Schedule a training visit to the prestigious Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, MD by clicking on the banner above

Friday, March 31, 2023

My ITF J300 San Diego Recap; Glozman Aims for Second Straight FILA Easter Bowl Title; Two Californians Meet in Boys 18s Final; 16s Championships Also Set for Saturday

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Indian Wells CA--

I'm in the home stretch of this three-week Southern California junior tennis circuit, but if you haven't had an opportunity to follow my daily coverage of the ITF J300 last week in San Diego, please read about the titles for Kaylan Bigun and Clervie Ngounoue in today's Tennis Recruiting Network article.

The contrast between 18s top seed Valerie Glozman's hometown of Seattle and Indian Wells, the site of the FILA Easter Bowl for the past eight years, may not explain why the 16-year-old is playing for a second consecutive title Saturday, but that's her theory at the moment.

"I guess it's the nice weather," said Glozman, who defeated unseeded Shannon Lam 6-1, 7-5 in the semifinals Friday afternoon on Stadium 4. "It's nice to get out of rainy Seattle."

Now on an 11-match winning streak at the Easter Bowl, Glozman had lost only two games total in the round of 16 and the quarterfinals, but she was prepared for a tough battle with the 14-year-old Lam, who won the Easter Bowl 12s title in 2021.

"I came out a little nervous," Glozman said. "I knew she was a great player; I watched her previous match, and she's really fast and has a lot of variety. I think our styles are pretty similar actually. I knew it was going to be a long match, so I was grateful to scrape out the close games early on, get off to a good start."

Glozman got the battle she was expecting in the second set, with Lam going up a break, which meant little as from 3-2 neither player held serve until Glozman earned a love hold to go up 6-5. Lam had served for the set at 5-4, came back from 0-40 down, but never got to a set point. Although the points were close, the next two games were not, with Glozman claiming the final nine points of the match.

"She made some adjustments in the second set, started to be a lot more aggressive and I kind of backed off a little bit," said Glozman, who reached the final of the USTA National 18s in San Diego last August. "I was glad I was able to find the right balance and scrape out the second set. Three-all was a big game, 4-all as well that I didn't get, so at 5-all I really tried to step it up."

Standing in the way of Glozman's second straight Easter Bowl title is Aspen Schuman, the No. 5 seed, who defeated No. 7 seed Capucine Jauffret 6-1, 6-2.  Schuman and Glozman met in the first round of the ITF J300 two weeks ago, also at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden during the second week of the BNP Paribas Open, with Glozman winning 6-1, 7-6(5).

"That was tough draw, she's a great player," said Schuman, a 15-year-old from Menlo Park California, who qualified for the Indian Wells junior event. "I've known Valerie for a long time and we've been close friends. Playing her in a final is a little better at least."

Schuman, who defeated No. 4 seed Maddy Zampardo 6-4, 6-2 in the quarterfinals, said she is starting to get used to the slow hard courts at Indian Wells, which she doesn't consider her best surface. "It's not exactly good for my game, but I think I've ended up liking them better." 

Schuman said she would like to improve all parts of her game, yet cited several intangibles as a key to her success.

"I think I'm very disciplined, and it shows when I'm playing," Schuman said. "I try to do my best to compete; I think I have good competitive skills."

The boys 18s final will feature two Southern Californians, who are at different stages in their junior tennis careers. No. 7 seed Emon van Loben Sels is a redshirt freshman at UCLA playing the Easter Bowl on his spring break, while No. 5 seed Cassius Chinlund is a high school sophomore who is just beginning to have an impact in 18s.

Van Loben Sels defeated wild card Krish Arora 6-4, 7-5, after seeing his 4-0 second set lead disappear.

"I knew that I was in every game," the 18-year-old from Sacramento said. "I was just a little unlucky on a few big points. I knew I was capable of taking that and I somehow got through it."

Van Loben Sels didn't think he would be eligible for the 2023 Easter Bowl, because he turns 19 in December and if it had continued to be an ITF event, he would be too old. But with the USTA's birth month and year policy, instead of just the birth year  that determines eligibility, he could play this and is planning to play Kalamazoo as well.

Chinlund defeated No. 8 seed Marko Mesarovic 6-4, 6-4 in today's semifinal, crediting his newfound confidence with getting him through to his first USTA Level 1 final.

"My training's completely changed and I'm completely focused in practice 100 percent," said Chinlund who works with 2014 NCAA finalist Alex Sarkissian. "I'm working very hard and that's what makes me comfortable in matches. I've trained so hard to get here, control everything I can and it's made me super easy to perform in matches. I feel much more physical, really fit and feel I'm playing amazing."

Van Loben Sels considers Chinlund a different generation although they are just two years apart in age.

"I've never played him, and I was always like an age-level higher, van Loben Sels said. "But I've known him, seen him play a lot, he's good player. He's gotten a lot better recently, so it will be a fun one."

The 16s finals, which in previous Easter Bowls were held on Saturday, while the 18s were on Sunday, remain in their position on the schedule with the 18s finals moved up to the same day.

