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Thursday, March 31, 2022

Antonius and Xu Claim FILA Easter Bowl 12s Titles; Johnston and Okhtenberg Win 14s Championships; Qualifier Wen Ousts ITF Top Seed Quinn; 12s, 14s and 16s 2021 Easter Bowl Girls Champions Reach ITF Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Indian Wells, CA

Four Easter Bowl singles champions were crowned today at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, with Michael Antonius and Baotong Xu taking the 12s titles and Noah Johnston and Nicole Okhtenberg earning their first gold balls in the 14s. 

Antonius, a No. 5 seed,  defeated No. 2 seed Vihaan Reddy 7-6(4), 6-2, while Xu came from behind to beat Yilin Chen 4-6, 6-2, 10-6.  Johnston, a No. 9 seed, downed No. 3 seed Evan Sharygin 6-4, 6-1, with Okhtenberg defeating Avery Nguyen, a No. 9 seed, 4-6, 6-0, 6-0.

Xu and Chen, both unseeded, were the first finalists to take the court on a warm but calm day in the Coachella Valley. Chen started with a break and held on to it, with Xu still in the process of coping with Chen's high looping balls.

"She played great in the first set," said Xu, who will turn 12 next month. "She was staying really consistent and she was making me really uncomfortable. I was taking the balls early, but in the first set I was missing those, because her shots were on the baseline, very aggressive, but in the second set, I just stayed lower, played confident. On those shots you really need to be that way, because if not, the ball's going to go into the net or just out."

Chen agreed that Xu adapted well in the second set.

"People don't like the kind of balls I play," said Chen, a 12-year-old, who trains at Morgan Run in San Diego. "They're high lobs usually, and this girl handled it really well, because she could take it on the rise and she had really good defense."

Once Xu got a break early in the second set, she began to play more confidently, and although Chen occasionally forced her to the back fence with a high looping ball, Xu was generally able to find a ball she could attack.

Xu said she was not nervous in the match tiebreaker, her third in the past three matches, preferring to treat it as if it was a practice match. After speaking to her coach Peter Smith during the three-minute break before the match tiebreaker, the slim left-hander was able to identify what had worked in the second set and ran out to a 7-2 lead, with Chen making several unforced errors. Xu continued to play the steadier game down the stretch and although Chen closed the gap to three points at 8-5 and 9-6, Xu was able to close out her second match point with a volley winner.

Although she was unseeded, Xu didn't think of herself as an underdog. 

"I did do the work, everything that brought me here," said Xu, who is from Washington state, but relocated to Southern California several months ago in search of more competition. "I didn't really even look at the draw. I just played my match, because no matter if a player is seeded or not, they're just a player. I know if I do my best, what it takes me to win, I can achieve it."

The boys 12s final featured Reddy, who had won the gold ball at the USTA Winter Nationals in January, and Antonius, who was seeking his first.

The edge in experience may have been with Reddy, but Antonius was determined to wear down his opponent, and believed he succeeded.

"It was just a grind today," said Antonius, a 12-year-old from Buffalo New York. "Every point was long, every game was grindy, but I tried to limit as many free points as possible."

Antonius served for the first set, but did give away several points in that game, but he regrouped for the tiebreaker, intent on capturing the first set with his second opportunity. 

"There were a bunch of momentum streaks, but I knew I just had to grind it out," Antonius said. "Once I won that tough point at 5-4, that really motivated me to get the set right there."

Antonius continued that strategy in the second set, leading throughout and closing with a break of serve.

Reddy, who had a dramatic win over No. 3 seed Teodor Davidov in the semifinals, regretted not being more aggressive in the match.

"I felt like I should have come to the net more to finish the points," said the 12-year-old from San Jose, who trains at Eagle Fustar Tennis Academy. "He was just getting to everything, balls that I hit really well, balls to the baseline, and I just missed a couple. But it was a good tournament, I beat pretty good players and lost to a good player today."

Antonius is eager to share the news of his title with one of his former coaches, Marcus Fugate, who won the Easter Bowl ITF doubles title in 2005. 

"I thought I have to do this for him," Antonius said of his opportunity for a gold ball. "It feels so good.

Now working with new coaches in Buffalo and also with the USTA, Antonius considers his father Daniel as his perennial coach.

"My dad is a big coach too, and I have him the most, because whenever I want to hit, he's there to hit with me," Antonius said. "He tries to balance technical and tactical training and that's what I like."

Boys 14s champion Noah Johnston lost in the first round at last year's Easter Bowl, but the 14-year-old left-hander from South Carolina now has his first two gold balls, claiming the singles and doubles titles today.

Johnston, who breezed through his semifinal match Wednesday, got off to a slow start against Sharygin, falling behind 3-0. But he wasn't discouraged, knowing that he was getting opportunities that he would eventually take.

"I knew I could come back because I had about eight or nine break points," Johnston said. "I was up 0-40 in both of his service games but just couldn't finish, so I knew I could get back to even."

Johnston did, at 3-3, then broke at 4-4 and served out the set. Taking a 4-1 lead in the second set, Johnston was able to take advantage in the differences in their time on court Wednesday, with Sharygin playing two long three-setters in singles and doubles and Johnston only a quick singles match.

"I could tell he was getting tired because I saw he had a 7-5 in the third yesterday," said Johnston, who returned well and hit with pace and depth throughout the match. "I used that to my advantage and tried to keep it physical out there."

Sharygin admitted he felt the effect of Wednesday's play.

"I think my level dropped a little bit and I started going for shots earlier in the rally," said the 14-year-old from Newburgh Indiana, who said he wasn't accustomed to getting this deep in a tournament and learned he'll need to improve his fitness going forward. "I kinda got wore out because I was pretty tired from the previous day." 

"I think he played pretty solid, he was making a lot of balls, made me play a lot of balls," said Sharygin, who trains at Kass Tennis Academy and at the Evansville Tennis Center. "He's a great player."

Johnston's mother Sophie Woorons was an All-American at Clemson, and he considers his entire family as his coaches at Brookstone Tennis in Anderson.

"My mom's my coach, my dad's my coach and my grandpa's my coach," said Johnston, who often exhorts himself in French on the court, with maintenant (now) one of his favorites. "My grandparents and my mom grew up in France, so I learned English and French at about the same time. I speak French to my grandparents, so it travels on the court."

As for how he would celebrate his titles, Johnston didn't hesitate when asked. "I want a really good dinner. I want really good food--the food around here is amazing."

While Johnston was able turn around his slow start midway through the first set, it took Okhtenberg a little more time, but she was accustomed to that scenario. Earlier this month, she had dropped the first set to Nguyen in the USTA Spring Team Championships in Mobile before coming back for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

"It was nerves, I guess," said the 13-year-old Okhtenberg, who trains at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton. "I just calmed down and was doing what I was taught. And then she was getting mentally down, so that kind of helped me."

Although the scores of the second and third sets don't suggest it, most of the games were close, as were the majority of the points, but Okhtenberg was not willing to concede anything, waiting for the error from Nguyen, which she eventually got. 

Nguyen said her nerves developed in the second set, because she was up and the title was within reach. 

"I let her into it a bit, and I think that's why she started to play better," said the 14-year-old Nguyen, who trains with Joe Gilbert at JMG Tennis Academy and has hit with ATP pro Jenson Brooksby on occasion. "In that [National Spring Team] match I played a little bit better there, because I didn't have that many nerves. What happened here kind of happened there too; I won the first set but came out a little bit slow in the second and she was able to take off after that."

Okhtenberg felt that not being one of the 16 seeds actually helped her, "less pressure on me," as she put it.

Another pressure reduction came when she was not aware of the Road to Wimbledon wild card that she will receive for winning the Easter Bowl. A new 14-and-under tournament (with invitations to one boy and one girl from 16 countries is scheduled for the second week of Wimbledon this year but Okhtenberg didn't know about it. When asked if she would be interested in going this year
she answered, "I mean, yeah." 

Any thoughts of that event or celebration of her first USTA ball will have to wait until Friday however, as she was headed to LAX for a flight tonight.

12s and 14s Doubles:
B14s Doubles: Noah Johnston/Gray Kelley(left) d. Jack Kennedy/Sebastian Bielen 6-3, 6-0

B12s Doubles: Andrew Johnson/Tyler Lee(right) d. Jordan Lee/Michael Antonius  6-0, 6-4

G12s Doubles: Welles Newman/Lyla Middleton(left) d. Akanksha Parashar/Raya Kotseva 6-3, 6-4

G14s Doubles: Ava Rodriguez/Kenna Erickson(left) d. Annika Penickova/Kristina Penickova 6-3, 7-5

While the 12s and 14s were contesting their finals on the two show courts, the third round of the ITF Grade B1 produced the biggest upset to date, with qualifier Evan Wen defeating top seed Ethan Quinn 6-4, 0-6, 6-3.

Wen, who was out for 18 months in 2020 and 2021 due to back problems, said that Quinn was not in top form.

