here two weeks straight exactly...so I'm definitely looking forward to getting home and getting in my bed as well."

The girls semifinals were less dramatic, with qualifier Liv Hovde beating top seed Madison Sieg 6-0, 6-3 and No. 3 seed Elvina Kalieva taking out No. 6 seed Alexis Blokhina 6-3, 6-0.  

Hovde, who has now won eight matches in the past eight days, looked completely at ease on the Stadium Court, while Sieg could not find any consistency in her game.

"She's a great player," said the 15-year-old from McKinney Texas, who trains with Phil Dent at his academy in the Dallas area. "It feels fantastic, I played very well today. You just have to stay solid with her, make balls."

Hovde said she is not surprised by her performance this week, despite falling in the second round of the IOSC last week as a wild card.

"You just have to go in thinking you can win the tournament," Hovde said. "You just have to have the right mentality. You have to believe that's every match is your match, and you will go out and do the best you can do."

Hovde said she is ready for the biggest final of her career.

"I just think once you put all the pieces together, you find out how to play tennis, and how to stay strong mentally throughout," Hovde said.

Unlike Hovde, Kalieva has several prestigious championships to draw on. The 2017 Junior Orange Bowl 14s champion won the Grade A in Brazil last year right before the pandemic shut down tennis, so her appearance in an Easter Bowl ITF final is no surprise, and she likes the progress she's made during this week.

"I feel like every match I've been getting better," said the 17-year-old Kalieva, who is playing in her fourth Easter Bowl ITF tournament. "My first serve has been a little bit inconsistent and I feel it's getting better every match. My backhand's been tight, but I feel it's a little more loose now."

Down 3-1 in the first set, Kalieva won the last 11 games of the match from Blokhina, who she had never played.

"My friends told me that she sort of just gets balls back," Kalieva said of the 16-year-old left-hander. "She has a high, spinny ball, but that's all I knew about her. In the middle of the match, I figured it out. I had a bit of a slow start, one game I just missed four returns in a row, so I was trying to just start the point."

Kalieva will face a similar test against Hovde, not knowing what game style she will be facing.

"It's the first time I've heard of her," Kalieva said. "I feel like if I just go out and play my game, stay focused, I think I'll be good. I think every match is getting better, so hopefully the final will be the best."

The ITF doubles champions were crowned on Saturday afternoon, with No. 2 seeds Qavia Lopez and Valencia Xu earning the girls title, and No. 4 seeds Braden Shick and Colton Smith taking the boys title.

Shick and Smith defeated top seeds Jack Anthrop and Shang 7-5, 6-4, avoiding a match tiebreaker by stepping up on the deciding points.

"I felt like we played some of the big points a little bit better," said Smith, who has committed to Arizona for this fall. "We were a little more aggressive at the net, I think that definitely helped us throughout the whole week. We both returned super well throughout the whole week too, so that definitely helped us relax on the serves a little more."

"We felt we always had a chance to break," said Shick, a redshirt freshman at North Carolina State, who played his first match with Smith as his partner at last week's IOSC. "We got off to a good start, up a break early. They started playing better towards the end of the first set, but we came through with a couple of deuce points. Just a couple of points, here or there."

With their success this week, the pair is now setting their sights on another big tournament: Kalamazoo.

"Actually right after the match, he asked me to play doubles in Kalamazoo," Shick said. "We obviously did well, so we're probably going to play there."

Lopez and Xu, who defeated No. 6 seed Sarah Hamner and Ashlyn Krueger 5-7, 6-4, 10-8, did not play together in last week's IOSC, but they had two previous tournaments as a team in the past two months.

"The first time was not that good," Xu said. "The second time was a little better, we made the semis. We got better each tournament."

With their track record this week, winning every match in a tiebreaker, Lopez and Xu were hardly fazed when they failed to convert set points in the first set against Hamner and Krueger.

"Obviously we were disappointed, because we had opportunities, but we did the same thing yesterday," Stanford recruit Xu said of their semifinal win over Sieg and Sophie Williams. "I think it helped that we had done the same thing, so we knew we could do it again."

"We've played a tiebreaker in every single match of the tournament, so let's get this set and take it to a tiebreak," Lopez said. "I feel like doubles is a game of energy, always pumping each other up, and when you lose a point, saying forget it, let's go to the next point, so I feel like our energy is really good together and that really helps us."

The 16s division finals are set for Sunday in both singles and doubles, with two wild cards competing for the boys title and another wild card featured in the girls draw.

Unseeded wild card Theadora Rabman will take on No. 4 seed Tatum Evans in the girls final, after Rabman took out top seed Natalie Block 6-4, 6-2 and Evans beat wild card Stephanie Yakoff 6-2, 6-2.

Lerner Tien and No. 9 seed Alexander Razeghi advanced to the boys 16s final, with Tien beating unseeded Jelani Sarr 6-4, 6-0 and Razeghi downing unseeded Quang Duong 6-3, 6-3.

In doubles, the unseeded team of Vivian Miller and Lexington Reed will play top seeds Block and Evans for the girls title. 

Unseeded Ethan Schiffman and Emon van Loben Sels will play unseeded David Saye and Eli Stephenson for the boys doubles title Sunday afternoon.