No. 3 seed Alanis Hamilton and No. 8 seed Claire An will meet for the girls 16s title, after both came from a set down to reach the final. Hamilton, who has dropped the first set in her last three matches, defeated No. 2 seed Leena Friedman 6-7(1), 6-3, 6-2 on Stadium 4, while An, who has played four three-setters to reach the final, beat No. 9 seed Anna Frey 4-6, 6-4, 5-1.

No. 4 seed Ian Bracks and No. 9 seed Braeden Gelletich will meet for the Boys 16s singles title after Bracks defeated wild card Sebastian Bielen, the 2021 Easter Bowl 12s champion, 6-4, 7-6(3) and Gelletich won the last 11 games in his 6-2, 6-0 win over fellow No. 9 seed Cooper Han.

"I knew he was tired, because he played two or three three-setters this week," said Gelletich, a 16-year-old from New York, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament. "So I kept moving him around, swinging for it, and I just kept making it."

The doubles finals are also set for Saturday, with Hamilton the only player in either division going for a sweep. She and Kayla Chung, the No. 2 seeds, will face the unseeded team of Bella Payne and Elena Zhao in the girls 16s final.

In the boys 16s final, No. 2 seeds Andre Alcantara and Xavier Calvelo will face No. 5 seeds Winston Lee and Aniketh Poruri for the gold balls.

The only top seeds remaining are in the girls 18s, with No. 1 Maddy Zampardo and Susanna Maltby taking on No. 3 seeds Ava Esposito Cogan and Carolina McGinley for the title.

In the boys 18s, the unseeded team of Krish Arora and 2022 Easter Bowl 16s singles champion Parashar Bharadwaj will face No. 2 seeds Kale Mize and Declan Galligan.

Both 18s singles finals will be live streamed at Easterbowl.com. The schedule has the girls 16s and girls 18s finals at 10 a.m., with the boys 16s and 18s final at noon.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Kotseva, Eigbedion, Santhosh and Lee Crowned Champions in 12s and 14s Divisions Thursday at FILA Easter Bowl; Frey Defeats Top Seed Hill in Girls 16s Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Indian Wells CA--

Twelve USTA gold balls were awarded today at the 2023 FILA Easter Bowl, with singles and doubles champions crowned on a cool and changeable day at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Jason Eigbedion and Raya Kotseva swept the 12s gold balls, claiming the singles and doubles titles, while the 14s champions both earned their first Easter Bowl titles by coming back from a set down.

The sixth-seeded Eigbedion defeated No. 7 seed Advay Singh 6-4, 6-2, for the second time in a USTA National Level 1 event, having recorded a 6-2, 6-0 victory last summer at the Clay Courts.

"He was a lot better than he was when I played him last time, this time was a lot tougher," said the 12-year-old from Duluth Georgia, who agreed he has also improved in the past eight months. "He's overall a pretty consistent player, and I was just trying to go for my shots, play my normal game. But I think I had to be more aggressive than last time."

Singh, who was playing in his first Level 1 final, provided a concise analysis of his loss.

"He was hitting his backhand really deep, and he could get a lot of short balls that way," said the 12-year-old from Frisco Texas. "He was taking control of the points really well; even when I had him on the run, somehow he found a way to hit a shot that would make me uncomfortable and he would have an easier shot the next time. He's just really good."

Eigbedion went deep in the USTA 12s Nationals last summer, and drew inspiration from watching the final.

"In August in Alabama, I saw the final, and saw that they got a gold ball," said Eigbedion, who trains at with Carlos Cobos at the Greater Atlanta Christian School Tennis Academy. "I thought I really want a gold ball, it would be really cool if I got a gold ball."

Eigbedion is now planning to move up to the 14s divisions for the Level 1s this summer, although he does not turn 13 until September.

A first gold ball was the goal for Roshan Santhosh, who was playing in his last 14s tournament this week, and he achieved it, with the No. 7 seed defeating No. 3 seed Ryan Cozad 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Santhosh got off to a dismal start, dropping the first four games, but he got back into the first set, and then began to play how he had envisioned.

"In the beginning I think I was nervous," said the 14-year-old from Thousand Oaks California, who joins Sam Querrey, Marcos Giron and Claire Liu as Easter Bowl champions from that city. "But I realized after the first set that if I played nervous it wouldn't help me. So I just loosened up and started playing my game."

Santhosh, the reigning SoCal sectional champion, hadn't played Cozad before, but figured out what he needed to do to keep Cozad on defense.

"He was an aggressive player, so I didn't want him to attack first," said Santhosh, who began playing tennis under the tutelage of Rita Pichardo, and still works with her on occasion, although he trains regularly with the USTA coaches in Carson California. "So I started attacking before he did and that worked."

Cozad said once Santhosh began making first serves, he had trouble finding ways to attack.

"He was missing a lot at first," said the 14-year-old from Alpharetta Georgia, who saw himself playing defense more than he would have liked. "But he played better and it was hard for me to be aggressive. And he made a lot of first serves too."

Santhosh had been disappointed in his previous performances in USTA Level 1 events, and believes he knows why he was able to free himself up to play better throughout the week.

"I just had more motivation, because it was my last 14s tournament," said Santhosh, who is planning to play Kalamazoo this summer. "I just wanted to do good in this and move out of the 14s."