"I got a little lucky, it wasn't his best day," said the 18-year-old from New Jersey, who now trains at the McEnroe Tennis Academy. "I went out there and said, 'you know what, I'm just going to go out there and fight as hard as I can and see what happens.' I'm definitely trying to just get matches under my belt since I've been out injured for so long."

It's not the first time this year Wen has beaten a No. 1 seed, taking out the top seed at a J3 in Mexico at the end of February, but that pales in comparison to this win.

"That was definitely nothing like Ethan," Wen said. "He's been playing great. Obviously he's a little tired, he's been playing a lot, so I think I capitalized on the moment. He didn't play his best match and I came out here and kind of took it to him."

Wen will play Kyle Kang, who defeated No. 5 seed Alex Frusina 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4.  The other boys top half quarterfinal will feature training partners Learner Tien and Alex Michelsen after No. 15 seed Tien defeated No. 4 seed Michael Zheng 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, his second win over Zheng in the past two weeks. Michelsen beat unseeded Roy Horovitz 6-1, 7-5.

Jelanie Sarr beat a seed for the second straight day, taking out No. 11 Aayush Bhat 6-2, 6-4 to set up a quarterfinal encounter with No. 3 seed Nicholas Godsick, who beat Meecah Bigun 6-4, 4-6, 6-0. No. 2 seed Nishesh Basavareddy, who has lost eight games in three matches, beat Rohan Murali 6-3, 6-1. He will face Jonah Braswell, seeded No. 9, who beat No. 7 seed Sebastian Gorzny 7-6(6), 6-1.

The girls ITF quarterfinals will feature a trio of 2021 Easter Bowl singles champions. Last year in San Diego, Shannon Lam won the 12s, Iva Jovic won the 14s and Thea Rabman won the 16s. This year in Indian Wells, all three have advanced to the ITF quarterfinals. Wild card Lam, 13, came from 5-2 down in the first set to defeat unseeded Anushka Khune 7-6(2), 6-0; unseeded Iva Jovic, 14, came from two breaks down in the third set to beat No. 16 seed Alexia Harmon 6-2, 5-7, 7-5; Rabman, 16, came from a set down to beat No. 11 seed Gracie Epps 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.

One of the three will definitely be eliminated Friday, with Jovic and Rabman facing off. Isabella Chhiv defeated No. 6 seed Madeleine Jessup 6-1, 1-6, 6-2 and will play No. 4 seed Alexis Blokhina, who beat Gayathri Krishnan 6-3, 6-1.

Lam's opponent is No. 3 seed Reese Brantmeier, who defeated unseeded Taylor Goetz 6-1, 6-3.  The fourth quarterfinal features No. 8 seed Ava Krug, who defeated Mika Ikemori 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 and No. 2 seed Qavia Lopez, who beat No. 13 seed Tatum Evans 7-6(3), 6-3.

In the 16s quarterfinals today, top seed Andrew Ena retired to unseeded Parashar Bharadwaj trailing 6-2, 1-1. Bharadway will face No. 3 seed Cyrus Mahjoob in the semifinals. The other 16s semifinal on Friday will feature No. 9 seed Zhengqing Ji and unseeded William Manning.

In the girls 16s semifinals, unseeded Claire Zhang will face Valerie Glozman, a No. 5 seed, while unseeded Sydney Jara will play No. 9 seed Aspen Schuman.

Draws for the 12s, 14s and 16s are at the USTA Playtennis site.

Live streaming is available at Easterbowl.com.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Top Seeds in FILA Easter Bowl 14s Fall in Semifinals; Match Tiebreakers Decide 12s Finalists; Brantmeier, Ikemori Advance to ITF JB1 Round of 16

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Indian Wells, CA--

The two remaining No. 1 seeds in the FILA Easter Bowl 12s and 14s division, both in 14s, exited in the semifinals today at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Girls top seed Capucine Jauffret lost to unseeded Nicole Okhtenberg 7-5, 6-3 on Court 2, the tournament's stadium court, while Noah Johnston, a No. 9 seed, made quick work of top seed Ronit Karki on Court 1, 6-0, 6-2, avenging his recent loss to Karki at December's Junior Orange Bowl in Miami.

While Johnston needed barely an hour to advance to Thursday's championship match, his opponent in the final, No. 3 seed Evan Sharygin had a much longer and more dramatic semifinal with No. 5 seed Nathaniel Suh, winning it 2-6, 6-2, 6-5 ret. Suh served for the match at 5-3 in the third set, but at 15-all he went wide to his right and cramped after failing to reach Sharygin's shot. Suh made his way to the shaded benches and his father came on court to attend to him for a medical timeout, but when returning to the court, he was unable to move as before and he was broken. He received more assistance from his father on the changeover, and had two match points with Sharygin serving at 4-5, 15-40, but two errors by Suh bailed Sharygin out and he held for 5-all.

Suh's ability to move deteriorated in the final game, and he was unable to get even underhanded serves in play, and he was broken at 6-5. Sharygin, who had not hit lobs or drop shots during the previous three games did hit one to open his service game, and when Suh went up for it, his thigh immediately cramped and he fell to the ground. The chair umpire called game, set and match, and Suh's father again came to the court to try assist his son in getting off the court.

Sharygin had a doubles semifinal to play after that three-hour plus singles match, this time coming out on the wrong end of another long three-setter.

In the girls 14s final, Okhtenberg will play Avery Nguyen, who defeated fellow No. 9 seed Amy Lee 6-4, 6-4.

Three of the four semifinals in the 12s division were decided by match tiebreakers, the only age group that uses that format in lieu of a third set.

Unseeded Baotong Xu defeated No. 3 seed Anjani Vickneswaran 6-4, 1-6, 10-7 to earn her place in the final, where she will meet Yilin Chen, also unseeded. Chen defeated No. 5 seed Lyla Middleton 6-3, 2-6, 10-6.

The boys 12s semifinal that got the most attention today was between No. 2 seed Vihaan Reddy and No. 3 seed Teodor Davidov. Davidov, who doesn't hit a backhand, switching the racquet from his left to his right hand, came back from 0-40 down at 4-all in the second set, then broke Reddy to force a match tiebreaker, after dropping the first set 6-3. Davidov went up 5-2 in the tiebreaker, but then lost four straight points. The tension mounted as it was 6-6, then 8-8. Reddy, who rarely showed any emotion earned a match point when Davidov netted his reply to Reddy's return.

The match point was a classic, extending to 37 shots, with Reddy eventually cracking a backhand winner to earn his spot in the final. 

Reddy will play Michael Antonius, a No. 5 seed, with Antonius beating unseeded Shaan Majeed 6-0, 6-1. Majeed had ousted top seed Jordan Lee in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

The girls 12s and boys 14s singles finals are scheduled for 11:00 a.m., with the boys 12s and girls 14s finals to follow. Streaming for all four finals will be available via easterbowl.com. Archived matches from this week are also available there.

The second round of the ITF Grade B1 action delivered several upsets, with Jelani Sarr defeating No. 6 seed Aidan Kim 6-3, 6-2, Rohan Murali beating No. 16 seed Kaylan Bigun 7-6(5), 6-3, and Roy Horovitz downing No. 12 seed Kurt Miller 6-1, 6-2.

In girls second round play, last year's Easter Bowl 16s champion Theodora Rabman defeated No. 7 seed Ahmani Guichard 6-4, 6-4, Isabella Chhiv eliminated No. 10 seed Kaitlin Quevedo 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 and Mika Ikemori defeated No. 12 seed Yichen Zhao of China 6-1, 6-4.

Ikemori is playing in her first ITF tournament at any level, receiving entry based on her USTA ranking, and reaching the round of 16 was not what she was expecting.

"I'm trying not to stay real excited," said the 16-year-old from Huntington Beach California. "I'm trying to keep calm and stay focused. My boyfriend was like, you're not excited enough, but I said, no, I'm just breathing. I'm going to be zen."

Ikemori was pleased with the way she managed the match against Zhao, who she had never seen play.

"It's kind of nice when you get to go out there and figure it out all on your own," said Ikemori, who has verbally committed to UC-Davis for 2023. "I figured out that I needed to keep the balls deep and keep her moving; I was losing some of my points when I tried to go for too much, too early. So I played the points out and waited for the right ball to attack. And I stayed calm, which is important."

Unlike Ikemori, No. 3 seed Reese Brantmeier is a veteran of many ITF junior events, although she has been concentrating on building her WTA ranking, now 515, since last year's US Open Junior Championships. With no USTA Pro Circuit women's tournaments this week, Brantmeier decided to add the Easter Bowl to her schedule, with an eye toward competing again as a favorite, not an underdog.

"One of the big reasons I wanted to play this tournament was to get a lot of competition in," said the 17-year-old from Wisconsin, who defeated Amber Yin 6-2, 6-2 in today's second round. "That's what I'm focused on. Regardless of how I'm playing, focusing on competing, taking care of what I can control that's not necessarily execution. Switching from being so results oriented, to committing to competing."