Kotseva, the No. 4 seed, did not drop a set in securing her first gold ball in singles, but she came close in Thursday's final on Stadium 4, with her opponent Camilla Kostik serving for the second set at 5-4.

Kostik didn't get to set point in that game however, and Kotseva found her way back, taking the final four games in her 6-2, 7-5 victory by not dwelling on the deficit she faced.

"I was just forgetting the past points, just thinking on trying my best on the new points," said the 12-year-old Kotseva, who was born in Bulgaria and now lives in Las Vegas, where her sister Iren and husband Scott Schneider operate the All In Academy. "I was very focused on each point."

Kostik was frustrated that she was unable to send the match to a third set. 

"I was really disappointed," said the 12-year-old, who is from New York and trains in Florida. "I had a lot of chances in the second set to close it, and it was unfortunate I couldn't. She played really well though, so credit to her. If you hit it even a little short, she's up to it, ready to transition and go forward. Her balls are really hard, so it's hard to get it back deep and she just crushes it."

Kotseva was equally generous in her praise of Kostik. 

"She was very consistent, hit it deep, didn't miss and her serve was very good," said Kotseva, who will play on the Tennis Europe junior circuit this summer. "It was hard to beat her, but it was an amazing match. This tournament is the best one I've ever played. I was very focused and didn't care about winning, just about trying my best."

The longest final of the day was No. 2 seed Nancy Lee's 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 win over No. 5 seed Anita Tu, which took three hours and multiple match points to secure, with some bizarre weather descending on the Coachella Valley during the late stages of the match.

"In the first set I was going for too much," said the 13-year-old Lee, who trains at the MAC Academy in the Boston area. "Second set, I toned it down a bit, stayed more consistent and waited for the opportunity to attack instead of just going for broke."

Up 5-2 in the third set, Lee couldn't close out the tenacious Tu, who had played almost four hours in her semifinal with Aishi Bisht Thursday. 

"I had like six or seven match points in that game," Lee said. "I was up 40-0, and then it became really windy all of a sudden. Super windy and I double faulted three times. I think the first double fault was nerves, but the wind for the others."

Tu held for 5-4, and Lee had another chance to end it, as the skies darkened and drops of rain were blown about by the wind. She didn't get close, quickly losing four points to make it 5-5.

"I was playing tight because I had a lot of match points and didn't convert," Lee said. "And she kind of got back into the match, she was there mentally, but at 5-all I was like, I can't lose, you know, I can't lose."

Lee broke to give herself a third chance to serve out the championship, and this time she did not use her big serve or heavy ground strokes, choosing instead to try the changeup.

"I wasn't making a lot of them," Lee said of her big serves. "And when I did, she was returning them well. So instead of trying to smash my serve, I decided to play a little bit smarter. It was windy and I needed to make my first serve, because she attacked my second serve."

Tu admitted that Lee's tactic caught her off guard.

"I was just not prepared for that, so I didn't adjust well," said the 13-year-old Floridian, who trains at the Doral in Miami. "I wasn't consistent enough to deal with that, and she controlled the points better."

Although Lee won a gold ball in singles at the last USTA Level 1 in Tucson in January, she was delighted to taste her first success at the Easter Bowl.

"This is my third Easter Bowl and in the previous two I lost in the first round," said Lee, who has yet to decide whether she'll play 14s or 16s in this summer's USTA Level 1s.

Girls 12s Doubles final: Raya Kotseva and Jordyn Hazelitt[1] d. Surabhi Raghavendra and Valerie Machikawa[2] 6-3, 6-2

Boys 12s Doubles final: 
Jason Eigbedion and Dylan Meineke [2] d. Gareth Kurowski and Raghav Narayanan 6-1, 6-1

G14s doubles final:
Catherine Rennard and Isabelle DeLuccia[2] d. Alyson Shannon and Kori Montoya[1] 6-2, 6-2 

B14s Doubles final:
Yannik Alvarez and Ryan Cozad[1] d. Joseph Nau and Wesley Cotton[2] 6-2, 1-6, 6-1

While the 12s and 14s finals were being contested on the outside stadium courts, the practice courts were full of 16s and 18s quarterfinal and consolation matches. The results are below, with the most notable the 6-4, 6-2 win by Anna Frey over 16s top seed Claire Hill.

"I stayed patient and then when it was time to attack I went for my shots with a big target," said Frey, 15-year-old from Salt Lake City Utah. "I think making a lot of first serves helped me out too, serve plus-ones."

Frey, who lost in the first round of the 14s at the Easter Bowl last year, said she has been playing well throughout the week.

"I've been playing pretty well, came here a few days early to get used to the altitude," Frey said. "It's been pretty fun."

Results from today's quarterfinals in the 16s and 18s are below:

Emon van Loben Sels[7] d. Greyson Casey 6-0, ret. inj 
Krish Arora[WC] d. Mitchell Lee[WC]] 2-6, 6-3, 6-3

Marko Mesarovic[8] d. Alex Fuchs[4] 6-2, 6-1
Cassius Chinlund[5] d. Stephan Gershfeld[2] 7-5, 6-4

Sebastian Bielen[WC] d. James Weber 7-6(4), 6-0
Ian Bracks[4] d. Jack Kennedy[WC] 6-4, 1-6, 6-1

Braeden Gelletich[9] d. Winston Lee[9] 6-1, 6-3
Cooper Han[9] d. Sachiv Kumar 3-6, 6-4, 6-0

Valerie Glozman[1] d. Riley Crowder[9] 6-0, 6-0
Shannon Lam d. Esha Velaga[8] 7-5, 6-1

Aspen Schuman[5] d. Maddy Zampardo[4] 6-4, 6-2
Capucine Jauffret[7] d. Tianmei Wang[2] 6-3, 6-2

Anna Frey[9] d. Claire Hill[1] 6-4, 6-2
Claire An[8] d. Kenzie Nguyen 7-5, 4-6, 6-1

Alanis Hamilton[3] d. Rachel Lee[6] 1-6, 6-4, 6-3
Leena Friedman[2] d. Campbell Ricci[9] 6-2, 6-2

Live streaming of Stadium 4 is available here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

FILA Easter Bowl 12s and 14s Finals, 16s and 18s Quarterfinals Set for Thursday; Lam Makes Annual Easter Bowl Run, Hamilton Comes Back to Advance in 16s

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Indian Wells CA--

The FILA Easter Bowl has enjoyed great weather since beginning last Saturday, but that ended Wednesday, with the semifinals for the 12s and 14s divisions and the round of 16 for the 16s and 18s divisions played under dramatically different conditions depending on the time of day. 

Clouds, a few raindrops, a mild and sunny hour, then gusty winds and blowing sand were the progression, and when the last singles match finished at 7 p.m., chilly temperatures were also added to the mix.

The boys 12s semifinals were straightforward affairs, with No. 6 seed Jason Eigbedion cruising past No. 3 seed Luca Queriroz 6-1, 6-1 and Stadium 4 and No. 7 seed Advay Singh rolling through No. 4 seed Carter Jauffret 6-0, 6-1.

Camilla Kostik, a No. 9 seed in the girls 12s, continued that trend, defeating No. 7 seed Aarini Bhattacharya 6-1, 6-2, with the most competitive semifinal in the 12s No. 4 seed Raya Kotseva's 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 2 seed Caroline Shao.

The 14s then took over the Stadium courts for their semifinals, with three of the four going the distance.

On Stadium 4, No. 3 seed Ryan Cozad defeated No. 2 seed Liam Alvarez 6-2, 6-2, but his opponent in the final, No. 7 seed Roshan Santhosh had a much tougher path, defeating No. 9 seed Izyan Ahmad 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.

Santhosh plays what looks like a casual game, but when he sees a ball he likes he generates serious pace, particularly on the backhand as Izyan discovered when he had to hit a second serve.

Late in the second set, Santhosh called the trainer for a shoulder injury he had suffered warming up, leaving him unable to hit anything but a second serve. That helped Ahmad stay close at the beginning of the third set, with each of the first five games going to deuce, and all won eventually by the server. In the sixth game, however, Ahmad was broken at love, and that was all Santhosh needed, as he held for 5-2 and converted his second match point with a drop shot winner.

Santhosh knew he had been in a battle.

"He just made a bunch of balls in the court, and he got to a lot shots, made me play most of the points," said the 14-year-old from Thousand Oaks California. "He made me hit a good shot to hit most of the points."

Ahmad figured out that he wasn't having the success he wanted in the long rallies, so he began to play more aggressively midway through the third set.

"All the points that were long went to him," said Santhosh, who trains at the USTA's Player Development West facility in Carson. "I just felt that I had to shorten up the points."

Playing in his second Easter Bowl, Santhosh is having success that he hadn't experienced in previous USTA Level 1s.

"All my other Level 1s I lost like first round," said Santhosh, who did make the third round of the Easter Bowl last year, losing to eventual champion Noah Johnston. "In those others ones I played really tight, but this one I relaxed and played more freely. It's my last 14s, so I just wanted to play my game and try to do the best that I can."

Cozad and Santhosh will be meeting for the first time Thursday.

No. 2 seed Nancy Lee will face No. 5 seed Anita Tu in the girls 14s final, after both prevailed in three sets. Lee defeated unseeded Paige Wygodzki 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, while Tu came from 6-4, 3-0 down to beat  No. 9 seed Aishi Bisht 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a 3-hour and 50-minute match on Stadium 6.  Tu defeated Lee in a USTA Level 3 last May 6-2, 7-6(4).

All four singles finals are scheduled for 11:30 am Thursday, with the doubles finals scheduled for 2:30 pm.

The quarterfinals are set for Thursday in the 16s and 18s, and it
is no surprise that unseeded Shannon Lam is still around as the Easter Bowl Championship weekend approaches. 

Lam, the 2021 Easter Bowl 12s champion, reached the quarterfinals of the Easter Bowl ITF last year, and with her 6-4, 6-0 win over No. 3 seed Sari Woo today, the 14-year-old is again contending for a USTA gold ball.

"My mom considers this my lucky tournament," Lam said. "And the past two tournaments I have done really, really well in them. This year I'm on track to hopefully win it again."

Lam wasn't surprised that she was not given a seed.

"I haven't played any USTA tournaments in a while," said Lam, who had not played Woo previously. "The last USTA tournament I played was Clay Courts; I've just been playing ITFs."