Brantmeier, who recently signed with North Carolina for this fall, played the qualifying in at the BNP Paribas Open earlier this month, losing to Anna Kalinskaya of Russia 6-4, 6-1. 

"It obviously feels a bit different and looks a bit different," said Brantmeier, who also played qualifying in last fall's BNP Paribas Open, winning a round. "It's an amazing tournament and they really do it up. It even looks like a different venue. They go all out for that tournament, so it does have a bit of a different feel. In October I actually got Stadium 2, and this time I was on Stadium 4. I love playing in front of crowds."

The 16s quarterfinals will move to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden Thursday, without top girls seed Stephanie Yakoff included. Yakoff lost to unseeded Claire Zhang 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, leaving only three seeded players still vying for the girls title.

Top seed Andrew Ena has advanced to the quarterfinals, but No. 2 seed Lucas Coriaty lost to Zhengqing Ji, a No. 9 seed, 6-1, 6-0.

Draws for the 12s, 14s, and 16s, including doubles and consolation, can be found at the USTA Playtennis site.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

2021 Easter Bowl 12s Champion Lam Moves Up to ITF, Advances to Round 2; Hovde Withdraws; Semifinals Wednesday for 12s and 14s Divisions at Indian Wells Tennis Garden

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Indian Wells, CA--

After the rain and the wind Monday, both the FILA Easter Bowl and the desert weather returned to normal Tuesday, with the completion of the first round of the ITF tournament, and the quarterfinals of the 12s and 14s divisions.

Last year, Shannon Lam decided to play the 12s at the Easter Bowl, which moved to San Diego due to covid restrictions in the Coachella Valley. Although she would turn 13 just a few months later, her lack of tennis competition due to the pandemic led to the decision to play in the 12s. After taking that title without dropping a set and securing her first USTA gold ball, the New Jersey resident set her sights on the 16s and 18s divisions, where she found enough success to qualifying for the USTA 16s Nationals in San Diego. 

After reaching the final of the prestigious Junior Orange Bowl 14s in December, Lam played two lower level ITF events this year, winning five matches, but not accumulating enough points to earn entry into the Easter Bowl Grade B1. Although she contemplated playing the 14s for the Road to Wimbledon wild card introduced this year, she was given a wild card into the ITF, so she decided to take it, and today she won her first ITF Grade 1 match, upsetting No. 5 seed Sonya Macavei 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.

Lam and Macavei were one of eight girls matches that were held over after a rare desert rain shower kept the first day schedule from being completed on Monday. Down 5-7, but up 4-1 in the second set, Lam got the split, giving credit to her coach for pointing her in the right direction.

"He told me to mix up my pace, but generally play aggressive," Lam said of Edgar Arzamasov, who coaches at Little Silver Tennis Club. 

That advice worked with Lam taking a 5-1 lead in the third set, but Macavei was not done. Lam had a match point with Macavei serving at 5-2, but made an unforced error, and she was broken in a lengthy game serving for the match at 5-3, although she didn't reach match point. The momentum was definitely with Macavei, but she fell behind 15-40, and although she saved that second match point with a big forehand winner, her forehand sailed long on the third to give Lam the win.

"She started playing really well and I got tight because I was afraid that I was going to lose," Lam said. "That's really not helpful and I started hitting softer and she just took those opportunities. I got nervous at the end, but generally through the whole match I didn't have any expectations. One of my friends told me that since everyone is older than me, they should be the ones feeling the pressure."

Lam will face another wild card, 16-year-old Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl champion Kate Kim, in Wednesday's second round.

In addition to Macavei, the only other seed to lose today was No. 14 seed Ria Bhakta, who lost to Ann Guerry 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in another of the matches held over from Monday. But top seed Liv Hovde withdrew, with a minor back injury, from singles, although she is still playing doubles. Hovde and Qavia Lopez, the top seeds, won their first round doubles match this afternoon. Zehra Suko, the lucky loser taking Hovde's place, won her match with Kaitlyn Rolls 7-6(3), 0-6, 6-4.

Just one of the eight girls qualifiers won today, with Salma Farhat defeating Reese Miller 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. Two qualifiers advanced on the boys side, with Evan Wen defeating Sam Scherer 7-5, 6-0 and Holland Snell defeated Joseph Phillips 7-6(2), 2-6, 6-0. 

All second round ITF singles and doubles matches are scheduled for Wednesday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

The 14s played moved to the main site today for their quarterfinals and two of the those eight matches were especially tense and exciting affairs.

Nathaniel Suh, a No.  5 seed, and Ford McCollum, a No. 9 seed, battled for three hours before Suh came through with a 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 win. Suh will play No. 3 seed Evan Sharygin, who defeated Lachlan Gaskell 6-4, 6-2. 

Top seed Ronit Karki downed Keaton Hance, a No. 9 seed, 6-4, 6-3 and will play Noah Johnston, a No. 9 seed. Johnston beat No. 9 seed Gus Grumet 6-1, 6-0.

Girls 14s top seed Capucine Jauffret just got past No. 5 seed Kenna Erickson 2-6, 6-0, 7-6(3). Erickson's big ground strokes kept Jauffret on defense throughout, but she countered well. The tiebreaker swung Jauffret's way on a few too many errors by Erickson and a couple of close calls, which the chair umpire confirmed, going Jauffret's way.

Jauffret will play unseeded Nicole Okhtenberg, who defeated No. 9 seed Alyssa James 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.  The other girls 14s semifinal will feature two No. 9 seeds, with Avery Nguyen facing Amy Lee. Lee defeated Lauren Kettlewell, a No. 9 seed, 6-2, 7-5, while Nguyen beat Addison Lanton, a No. 9 seed, 6-2, 6-4.

In the boys 12s, No. 3 seed Teodor Davidov will play No. 2 seed Vihaan Reddy in one of the 9 a.m. semifinals. Unseeded Shaan Majeed, who upset top seed Jordan Lee 7-6(5), 6-2 in today's quarterfinals, will face Michael Antonius, a No. 5 seed.

The girls 12s semifinals will feature two unseeded players. Baotong Xu, who beat No. 2 seed Filipa Delgado 4-6, 7-5, 10-8 in the quarterfinals, will play No. 3 seed Anjani Vickneswaran, and Yilin Chen will face Lyla Middleton, a No. 5 seed.

In the 16s, two of the top four seeds in the girls draw went out in today's second round, with Alana Boyce defeating No. 3 seed Jessica Bernales 6-2, 7-5 and Sydney Jara beating No. 4 seed Ariel Madatali 6-0, 6-4.

In the boys 16s, No. 4 seed Chase Fralick lost to Shaurya Bharadwaj 4-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5).

Live streaming will be available on courts 1 and 2 for selected 12s and 14s semifinals. Check the Easter Bowl site for which matches will be streamed on Wednesday morning. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Rain, Wind Disrupt Day One at ITF Grade B1 FILA Easter Bowl, but Top Three Boys Seeds Earn Victories; Quarterfinals Set for Tuesday in 12s and 14s Divisions

©Colette Lewis 2022--
Indian Wells CA--

The ITF Grade B1 FILA Easter Bowl got off to an unusual start Monday, with rain making its way over the mountains in the afternoon and ultimately leaving eight girls first round matches unfinished.

All of the boys first round singles matches did finish before the heaviest of several afternoon showers led to the cancellation of play shortly after 6 p.m.

Two of the longest matches of the day were on Court 2, the tournament's Stadium Court, with Landon Ardila defeating No. 13 seed Preston Stearns 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in three hours, with No. 3 seed Nicholas Godsick then needing three more hours to get past Jayanth Devaiah 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Godsick was up a break at 3-2 in the second set, but the worst of the wind kicked up then, and both players struggled with their  toss when serving and getting any depth on their groundstrokes. With winds over 20 mph, hitting through it was impossible, so adjustments were necessary, and Godsick eventually made them, getting the break at 4-4 all in both the second and third sets to get through.

After a nearly four-match to open the San Diego J1 last week, Godsick was unlikely to be overconfident against the Notre Dame recruit, who fought to the very end, forcing Godsick to deuce in the last service game before the ITF's No. 31 closed it out.

Godsick and Devaiah were not the only players battling through the wind, as anyone playing around 3 p.m. had the same problems. Taylor Goetz missed eight straight serves to double fault the game away in her match with Ava Bruno on Court 17, one of the matches that did not finish.

The lucky ones were the boys who played early in the day, including top seed Ethan Quinn and No. 2 seed Nishesh Basavareddy. Quinn, who reached the Easter Bowl ITF final last year, defeated Dylan Tsoi 6-2, 6-2 and Basavareddy beat Nikita Filin 6-2, 6-1.

Basavareddy did not play the San Diego J1 tournament last week, opting instead for qualifying at the Calabasas $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit event, but with back-to-back titles last month on clay in Brazil, he was comfortable playing on the slow hard courts that are the norm at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

"Red clay is probably my favorite surface," said the 16-year-old from Carmel Indiana. "I know I play more on hard, but I do like clay and it definitely suits my game well."