Lam said it took her most of the first set to figure out a strategy.

"I think in the beginning I was being a bit too aggressive," Lam said. "A lot of the games she won, I made a lot of unforced errors, so I just started cutting down my pace a little bit, started hitting angles and stuff. We had really long rallies and then she ended up getting impatient and making an unforced error."

Lam, who faces No. 8 seed Esha Velaga in the quarterfinals, is playing her third straight week after competing in the J300s in Indian Wells and San Diego. 

"I just wanted to have more matches," Lam said. "I feel like for my game, it's good to have the competiveness. I feel my technique and everything is fine, but I have to teach myself how to compete better."

Also playing for a third straight week is girls 16s No. 3 seed Alanis Hamilton, who had to make all sorts of adjustments to defeat Allie Bittner 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

"I've been playing at a different site, so I think adjusting courts has been difficult for me,'' said the 15-year-old, who reached the quarterfinals in the J300s in Indian Wells and San Diego. "It was pretty windy, there was sand all over the place and I was having trouble seeing. But eventually I got used to the courts and kind of problem solved it. She definitely made me work hard for every point."

Hamilton decided to play the 16s for several reasons.

"Well since this is the third week, I wanted to take it a little bit easier. Obviously, that did not happen," Hamilton said. "And also to deal with the pressure of being one of the top seeds, beating people I think I'm supposed to beat, dealing with that pressure. And getting to work on my game, continue building."

The singles quarterfinal matchups for the 16s and 18s are below.

Live streaming for Stadium Court 4 matches is available at EasterBowl.com.

Greyson Casey v. Emon van Loben Sels[7]
Krish Arora[WC] v Mitchell Lee[WC]]
Marko Mesarovic[8] v Alex Fuchs[4]
Cassius Chinlund[5] v Stephan Gershfeld[2]

Sebastian Bielen[WC] v James Weber
Ian Bracks[4] v Jack Kennedy[WC]
Winston Lee[9] v Braeden Gelletich[9]
Cooper Han[9] v Sachiv Kumar

Valerie Glozman[1] v Riley Crowder[9]
Shannon Lam v Esha Velaga[8]
Aspen Schuman[5] v Maddy Zampardo[4]
Capucine Jauffret[7] v Tianmei Wang[2]

Claire Hill[1] v Anna Frey[9]
Kenzie Nguyen v Claire An[8]
Rachel Lee[6] v Alanis Hamilton[3]
Campbell Ricci[9]  v Leena Friedman[2]

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Eigbedion Defeats Top Seed to Reach Boys 12s Semifinals; No. 1 and No. 2 B16s Seeds Ousted in Second Round at FILA Easter Bowl; Texas Men Claim No. 1 Spot in New D-I Rankings

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Indian Wells CA--

Tuesday was another busy and beautiful day at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, with the quarterfinals in the 12s and 14s divisions and the second round in the 16s and 18s divisions at the 55th annual FILA Easter Bowl.

Only two No. 1 seeds remain among the eight draws, with Valerie Glozman, No. 1 in the girls 18s, and Claire Hill, No. 1 in the girls 16s, winning their second round matches today. Glozman defeated Angela Huang 6-2, 6-4, while Hill had a lengthy battle with Amy Lee before claiming a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

The top seeds in the boys 12s and boys 16s exited today, with No. 6 seed Jason Eigbedion taking out Zesen Wang 6-1, 4-6, 6-1.

Eigbedion had beaten Wang last May at a USTA Level 3 final, so he was not intimidated by Wang's higher seeding. 

"I came in with a little confidence, but it was a tough one when I played him," said the 12-year-old from Duluth Georgia. "So I knew this wasn't going to be easy. He's very aggressive; he has a good first serve, and he pumps himself up a lot."

Eigbedion said he lost sight of the pace of the match in the second set. 

"In the first set, I was definitely taking my time more," said Eigbedion, who trains at the Greater Atlanta Christian School Tennis Academy with Carlos Cobos. "In the second set, I started rushing, playing faster than I should have."

Eigbedion used the 10-minute break before the third set to re-focus on the style of play that had been successful in the first set and that reset worked perfectly.

"I'd say my groundstrokes, playing from the baseline is my strength," Eigbedion said. "Those are my weapons, especially my backhand."

This is Eigbedion's first trip to the Easter Bowl, and he was excited to be on the grounds of the recently completed BNP Paribas Open.

"This is where the pros play and I was just watching them on TV last week," said Eigbedion, whose favorite players are Roger Federer and Venus and Serena Williams. "I was really excited to play this event."

Boys 16s top seed Dominick Mosejczuk's exit was an unfortunate one, with illness causing him to retire trailing Jack Satterfield 6-3, 3-0.

"I noticed pretty early in the match that he was kind of sluggish," said Satterfield, a 15-year-old from Tampa Florida. "He wasn't running his best, so I decided I would run him from corner to corner. At 4-3, he took a medical, went to the bathroom and puked a couple of times, then he came back and I just kept running him around."

Satterfield was sympathetic, but knew he couldn't dwell on Mosejczuk's predicament. 

"I tried to focus more on myself than on his illness," said Satterfield, who trains at the Eric Dobsha Academy in Tampa. "So I just kept doing what I was doing. I came in with a game plan, and I knew I could beat him; you have to have the belief to pull through."

Mitchell Sheldon didn't have any physical issues, but he was unable to solve the riddle of Andre Alcantara, who came from a set down to oust the No. 2 seed 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in a battle of left-handers.

"In the first set, I was missing a lot," said the 15-year-old from Las Vegas. "In the second set, I realized I just needed to make more balls, and he started missing. I was also stepping into the balls because I knew I had to push him back more."

In the third set, Alcantara got an early break, gave it back, but then broke again and held to take a 3-1 lead.

"I sensed he was a little frustrated, but I just focus on myself," said Alcantara, who trains at the Mike Agassi No Quit Tennis Academy in Las Vegas. 

Part of Sheldon's exasperation centered on Alcantara's lob, which caught him off guard on several important points.

"I did it once in the first set, and said, ok, that might work," Alcantara said. "Let me do that a little bit more. And it turned out pretty good."

Alcantara's doubles partner, Xavier Calvelo, also had a long second round match that extended into the evening, but he too came through, beating wild card Ford McCollum 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. After failing to serve out the match at 5-4, Calvelo, who had beaten No. 3 seed Ian Mayew in the first round, broke again to get a second chance. The 16-year-old from Las Vegas played a perfect final game, getting all four first serves in, serving and volleying for third shot winner twice, forcing an error and closing it out with a service winner.

In boys 18s singles action, 2022 16s champion Parashar Bharadwaj extended his Easter Bowl winning streak to eight matches, but it wasn't easy, as he needed over three hours to defeat Karan Raghavendra 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4. 

No. 2 seed Stephan Gershfeld was taken to three sets for the second day in a row, but got the win over Nikola Parichkov 6-2, 4-6, 6-0. 

Live streaming of Stadium Court 4 is available, with commentary by Ken Thomas, at the Easter Bowl website.

12s and 14s quarterfinal results:

Boys 12s
Jason Eigbedion[6] d. Zesen Wang[1] 6-1, 4-6, 6-1
Luca Queiros[3] d. Adrian Sharma[5] 6-4, 6-1

Carter Jauffret[4] d. Daniel Gardality[8] 6-4, 3-6, 7-5
Advay Singh[7] d. Simon Lifton 6-2, 6-2

Boys 14s
Izyan Ahmad[9] d. Kimi Basamakov[9] 6-4, 2-1 ret. inj.
Roshan Santhosh d. Jordan Lee[9] 6-3, 6-3

Ryan Cozad[3] d. Tristan Dussault 6-1, 7-6(3)
Liam Alvarez[2] d. Sean Grosman[9] 6-2, 6-2

Camilla Kostik[9] d. Alena Koltsova 6-4, 6-0
Aarini Bhattacharya[7] d. Daniela Davletshina 6-2, 6-2

Raya Kotseva[4] d. Jordyn Hazelitt[9] 6-4, 6-2
Caroline Shao[2] d. Valerie Machikawa[9] 4-6, 6-2, 6-4

Anita Tu[5] d. Ellery Mendell[9] 6-1, 6-1
Aishi Bisht[9] d. Welles Newman 6-1, 6-3

Paige Wygodzki d. Catherine Rennard 6-7(6), 6-2, 7-6(4)
Nancy Lee[2] d. Anna Bugaienko[8] 6-1, 6-3

The latest ITA Division I Team rankings were released today, with Texas moving into the top spot after the Longhorns wins over previous No. 1 TCU and USC.  The full men's rankings are here. North Carolina remains at the top of the women's rankings, which are here.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Avram Ousts Top Seed Lian as 18s and 16s Begin FILA Easter Bowl Competition; Harmon Claims J200 Title in Dominican Republic; Okhtenburg Wins First ITF Junior Circuit Events

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Indian Wells CA--

Not many players can say they defeated the top seed in their first Easter Bowl match, but Gabe Avram is now on that short list after the 18-year-old from Charlotte North Carolina defeated No. 1 seed James Lian 7-6(5), 6-2 Monday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

"I still go to regular school," said Avram, noting his reason for not playing previous Easter Bowls. "This is the first year they've given me a little more flexibility. I'm missing school now, but I'm still keep up my work."

Avram said he wasn't daunted when he saw the draw. 

"I wasn't disappointed, I was excited to get to play him," said Avram, a high school junior who has verbally committed to South Carolina. "I didn't really know his game, I knew he was tough, had won Winter Nationals, but in some of the other metric systems we were pretty close. I knew it was a 50/50 match, but I knew I'd have to play well to win it."

Avram fell behind 4-2 in the first set, and 4-2 in the tiebreaker, but once he got an early lead in the second set, he raised his level.

"I think we play pretty similar," Avram said. "We had a lot of long rallies, good back and forth ground stroke points. It was just a matter of who was going to win them, it could have gone either way. Then in the second set, I started opening up a little more, got more confident in the conditions, started going after my shots more."

Avram said he likes the slower hard courts at Indian Wells and thinks they give him a chance to display his strengths.