Arriving in Brazil without knowing if he would even get into qualifying at the Grade 1 the first week, Basavareddy won eight matches to take that title, and five more the next week at the Grade A, so with his victory today has extended his ITF junior circuit winning streak to 14.

"Qualies gave me quite a bit of time to really get in my groove," Basavareddy said. "Once I got going it started getting better and better, and by then end of that tournament I was really playing my best tennis. In the final, (a 6-0, 6-1 win over top seed Gonazlo Bueno) I made less than five unforced errors, which is unbelievable. Then I just kept the momentum going."

After being out most of 2021 with injuries, Basavareddy did retire in a Grade 1 in January, but he said it was a lack of fitness, not an injury that was responsible.

"My first two tournaments this year I cramped," Basavareddy said. "I had to withdraw from one and the others I was barely walking at the end. I think it was a lack of match fitness. So when I went to Brazil, I tried to take extra precautions, talked to a bunch of doctors and coaches about it and they helped me. I played a couple of long three-setters and it was good to see my fitness held up, and their physical therapists there were unbelievable. I got a massage every day, which definitely helped."

With his goal to play the junior slams this summer before heading to Stanford this fall, Basavareddy accomplished that with his success during those two weeks, improving his ITF junior ranking to 24.

"I wanted to do well in the South American tournaments to take some of the pressure off me here, get into the main draw of those slams," Basavareddy said. "Now I can just play here more freely now, continue to build my ranking and improve my game."

Basavareddy also will have a chance to earn the Easter Bowl title that eluded him the only other time he's played here, back in the 12s in 2017. He lost to Kyle Kang 6-2, 6-4 on the same court where he won his match today, Court 1. Kang and Basavareddy are playing doubles together this week and are the No. 6 seeds.

Basavareddy has gone to regular school throughout his career and will graduate this spring, but his last semester of his senior year will not be a normal one. 

"Since I was injured for so long, my school made a deal with me that this semester I could miss a lot to travel and the teachers are working with me when I'm on the road," Basavareddy said. "But I still have to go back one to two weeks out of a month until May. I'll be going to Europe then, missing the last two, three weeks of school."

Basavareddy said making his college choice was not easy.

"It was a tough decision," Basavareddy said. "I took four official visits: Stanford, Illinois, Michigan and Texas. It was between those four and it was down to the very end, and it was pretty tough for me. But I thought Stanford was the best fit for me; I really liked the coaches and the guys on the team, the California weather."

Basavareddy will play the winner of Tuesday's match between lucky loser Garen Spicka and Alexander Visser on Wednesday.

Stearns was the only boys seed of the ten in action who failed to advance; two girls seeds lost, with Meera Jesudason defeating No. 9 seed Gabriella Broadfoot 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 and Gayathri Krishnan beating No. 15 seed Ashton Bowers 6-2, 6-2.

No. 2 seed Qavia Lopez was up a set in her match with wild card Natalie Block and No. 3 seed Reese Brantmeier was up a set in her match with Winter National 18s champion Piper Charney when play was canceled for the day. San Diego champion and top seed Liv Hovde play Kaitlyn Rolls in her first round match Tuesday.

The remaining first round ITF singles matches will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday, along with all 32 first round doubles matches. Quinn and Godsick are the top seeds in the boys draw, with Liv Hovde and Qavia Lopez the No. 1 seeds in the girls doubles.

Steve Pratt's coverage from today's action for the Easter Bowl website is here.

Live streaming is available this week on Courts 1 and 2, with the links at easterbowl.com. Archived matches are also available. The 14s will be playing their quarterfinals on those two courts on Tuesday. Ken Thomas will also be providing coverage Tuesday at radiotennis.com.

The top seed in the girls 12s, Lani Chang, the daughter of former ATP star Michael Chang and two-time NCAA champion at Stanford Amber Liu, was upset in today's third round action at Palm Valley Country Club. Julia Seversen defeated Chang 6-4, 6-0.

Boys 14s No. 2 seed Jagger Leach lost Sunday to Rishvanth Krishna 7-5, 7-5, and in today's first round in the 16s, No. 2 seed Eva Oxford was ousted by Emily Baek 6-3, 1-6, 6-1. 

For all the results from the 12s, 14s and 16s, see the USTA's playtennis site.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Tien Claims First Grade 1 Title at International Open of San Diego, Hovde Earns Girls Championship; Quevedo Wins J2 in Dominican Republic; Easter Bowl 16s and ITF Begin Monday

©Colette Lewis 2022--
San Diego CA--

Top seed Liv Hovde and No. 12 seed Learner Tien captured the singles championships at the ITF Grade 1 International Open of San Diego with hard-fought victories in the finals Sunday under sunny skies at the Barnes Tennis Center. Hovde defeated unseeded Mayu Crossley of Japan 7-6(5), 6-3, while Tien beat fellow Southern Californian Kyle Kang, a wild card, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.

Hovde, who had not lost more than four games in a set coming into Sunday's final, got off to her usual fast start, taking a 3-1 lead with a break of Crossley. But then came six straight breaks of serve, with Hovde unable to serve out the set at 5-3. Crossley managed to end that streak of service breaks by holding, for 5-5, but not before saving two set points, the first when Hovde netted a forehand passing shot, and the second when Hovde made an unforced backhand error.

Crossley broke Hovde for the fourth time in the set to give herself a chance to serve for the set, but she didn't manage to hold for a third time in the set, sending it to a tiebreaker.

After Hovde lost her 2-0 lead in the tiebreaker, neither player could get more than a point ahead of the other. Serving at 4-5, Crossley crushed a forehand winner, but netted her response to Hovde's excellent return to give Hovde her third set point. This time fortune was on Hovde's side, with her forehand clipping the net and dropping short, giving Crossley little chance to respond, and she netted her forehand in the attempt.

Despite being in danger of losing a set for the first time this week, she managed to avoid the frustration that can accompany multiple breaks of serve.

"I realize that that happens, and I just have to relax," said the 16-year-old Hovde, who trains with Phil Dent in Keller Texas. "The first set was really tough: two set points at 5-4 and I lost them, and I was down 5-6, but I played well in tiebreak, played solid and didn't let it affect me. It's part of tennis, you can't let your emotions take over and affect you in the point."

Hovde broke to start the second set, but Crossley, who was having success attacking Hovde's second serve, got the break back, but lost serve again to make it 3-1. That was the only hold in the nine services games, but it was enough to give Hovde her third ITF Grade 1 title, to go with her titles at the Easter Bowl here last spring and the Pan American Closed last fall.

Hovde said the breeze may have been partially responsible for all the breaks, but she gave credit to Crossley's level of play as well.

"She's a great player, I think she has great strokes and is overall really solid," said Hovde, who also cited Crossley's movement as a strength.

Crossley, who came to the United States last fall, had a breakout tournament this week, but she is still getting accustomed to the facing the highest level of international juniors. 

"I learned so many things in this tournament," said Crossley, who trains at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton. "In the first couple of matches, I just hit, not aggressive. But next days, I grow up during this tournament, so it was good for me."

Crossley admitted that she didn't believe she could win in the second set, having no answers for Hovde's top level. 

"She's so consistent and aggressive," Crossley said. "I don't know how to win in this match."

Crossley now heads for India, where she will compete for Japan in the regional qualifying for the ITF's 16-and-under Junior Billie Jean King Cup team competition.

Hovde will make her way to the Easter Bowl ITF JB1 in Indian Wells as the top seed and defending champion. She said that playing with the pressure and expectations of being a number one seed is a prime reason for competing in these two events. 

While Hovde is piling up the Grade 1 titles, Tien earned his first, achieving a goal of his for 2022.

"Actually it was one of my goals at the beginning of the year," the 16-year-old left-hander said. "I was close in January, (semifinals of Costa Rica J1), fairly close, but it's cool to finally check it off the list."
That accomplishment is all the more impressive, given that the Irvine California resident let two-break leads slip away in both the first and third sets.

Up 4-1 and serving in the first set, Tien lost six of the next seven games, but his always calm demeanor remained, as did his optimism. 

"I lost four games in a row, but I felt like I was giving him points," Tien said. "He started to play better too, but I started giving him a lot more. So I felt that once I pulled back, making him win more points, instead of just giving them to him, I felt like I could take back control of the match more. I got away from what I was trying to do, but I came back to the game plan in the second that got me to 4-1."

Tien went up 4-1 in the second set with that game plan, but this time he held easily for a 5-1 lead and closed it out without drama.

"I was a little more focused at the double break in the second," Tien admitted. "Obviously still thinking about what happened in the first, not wanting it to happen again. But I was able to close out the second pretty easily and start out the third pretty strong too."

Up two breaks again at 3-0, Tien gave back both, losing his serve at 4-3 on a double fault. He recognized the danger he was in and immediately broke back.

"I was trying really hard not to think 'it's happening again.'" Tien said. "After he broke back for 4-all, I thought I have to lock down, I have to win this return game, or I'm going to be in a really bad spot serving to stay in the match. I played a good return game there and I think he relaxed a little bit after getting the double break back and I was able to take advantage of that, I think I won that game at love."