"I'm grinding, not missing, I have an all-court game, wherever the point takes me, I'll be willing to grind it out," said Avram, who trains at Olde Providence Racquet Club in Charlotte. "I'm not the biggest guy, so I'm not going to slap shots and hit straight power. I like to slice, and I like my backhand a lot. It's one of my strengths, I can hit down the line with it."

Avram chose South Carolina after talking with North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Indiana, with family friends who know Gamecocks head coach Josh Goffi making the introduction.

"I talked to a good variety of schools all around the country," Avram said. "But I knew I wanted to stay in South, and I also knew a guy who played there a few years ago who was helping me out some a few years ago, so it all kind of worked together, and I was most comfortable with it."

Even Avram is surprised with all the success of the South Carolina program this season. Currently No. 4 in the ranking, the Gamecocks have been as high as No. 2, which is their best ranking in history.

"I knew they were going to be like, top 15, but I didn't know they were going to do this well," Avram said. "I'm happy for them and looking forward to it."

Avram will play Creed Skinner in the second round Tuesday.

The other boys Top 8 seed to lose in the first round was Neils Hoffman, who was beaten by Payton Jim On 1-6, 7-6(2), 7-5.

In the boys 16s, No. 3 seed Ian Mayew lost to Xavier Calvelo 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-5.

In the girls 16s, No. 4 seed Christina Lyutova, No. 5 seed Kayla Chung and No. 7 seed Mary Grace Rennard were beaten in the first round by Kenzie Nguyen, Lauren Han and Mila Malready, respectively.  Susanna Maltby, the No. 6 seed in the 18s, retired with an injury after dropping a first-set tiebreaker to Emily Baek.

Girls 18s top seed Valerie Glozman, the 2022 Easter Bowl 16s champion, defeated Kelsey Phillips 6-2, 6-0 in her opening match.

Live streaming of Stadium Court 4 matches, with commentary by Ken Thomas, is available at the Easter Bowl site.

The quarterfinals are set for the 12s and 14s age divisions, with the girls 12s at Palm Valley Country Club and the other three divisions at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Unseeded Simon Lifton defeated No. 2 seed Dylan Meineke 6-3, 6-2 in the boys 12s round of 16, with Meineke the only Top 8 seed not to make the quarterfinals.

While I was covering the four titles for Americans at the ITF San Diego J300, American juniors had success in other tournaments, with two singles and two doubles titles. 

Seventeen-year-old Alexia Harmon won the J200 in the Dominican Republic, with the No. 2 seed defeating top seed Hephzibah Oluwadare of Great Britain 6-1, 6-3 in the final. It's the second ITF single title for Harmon, who also reached the doubles final. Andrew Delgado made both the singles and doubles finals.

2022 Easter Bowl 14s champion Nicole Okhtenberg won her first two ITF Junior Circuit titles at the J60 in Puerto Rico. Okhtenberg, seeded No. 6, defeated No. 11 seed Maria Aytoyan 6-4, 6-0 in the all-USA singles final. Okhtenberg partnered with Lauren Kettlewell for the doubles title, with the No. 3 seeds, who did not lose a set all week, beating No. 4 seeds Aytoyan and Bela Martinez Rivero of Puerto Rico 6-3, 6-3 in the final. It's the first ITF Junior Circuit title for Kettlewell.

And at the J30 in Bhilai India, 14-year-old Aanya Choubey won her first ITF Junior Circuit title in doubles, with Nainika Narender Reddy Bendram of India. The No. 2 seeds defeated unseeded Saumya Ronde and Shagun Kumari Shagun of India 6-2, 6-4 in the final. 

Thirteen-year-old Vihaan Reddy, who was the Easter Bowl 12s finalist in 2022, represents India in ITF Junior Circuit competition, and he won his third consecutive J30 single title in Bhilai.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Top Seeds in FILA Easter Bowl 14s Absent From Monday's Round of 16; Lian and Glozman Top Seeds in 18s, Hill and Mosejczuk No. 1 in16s Divisions; Ponwith Defeats Michelsen in Calabasas $25K Final, Williams Takes Doubles Title

©Colette Lewis 2023--

Indian Wells CA--

Players wait to spin for FILA prizes at the Easter Bowl
player party Sunday evening

The 2023 FILA Easter Bowl USTA National Spring Championships are already in full swing here in Indian Wells, with the 12s and 14s divisions playing their round of 16 matches Monday. Already many of the top seeds have been sent to the backdraw, including both No. 1s in the 14s, but that didn't stop any of the hundreds of players from attending the annual player party, sponsored by FILA.

After a spaghetti dinner, with ice cream for dessert, players could spin the FILA Wheel of Fortune for prizes, line up for spirited table tennis or corn hole competition, or just catch up with their friends on the junior circuit while a DJ kept the atmosphere festive and the energy high. With the perfect weather--70 degrees and no wind--and the snow-capped mountains in the background, the young players making their first visit to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden could see why the BNP Paribas Open is such a revered tournament for those competing on the ATP and WTA tours.

Below is the list of the top eight seeds in the 12s and 14s with notes on those who have lost (or withdrew). Only one unseeded player remains in the boys 12s, Simon Lifton of Southern California, but that is definitely not the case in the other three draws.