Serving for the match, the drama wasn't quite over, with Tien starting off the game with a double fault and going down 15-40. But Kang missed a forehand pass long to make it 30-40 and on the next point Tien's deep backhand approach forced an error. Kang missed a forehand long to set up a match point, and then went all out on a second serve return forehand that found the net.

Kang, who grew up playing with Tien in Southern California sectional competition, was impressed with his performance all week.

"Learner played unbelievable throughout the week, and I think his level stayed pretty much the same throughout the match," said Kang, who hadn't competed against Tien in tournament competition in several years. "I've always known that he has great shots on both sides, but his serve definitely did improve, so it was harder to break on my end. That's something he's really improved on."

Kang, who was also playing in his first Grade 1 final, hopes to build on this week's success at next week's Easter Bowl.

"I think I'll take the positives from this week," Kang said. "Learn from this experience and hopefully next week do even better."

Kang will not be seeded at Easter Bowl; Tien will be a 9-16 seed again.

While the majority of American juniors were competing this week in San Diego, others earned titles elsewhere. 

Sixteen-year-old Kaitlin Quevedo won her third ITF Junior Circuit title, and her biggest one, at the J2 in the Dominican Republic. Seeded No. 7 seed Quevedo defeated No. 3 seed Chelsea Fontenel of Switzerland 6-3, 6-3 in the final. Quevedo will be competing this week at the Easter Bowl.

Sixteen-year-old Saina Deshpande swept the titles, her first two on the ITF Junior Circuit, at the J5 in India. Deshpande, seeded No. 4 claimed the title when unseeded Sohini Sanjay Mohanty retired in the final trailing 6-0, 3-0. Deshpande and Sonal Patil of India, the top seeds, defeated unseeded Aanya Choubey of the US and Aishwarya Jadhay of India 6-3, 6-1 in the doubles final.

At the J4 in Panama, unseeded Patricia Grigoras and Alba Martinez won the girls doubles, defeating No. 3 seeds Mariana Higuita Barraza and Maria Vargas Triana of Colombia 6-0, 6-3 in the final. It's the first ITF Junior Circuit title for both.

At the J5 in Puerto Rico, No. 8 seeds Elle Warren and Mansi Vadyala defeated No. 6 seed Amara Brahmbhatt and Puerto Rico's Daniella O'Neill Garcia 7-5, 6-3 for their first ITF Junior Circuit titles.

The Easter Bowl Grade B1 and the USTA Level 1 16s begin play on Monday. I'll be providing onsite coverage of the ITF from Indian Wells Tennis Garden beginning Monday. Below are the top 8 seeds:

Boys 16s
1. Andrew Ena
2. Lucas Coriaty
3. Cyrus Mahjoob
4. Chase Fralick
5. Vincent Yang
5. Stephen Gershfeld
5. Noah McDonald
5. Asror Ismoilov

Girls 16s
1. Stephanie Yakoff
2. Eva Oxford
3. Jessica Bernales
4. Ariel Madatali
5. Brooke Lynn Schafer
5. Valerie Glozman
5. Pearlie Zhang
5. Saray Yli-Piipari

Boys ITF
1. Ethan Quinn
2. Nishesh Basavareddy
3. Nicholas Godsick
4. Michael Zheng
5. Alexander Frusina
6. Aidan Kim
7. Sebastian Gorzny
8. Alex Michelsen

Girls ITF
1. Liv Hovde
2. Qavia Lopez
3. Reese Brantmeier
4. Alexis Blokhina
5. Sonya Macavei
6. Madeleine Jessup
7. Ahmani Guichard
8. Ava Krug

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Tien Beats Quinn, Advances to San Diego J1 Final Against Kang; Unseeded Crossley Takes on Top Seed Hovde for Girls Title; Controversial End to Boys Doubles Final

©Colette Lewis 2022--
San Diego CA--

Although there were four boys in the field at this week's ITF Grade 1 International Open of San Diego who had won Grade 1 titles, none of them have advanced to Sunday's final after No. 12 seed Learner Tien defeated top seed and defending champion Ethan Quinn 6-4, 6-2 and wild card Kyle Kang cruised past No. 5 seed Sebastian Gorzny 6-1, 6-1.

Tien, a 16-year-old from Irvine California, had reached a semifinal at the last tournament he played, losing to Gorzny at the J1 Coffee Bowl in Costa Rica in early January. After that loss, he identified several areas he wanted to improve, and didn't play again until this week.

"I had quite a lot of time to practice, work on some things that I feel were holding me back a little bit, my serve and point construction," said Tien, who did not drop serve in his semifinal win today. "But mainly my serve, so it wasn't such a liability during matches. It's definitely an improvement from before, when even when I did get a break, I struggled to hold serve consistently. So I'm really happy with how I'm playing now."

Tien got an early break to start the match, and held on to it, saving a break point serving at 4-3. Tien had three set points in Quinn's next service game, and although he couldn't convert those, he took advantage of two unforced forehand errors from Quinn at 5-4, 30-30 to secure the first set.

The second set was similar to the first, with Tien getting an early break and going up 4-2. This time Quinn lost serve again, from 40-15 up to give Tien a chance to serve it out, and he did, hitting an ace on his first match point.

Although he had not played Quinn in many years, Tien sensed that he was feeling the effects of his run to the semifinals at the $25,000 tournament in Bakersfield last week and his long matches throughout this week.

"I know he's been a bit tired coming off a couple of long tournaments," Tien said. "It didn't seem as if he's at his best right now. But I played a solid match, took care of the things I could control. Yeah, I'm really happy with how I'm playing now."

Tien needed less than 90 minutes to get his semifinal victory, but Kang outdid him, taking just an hour to advance to his first Grade 1 final.

"I just knew from the start that I had to be ready for every point," said Kang, a 17-year-old from Fullerton California. "Especially against a guy like him, when I'm up that much I still knew he could come back at any time. 4-1, I was facing a tough service game, but I knew if he got the break I was in trouble. I was just focused on every game and I wasn't worried about the score, but I guess it went pretty quickly."

Kang said it has been a long time since he's won a tournament, so just getting to the final feels like a big step forward.

"It's a first final in a while," Kang said. "I haven't won too many tournaments recently, or even made it this far, so hopefully I can get it done tomorrow."

Tien and Kang were at a loss to remember the last time they played.

"It must have been the 12s," Kang said. "But I know him pretty well, we're both SoCal kids, so it should be a fun final."

The girls final will feature two players who know little about each other: top seed Liv Hovde, who defeated wild card Katie Codd 6-2, 6-2 and unseeded Mayu Crossley, a 7-6(1), 4-6, 6-2 winner over No. 5 seed Alexis Blokhina. 

Hovde, who had yet to lose more than four games in a set this week, stayed on that level against Codd, who despite possessing a strong first serve, held it only once in the match.

Codd broke Hovde serving for the first set at 5-1, but Hovde's power and depth eventually tipped most of the points in the ITF Top 10 junior's favor.

"She does have a really good serve," said Hovde, who won last year's Easter Bowl JB1 title on the same Stadium Court where she claimed her semifinal win today. "But I was really timing the ball well and feeling the ball today. I just love these courts, I feel so comfortable on them."

Hovde took a 4-0 lead in the second set, lost her serve and failed to break for the only time in the match in the next game, but the 16-year-old from Texas held and broke to reach her third Grade 1 final, all in the past 12 months.

While Hovde's win was straightforward, Crossley's was anything but. The 15-year-old, who came to the United States from Japan last September, came from a break down twice in the first set, immediately breaking back both times, after having saved a set point on her own serve at 4-5.  Blokhina served for the set at 6-5, but never reached set point, and in the tiebreaker, Crossley executed all her shots, dominating the 18-year-old left-hander from Florida.

As in the first, the second set featured an early break by Blokhina that Crossley got right back, but serving at 4-5, Crossley played one of her worst games of the match, going down 0-40, with Blokhina handing Crossley her first loss of a set this week on her third set point.

Crossley said she was not discouraged after that poor game; instead, she played as the underdog she was.

"She's a good player, so I didn't have pressure," said Crossley, who defeated No. 3 seed Qavia Lopez 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals Friday. "I could play relaxed."

Blokhina held in the first game of the set, but was broken the next three times she served, to give Crossley some insurance, which she ended up not needing as she closed out the two-and-a-half hour match.

Crossley, who said she decided to move from Japan to the United States for the chance to experience nicer weather and better coaching, has limited exposure to many of the top international juniors.

"I don't know anyone," said Crossley, who is coached by Jacopo Tezza at the Evert Tennis Academy.

But she does know the Barnes Tennis Center, having won the Grade 5 here last November.

"I like this place, these courts match my tennis," Crossley said.

Hovde said although she doesn't know Crossley's game at all, her results this week indicates how dangerous she is.

"I'll have to figure it out, play my game," Hovde said. "I never underestimate anyone."

The doubles finals closed out the action on a cool and sunny afternoon in San Diego, with No. 4 seed Jonah Braswell and Canada's Jaden Weeks defeating unseeded Lucas Brown and Landon Ardila 6-3, 7-5.

Although the ITF rules require a chair umpire for the semifinals and finals in a Grade 1, there were no chair umpires for the doubles finals (or semifinals yesterday). That led to a heated argument on a deuce point/set point in the boys final, with Lucas Brown serving. Brown's forehand hit near the baseline with Weekes hitting his reply. After a  pause, Braswell, on the service line raised his finger to indicate Brown's shot was out. A roving umpire watching the match off court said he did not hear or see a call and awarded the point to Brown and Ardila. Braswell argued loudly that he had called it out, and continued to state his case while Ardila and Brown walked to their seats to prepare for the match tiebreaker. Shortly thereafter the ITF Supervisor Marc Bell came on to the court to discuss the issue with the roving umpire, and determined that, because the umpire was not on the court, he could not make the call he had made. The deciding point went to Braswell and Weekes and they went on to win eight of the next nine points to take the title.

"There's going to be close calls in tennis all the time and whether it's in or out, I'm just going to go with what I see," Braswell said. "I'm going to call what I see, no matter what the opponent says."

"We both saw it out, everyone else did," said Weekes. "It was unfortunate how it ended, but we are happy we got it done, stayed focused to get the win."

Weekes and Braswell were playing together for the first time this week, although they knew each other from international competition in the 12s and 14s. 

"I think we set each other up well," said the 17-year-old Weekes. "We have great teamwork and great chemistry. It took a bit of time in the first round, but as the tournament went on, we kind of built up and we figured out how to play together, and at the end of the tournament we were playing our best."

"I think we play both similar in some ways and also a little bit different, which helps as well, makes us a good team," Braswell, 18, said. "It may sound a little cheesy, but we play really well together, and our games really mesh."

The girls doubles champions also were playing in their first tournament together, with Lara Smejkal of Slovenia and Sophie Williams defeating Codd and Maddy Zampardo 3-6, 6-3, 10-8 in a battle of unseeded teams.

"In the first set, we were struggling with their serves, because they both have such great serves," said Williams, an 18-year-old from Charleston South Carolina. "We knew we needed to serve well to have a chance, and our service games started out rocky, so that made it a little tough."

"In the beginning, we were just tight to begin with," said Smejkal, a 17-year-old from Boca Raton. "Also pressure of the opposing team made me feel I had to play more than I should have. I think in the second set, we both relaxed and that was how we were able to close it out."

Smejkal and Williams broke Zampardo to open the second set, and had no difficulty holding serve, with two love holds putting all the pressure on Codd and Zampardo. Zampardo was broken to end the set, with Smejkal slamming a volley winner at 30-40, and they took a 5-1 lead in the match tiebreaker.

But Codd and Zampardo fought back, winning the next five points to get back in it.

At 8-all, Smejkal dug out what should have been a Codd winner to give her team a match point, then closed out the title with an overhead.

Smejkal was on the verge of pulling out of doubles after injuring her hamstring in her first round singles match and retiring from it, but Williams would not let her withdraw from doubles.

"I was like, you are not pulling out; I'll play singles, just serve and get off the court," Williams said. "I felt so bad, I told here I didn't know if I could play," Smejkal said. "She said, 'you just get on the court, I'll play, you just stand there.'"

"Every match we played better together," Williams said, "so hopefully it's not the last time we play together."

Neither of the champions will play the Easter Bowl as a team. Weekes, as a Canadian, is not eligible for the B1 Closed event; Smejkal, who does have the requisite immigration status, is instead heading to Europe to compete.

Both singles finals are scheduled for 10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday. There is no streaming or live scoring.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Wild Cards Codd and Kang Advance to San Diego ITF Grade 1 Semifinals, Tien Breezes, Quinn Survives; Easter Bowl 12s and 14s Seeds, Draws for Saturday's First Round

©Colette Lewis 2022--
San Diego CA--

Katie Codd doesn't play ITF tournaments outside the United States, so she needed a wild card to get into the main draw of this week's ITF Grade 1 International Open of San Diego at the Barnes Tennis Center.

The 18-year-old from nearby Carlsbad, who has trained at Barnes in the past, has made the most of her opportunity this week, defeating No. 6 seed Sonya Macavei 6-2, 6-0 in Thursday's round of 16 and taking out No. 4 seed Sayaka Ishii of Japan 6-2, 7-5 in today's quarterfinals.

Codd, who has yet to drop a set this week, said she determined early in the match that avoiding Ishii's forehand was critical to her chances of winning.

"I just focused on keeping the ball deep and out of her strike zone," said Codd, who will join the Duke Blue Devils this fall. " I could kind of get a sense in the warmup. But I did definitely have to play into a little bit. She's an amazing player."

Ishii, a 16-year-old who trains at IMG, broke Codd serving for the match at 5-3 in the second set, then held for 5-all. Codd took a 6-5 lead, but in the next game, Ishii couldn't convert any of the half-dozen game points she had to force a second set tiebreaker. After five deuces, Codd finally got her first match point, and Ishii double faulted for an anticlimactic ending.

Codd, who was playing in her first Grade 1 quarterfinal today, will face top seed Liv Hovde, who defeated No. 9 seed Ava Krug 6-1, 6-4. 

"She's a tough one," said Codd, who hasn't had any success in the previous two or three times they've played. "It'll be a good match."

The girls semifinal in the bottom half will feature another unseeded player, 15-year-old Mayu Crossley of Japan. Crossley, who trains at the Evert Academy, surprised No. 3 seed Qavia Lopez in today's quarterfinal 6-3, 6-3. Crossley won the ITF Grade 5 held here at the Barnes Tennis Center last November.

Crossley will face No. 5 seed Alexis Blokhina, who defeated No. 13 seed Tatum Evans 6-2, 6-1. The 17-year-old from Florida, who has committed to Stanford for 2022, reached the semifinals of the Easter Bowl, held on these same courts last year.

Like Codd, Kyle Kang plays few ITF junior events, but he too has made the most of a wild card, with the 17-year-old from Fullerton California posting his fourth straight-sets win today: a 7-6(4), 6-0 decision over No. 2 seed Nicholas Godsick.

"Nico's always a tough guy to play," Kang said. "His shots are crazy good when he's on. I was up 5-2 in the beginning, playing pretty well up a break. I was having some issues with my knee a little bit near the end of the first and I got broken trying to serve for it. He played really good at the end of the first set so luckily I was able to pull it off in the breaker. Second set, I kind of found my rhythm a little bit and his level dropped a little bit, so it was smooth sailing for me after that."

Kang now is wearing glasses, which he hopes will be temporary until he gets accustomed to contact lenses. 

"I had issues seeing at night at a couple of tournaments, so I decided to get my eyes checked, and I realized with glasses it was a little bit better," Kang said. "But I haven't got used to contact lenses yet."

Kang's opponent in the semifinals, his first in a Grade 1, is No. 5 seed Sebastian Gorzny, who defeated No. 13 seed Preston Stearns 6-4, 6-4.

"I grew up with Sebastian, I've played him a ton, and just practiced, I used to play with him twice a week," said Kang, who lost to Gorzny at a UTR $25K last August after beating him in the back draw at Kalamazoo that same month. "He moved down to Florida, so I haven't hit with him recently, but we've had a lot of battles."

Kang's look has changed with his new glasses, but the most noticeable change in appearance goes to No. 12 seed Learner Tien, who cut his shoulder length hair earlier this year. 

"I had wanted to do it for a very long time," said the 16-year-old left-hander from Irvine California. "I'd been wanting to do it for a very long time, and always said I was going to do it, but I never got around to it. It was a bit weird, and the first couple of days after the haircut I didn't play too well and I was bit worried it could have been correlated there, and then it turned out fine."

In his 6-0, 6-2 win today over No. 3 seed Michael Zheng, Tien's game was better than fine. After his grueling three-set win over No. 6 seed Aidan Kim on Thursday, Tien said he felt sluggish in his warmup before today's match.

"I was a bit tired from yesterday coming into my warmup," said Tien, who made only one unforced error prior to 5-0, 40-0 in the first set. "Once I started hitting, I started feeling much better. But I was surprised at how well I was playing because I didn't feel that great during my warmup."

Zheng was not sharp in the first set, but much of that could be traced to Tien's level.

"He gave me a bit of leeway in the first, made some mistakes in the first few games," said Tien, who reached the semifinals of the Grade 1 in Costa Rica earlier this year. "He started playing better in the second, but I felt like I was able to maintain the pressure I was putting on him, kept dictating points, so I didn't give him a chance to do that much."

Tien, who was off the court in an hour, will have the advantage over his semifinal opponent Ethan Quinn, who needed over three hours to get by No. 8 seed Jonah Braswell 7-5, 5-7, 6-4. The match was a roller coaster, with Braswell serving for the first set at 5-4, while top seed and defending champion Quinn was up 4-1 in the second set before Braswell took six of the next seven games. Quinn was broken to open the third set, but got the break back to make it 3-3. Braswell, who had been successful in keeping the ball away from Quinn's forehand throughout the match, took a 0-40 lead in the next game, but Quinn hit three aces after the first deuce to hold.

At 4-all, Quinn had to save two break points but held, and then took the first three points on Braswell's service game, two via errors. Quinn let the first two of those match points slip away with unforced errors, but he took the third with a deliberately short punch of a first serve return. Braswell had to run forward quickly, and while he got there, his forehand found the net.

Tien and Quinn have played in USTA 12s and 14s events, but not in the 16s and 18s.

The doubles finals are set for Saturday, and they do not include either of the top seeds, both of whom lost to unseeded teams in today's semifinals.

Hovde and Lopez were defeated by Lara Smejkal of Slovenia and Sophie Williams 6-4, 6-4 and Quinn and Godsick went out to Landon Ardila and Lucas Brown 6-4, 4-6, 10-7.  Godsick and Brown won the Kalamazoo 16s doubles title last year, but were on opposite sides of the net today on the Stadium Court.

Smejkal and Williams will face Codd and Maddy Zampardo, who beat No. 6 seeds Ariana Pursoo and Ahmani Guichard 6-3, 6-0.

Brown and Ardila's opponents in the final will be No. 4 seeds Braswell and Jaden Weekes of Canada. They defeated No. 2 seeds Aidan Kim and Michael Zheng 6-2, 6-4.

The USTA Level 1 Fila Easter Bowl begins Saturday for the 12s and 14s divisions at various locations in the Coachella Valley. Below are the top eight seeds. Draws can be found at the USTA's PlayTennis site.

Boys 12s
1. Jordan Lee
2. Vihaan Reddy
3. Teodor Davidov
4. Izyan Ahmad
5. Safir Azam
5. Michael Antonius
5. Andrew Johnson
5. Elliott Awomoyi

Girls 12s
1. Lani Chang
2. Filipa Delgado
3. Anjani Vickneswaran
4. Welles Newman
5. Lyla Middleton
5. Raya Kotseva
5. Sarah Ye
5. withdrew

Boys 14s
1. Ronit Karki
2. Jagger Leach
3. Evan Sharygin
4. Jon Gamble
5. Jack Secord
5. Andre Alcantara
5. Sebastian Bielen
5. Nathaniel Suh

Girls 14s
1. Capucine Jauffret
2. withdrew
3. Emerey Gross
4. Aishi Bisht
5. Kenna Erickson
5. Thea Frodin
5. Kristina Penickova
5. Amiya Bowles

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Evans Ousts Second Seed Svendsen, Stearns Defeats No. 4 Seed Weekes; Top Seeds Hovde and Quinn Move into Quarterfinals at ITF Grade 1 International Open of San Diego

©Colette Lewis 2022
San Diego CA--

Tatum Evans keeps piling up the good memories at the Barnes Tennis Center, after the 16-year-old from Virginia defeated No. 2 seed Johanne Svendsen of Denmark 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at the ITF Grade 1 International Open of San Diego Thursday.

Evans, who lost in the Easter Bowl 16s final at Barnes last spring, returned for the USTA Girls 16s National Championships in August, and came away with the title. Now the No. 13 seed has reached her first Grade 1 quarterfinal after holding firm in the final set of a three-hour and 10-minute marathon.

Svendsen's first two matches were long, arduous slogs and came into today's contest with her left ankle heavily taped. After dropping that first set, Evans thought her path to victory was in her own superior fitness.

"I saw that her ankle was taped up and she was starting to pull at her leg a little bit, and her back," Evans said. "I noticed that maybe she was not moving well and so I tried moving the ball around a little more, play longer points, get her to really win the point. I thought I could wear her down more; she was already very worn down."

Evans got an early break in the third set and led 4-2, but Svendsen held, then broke to draw even. The next game, over 10 minutes in length, proved pivotal.

"I think that was the most important game in the whole match," Evans said. "It was either 5-4 for her or 5-4 for me, pretty much the deciding game. I had to just gut it out, really fight for it. She started hitting really good shots whenever it was ad-in for me, deep balls right on the line, so once I saw that, I tried to play deeper in the court and move her. And once I got her moving, eventually she made a mistake."

As significant as that game was, there was still another to play, with Evans needing four match points before finally drawing the error. Evans didn't have to save any break points, but Svendsen did come up with some excellent returns to extend the match.

"It was just challenging, she was really good at hitting big shots on big points," Evans said. "On the deuce points she would play less aggressive, but when it was ad-in for me, she would just hit a really hard ball. So I would just take a step back to be ready for it. It's not really my game to play that far behind the baseline, but it's just one point. So I moved back and tried to move her around and eventually she made a mistake."

Evans also gave credit to the conditions for assisting her in getting through those three hours. 

"I'm actually feeling a lot better than I expected to," Evans said. "I think it's because it wasn't that hot today. But yeah, I feel good."

Evans will play No. 5 seed Alexis Blokhina, who defeating unseeded Maya Joint 6-4, 6-2.

Evans played the only three-set match in the girls third round today, with little drama in the other seven matches. 

Top seed Liv Hovde was the first played to advance to the quarterfinals, needing less than an hour to defeat qualifier Erin Ha 6-0, 6-1. Hovde will face her first non-qualifier Friday in No. 9 seed Ava Krug, who defeated unseeded Maya Iyengar 6-2, 6-3.

No. 4 seed Sayaka Ishii, one of two Japanese girls remaining in the draw, defeated No. 15 seed Elisabeth Jones, a semifinalist at this tournament last year,  6-2, 6-0. Ishii will face local wild card Katie Codd, who beat No. 6 seed Sonya Macavei by the same score.

No. 3 seed Qavia Lopez ended the winning streak of 14-year-old Las Vegas J4 champion Iva Jovic with a 6-3, 6-4 win; Lopez will face unseeded Mayu Crossley of Japan, who beat unseeded Theadora Rabman 6-3, 6-3.

The only unseeded boy remaining in the draw is wild card Kyle Kang, who defeated Lucas Brown 6-3, 7-6(1). Kang will face No. 2 seed Nicholas Godsick, who earned his first straight-sets victory of the week, a 6-2, 6-3 decision over unseeded Roy Horovitz.

The other quarterfinal in the bottom half will feature No. 5 seed Sebastian Gorzny and No. 13 seed Preston Stearns after Gorzny's 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 10 seed Alexander Razeghi and Stearns' 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 4 seed Jaden Weekes of Canada.

Weekes had played two grueling matches to start his tournament, and Stearns had himself come from a set down in his first two victories this week, but it was Stearns who looked fresher throughout the match.

"I knew he was tired too," said the 18-year-old left-hander, a native of Mason Ohio, who has signed with Ohio State for this fall. "He's been player longer matches, so I figured if I just kept him moving on the court, always on his toes, he was going to end up losing his legs a little bit."

Weekes, a 17-year-old left-hander, has both power and touch, but Stearns found a pattern that Weekes couldn't counter.

"I was hitting my forehand pretty heavy," said Stearns, who has advanced to a J1 quarterfinal for the first time. "He was struggling with it. Working his backhand and then moving him to his forehand worked really well. And when I was in trouble, I just threw the ball straight up."

Stearns, who reached the quarterfinals last week at the Grade 2 in the Dominican Republic, said that the recent improvement in his game is more strategic than technical.

"I've really tried to develop an actual game plan, rather than just coming out here and doing whatever I think is best in the middle of the point," Stearns said. "I've developed a few more patterns, a few mental things on the court, making decisions based on what's happening in the match, moving with the flow of the match and staying mentally stay on track with the match."

The boys match that rivaled the Svendsen-Evans match in length was between No. 6 seed Aidan Kim and No. 12 seed Learner Tien, with Tien managing to eke out a 7-5, 6-7(5), 7-5 three-hour victory.

Tien served for the match in the second set, but didn't get to match point, and Kim played a near-perfect tiebreaker to send in to a third set. Kim had Tien on the ropes when the 16-year-old lefthander from Southern California was serving at 5-all 15-40, but Tien held for a 6-5 lead. The 17-year-old Kim took a 30-15 lead in the game that would force a deciding tiebreaker, but Tien won the final three points to seal the victory.

He will play No. 3 seed Michael Zheng, who overcame a spirited challenge from wild card Bryce Nakashima by the score of 7-6(5), 6-4.

Top seed and defending champion Ethan Quinn had a poor stretch in the second set, but recovered to defeated qualifier Jordan Reznik 6-2, 7-5. Quinn will face No. 8 seed Jonah Braswell, who beat unseeded Brayden Michna 7-5, 6-1.

Three of the top four seeds in the boys doubles have advanced to Friday's semifinals, with No. 1 Quinn and Godsick again getting through via a match tiebreaker. After trailing unseeded Quang Duong and William Thompson 4-0 in the first set, the 2021 San Diego finalists won the next five games, but lost the next three to drop it 7-5. Finding their form in the second set, Quinn and Godsick won it 6-1 and ran out to a 9-4 lead in the tiebreaker before finally taking it 10-7.  They will play the only unseeded team remaining, Landon Ardila and Lucas Brown, who defeated unseeded Krish Arora and Canada's Nemanja Stefanovic 6-2, 6-3.

No. 2 seeds Kim and Zheng also prevailed in a match tiebreaker for the second straight day, defeating unseeded Mitchell Lee and Chase Fralick 5-7, 6-2, 10-7. They will face No. 4 seed Braswell and Weekes, who defeated No. 6 seeds Razeghi and Tien 6-0, 6-3.

Top seeds Hovde and Lopez are through to the semifinals after defeating unseeded Theodora Rabman and Evans 6-4, 6-2. They will play another unseeded team Friday, Lara Smejkal of Slovenia and Sophie Williams, who defeated unseeded Isabella Chhiv and Karsyn Evans 7-6(9), 4-6, 10-7.

Codd and Maddy Zampardo, also unseeded, defeated No. 3 seeds Krug and Macavei 6-3, 6-2 and will face No. 6 seeds Ariana Pursoo and Ahmani Guichard, who took out No. 2 seeds Svendsen and Blokhina 6-2, 5-7, 10-8.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Iyengar Saves Match Points to Defeat No. 7 Seed Jessup; Brown Gets Two Wins Over Seeds Wednesday at ITF Grade 1 in San Diego; Kylie Mckenzie's Account of Sexual Assault by a USTA Coach in Today's New York Times

©Colette Lewis 2022
San Diego CA--

Fourteen-year-old Maya Iyengar was not happy with her form coming into the ITF Grade 1 International Open of San Diego, but she is now through to the round of 16, after saving two match points in a 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-5 win over No. 7 seed Madeleine Jessup Wednesday morning at the Barnes Tennis Center.

Iyengar, who saved two match points with Jessup serving for the match at 5-4 in the third, said her inspiration was none other than Jessup herself, who saved two match points in the second set.

"I told myself if she can save it, I can do it too," said the Phoenix Arizona resident, who called today's result one of her best wins. "I think I may have hit a winner on the first one, and the second one, you could tell she was tight, and she missed a little wide on her forehand. After that, I think I played really well, the last three games of the match and especially to close it out, but she really made it hard for me."

Iyengar began playing the ITF Junior Circuit just a few months after her 13th birthday and won her first singles title at a J4 in Guatemala last November. Although she reached the quarterfinals of the Grade 3 in Cancun two weeks ago, her level was not up to her expectations.

"I had a really hard time last year winning a lot of matches," said Iyengar, who went 18-8 in Grade 4s and 5s in 2021. "I played Cancun, and it was really rough, I didn't play very well.  But I thought I was playing really well in practice last week after we came back and we had worked on all the issues in Cancun. It started getting a lot better and I think here, in this match, it really showed. My backhand was really solid and I played really aggressive. I came to the net, and even though I missed a few, it started coming together when I needed it."

On Thursday Iyengar will face No. 9 seed Ava Krug, who beat Vesa Gjinja of Kosovo 6-1, 7-6(3).

In other girls action, with just the top half playing their second round today, No. 1 seed Liv Hovde defeated qualifier Michela Moore 6-1, 6-3 and will get her third straight qualifier on Thursday in Erin Ha, who defeated Morgan McCarthy 6-1, 6-0. No. 6 seed Sonya Macavei had a tough battle but came back to defeat Anya Murthy 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Macavei will play local wild card Katie Codd, who beat Karsyn Evans 6-2, 6-2. Like Macavei, No. 15 seed Elisabeth Jones also fell behind, but she defeated Salma Farhat 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to set up a third round meeting with No. 4 seed Sayaka Ishii of Japan. Ishii, who trains at IMG, defeated Sophie Williams 6-1, 6-4.

As with the girls, just one seed fell in boys second round play Wednesday, with Lucas Brown taking out No. 11 Aayush Bhat 6-1, 2-6, 6-3. Because the 17-year-old Bhat had played all of his ITF Junior Circuit tournaments outside the US, primarily in India and Africa, Brown was unfamiliar with his name and his game.

"I had no idea who he was," said Brown, also 17. "I saw the 11 next to his name and was like who? Where's he from? US, but?"

Brown described the match as "interesting."

"In the first set I played really really well, super intense, super focused, maybe overexerted myself a little bit with the intensity," said the blue chip junior from Plano Texas. "Second set, all those balls I was making--we were getting in like 15-ball rallies and was winning them--suddenly within the first five balls I was struggling. He made a good adjustment, started taking it on the rise, giving me awkward balls and that went by pretty quickly. In the third set I played a little bit better, but we actually broke each other four times back-to-back, each at love except the last one I broke at 15. I finally served it out at 5-3, but it was a very anxious match, because he'd break, then I'd break and then he'd lose it. But it's good to get those wins."

Brown will play wild card Kyle Kang, who defeated qualifier Lucas Andrade Da Silva of Brazil 6-1, 6-1 in just over an hour. 

"That will be a fun match," said Brown. "We both hit the ball big, so hopefully we'll get some fireworks going."

Brown and his partner Landon Ardila got some fireworks going in doubles as well, beating No. 3 seeds Sebastian Gorzny and Alex Michelsen 6-4, 5-7, 10-4.  Gorzny, the defending champion in doubles (with Nathan Cox) and Michelsen were down a set and 4-3, with Brown and Ardila serving, before mounting a comeback to take the second set. But Brown, who is the reigning Kalamazoo 16s doubles champion, and Ardila were not going to cede the momentum. 

"They went to the restroom and I looked at Landon and went, 'the way we're going to win this is to have crazy energy, play to win, if there's a moment to poach take it, a moment to sting a return sting it, just play to win, play to win, play to win," Brown said. 

Ardila said all the chances they had to break in the second set gave them confidence going into the tiebreaker.

"In the second set, we had so many opportunities, we were confident on the return, even though we lost the second set," Ardila said. "We played smart in the tiebreak, put pressure on them, knew we were going to be fine."

Ardila and Brown, who are playing together for the first time this week, will play an unseeded team in Thursday's quarterfinals in Krish Arora and Canada's Nemanja Stefanovic.

One of the best matches in boys singles action Wednesday featured wild card Rudy Quan and No. 13 seed Preston Stearns, with Stearns earning a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory. The shot tolerance for both players in the first two sets was phenomenal, with 20- and 30-ball rallies featuring both pace and depth. One game extended to 36 points, according to a USTA coach tracking the match, and the match lasted nearly three hours, even with Stearns jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the third, and pressuring Quan to many more errors than he produced in the first two sets. 

Stearns will play No. 4 seed Jaden Weekes of Canada, who finished at almost the exact same time, but played only two sets, beating Adhithya Ganesan 7-5, 7-6(4). 

No. 2 seed Nicholas Godsick was no doubt happy to have Tuesday off after needing nearly four hours to get through his first round match Monday. He managed to keep his time on the singles court to less than three hours today, but had to come back from a set down to take out Patrik Oplustil of the Czech Republic 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-2. Godsick will play unseeded Roy Horovitz, who defeated Nikita Filin 6-1, 7-5 for his first victory over his fellow 15-year-old in three ITF Junior Circuit matches.

The other two boys second round matches played today saw No. 5 seed Gorzny defeat Jelani Sarr 6-3, 6-0 and No. 10 seed Alexander Razeghi beat Maxwell Exsted 6-3, 7-5, to set up a third round contest between them Thursday.

The top two seeds in both girls and boys doubles advanced to Thursday's quarterfinals, with the boys teams both surviving in match tiebreakers. No. 1 seeds Ethan Quinn and Godsick defeated Kang and Evan Wen 3-6, 6-4, 10-2 and No. 2 seed Aidan Kim and Michael Zheng defeated Fnu Nidunjianzan of China and Sam Scherer 7-6(8), 4-6, 10-2.

Top girls seeds Liv Hovde and Qavia Lopez defeated Marcela Lopez and Morgan Pyrz 7-6(4), 6-2 and No. 2 seeds Alexis Blokhina and Johanne Svendsen of Denmark beat Tyra Lithiby of Thailand and Mayu Crossley of Japan 6-2, 6-1.

No. 4 seeds Gabriella Broadfoot of South Africa and Jones lost to Isabella Chhiv and Evans 6-4, 3-6, 13-11.

Kylie McKenzie, who reached the quarterfinals of the 2015 US Open Junior Championships and won the Eddie Herr ITF that same year, has struggled with injuries since 2016, unable to find any window for sustained competition. In an article in today's New York Times, McKenzie reveals that she was a victim of sexual assault by her former USTA coach, Anibal Aranda. This is a difficult story to read, yet it appears from this account that McKenzie and the USTA handled this about as well as could be hoped, given the circumstances, both in reporting and responding to the report McKenzie made. It's an important topic for parents to discuss with their tennis playing children, girls or boys, and having the U.S. Center for SafeSport available to investigate and ban coaches deemed a threat to children is key to ending this abuse, as is the courage of those willing to report their abuse.