1. Zesen Wang
2. Dylan Meineke
3. Luca Queiroz
4. Carter Jauffret
5. Adrian Sharma
6. Jason Eigbedion
7. Advay Singh
8. Danile Gardality

1. Colin McPeek (out rd 2)
2. Liam Alvarez
3. Ryan Cozad
4. Ilias Bouzoubaa (out rd 1)
5. Navneet Raghuram (out rd 2)
6. Joseph Nau
7. Roshan Santhosh
8. Erik Schinnerer

1. Grace Hong (withdrew)
2. Caroline Shao
3. Allison Wang (out rd 2)
4. Raya Kotseva
5. Daniela Del Mastro
6. Michelle Lee (out rd 1)
7. Aarini Bhattacharya
8. Enya Hamilton

1. Carrie-Anne Hoo (out rd 1)
2. Nancy Lee
3. Isabelle DeLuccia (out rd 2)
4. Abigail Gordon (out rd 2)
5. Anita Tu
6. Alyson Shannon (out rd 2)
7. Ireland O'Brien (out rd 1)
8. Anna Bugaienko

The 16s and 18s begin Monday, with the top 8 seeds below. There are some dangerous floaters in the 18s, including 2022 National 16s champion Alyssa Ahn, Shannon Lam, and in the boys draw, wild cards Mitchell Lee and Krish Arora among several others. Two of the top contenders for the girls 16s title will meet in the first round with No. 3 seed Alanis Hamilton taking on Monika Ekstrand at Palm Desert Tennis Club.

1. Dominick Mosejczuk
2. Mitchell Sheldon
3. Ian Mayew
4. Ian Bracks
5. Maxim Kalinin
6. Nav Dayal
7. Nolan Balthazor
8. Nicholas Mekhael

1. James Lian
2. Stephan Gershfeld
3. Tygen Goldammer
4. Alex Fuchs
5. Cassius Chinlund
6. Niels Hoffman
7. Emon van Loben Sels
8. Marko Mesarovic

1. Claire Hill
2. Leena Friedman
3. Alanis Hamilton
4. Christina Lyutova
5. Kayla Chung
6. Rachel Lee
7. Mary Grace Rennard
8. Claire An

1. Valerie Glozman
2. Tianmei Wang
3. Sari Woo
4. Maddy Zampardo
5. Aspen Schuman
6. Susanna Maltby
7. Capucine Jauffret
8. Esha Velaga

Matches begin at 8 a.m. at Indian Wells Tennis Garden and at three other sites in the area.

Nathan Ponwith won his first men's Pro Circuit title in January and today he earned his second, beating top seed Alex Michelsen 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-5  at the $25,000 men's USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Calabasas California. The former Arizona State star, seeded No. 7, was down 0-40 at 5-all in the third set of the two-hour and 43-minute final, but held then broke for the victory. 

The unseeded team of Cooper Williams and Australia's Edward Winter won the Calabasas doubles title, beating wild cards Rohan Murali and Elijah Strode 6-2, 6-3 in the final. It's the second USTA Pro Circuit title for the 17-year-old Williams, who has verbally committed to Harvard, as has Murali.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Ngounoue Doubles Up Again, Bigun Earns First ITF J300 Title at Youth Tennis San Diego Tournament

©Colette Lewis 2023--
San Diego CA--

It was deja vu for No. 2 seed Clervie Ngounoue Saturday at the ITF J300 in San Diego, as she matched her sweep at last week's J300 in Indian Wells with a 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-0 win over top seed Iva Jovic in singles, then took the doubles title with Qavia Lopez less than two hours later. 

For boys champion Kaylan Bigun however, hoisting a J300 trophy was a new experience, with the top seed earning a 7-5, 6-1 victory over No. 2 seed Roy Horovitz on the stadium court of Barnes Tennis Center.

Ngounoue, who has not had a day off since Monday March 13, playing 11 singles and nine doubles matches in that stretch, faced her first real challenge Saturday on a clear and cool day in San Diego.

Jovic, who had won only seven games in her previous two matches against Ngounoue, including last week's 6-1, 6-2 loss in the Indian Wells semifinals, went up a break twice in the opening set, only to get broken in the next game. At 5-all Ngounoue saved a break point with a good first serve, a pattern throughout the match, and Jovic held to force the tiebreaker.  A good return put her up 4-2 at the change of ends, and two holds gave her three set points. Jovic held her serves, with Ngounoue breaking a string on each of those returns, but Ngounoue managed to close out the 80-minute set.

The second set was similar to the first, with Jovic going up 2-0 but giving the break back for 2-all. Jovic finally held onto the break she earned at 4-2 and was able to close out the second set with a good first serve.

"She just played better, to be honest," said Orlando resident Ngounoue, who turns 17 in July. "I think she was really solid, seemed pretty confident in herself. She was way ahead of me. She played well throughout the match but in the second set she really stepped it up."

Jovic said prior to the final that she was committed to changing her tactics and although she wasn't at ease with what that required, Jovic saw the results she wanted.

"Last week when I played her, I didn't have the right strategy, just played right into her strengths," said the 15-year-old from California. "So today I decided to do things I'm a little uncomfortable with, mix it up a little more. I definitely wasn't in my comfort zone, but it allowed me to neutralize her serve and get into the return games. It was definitely better than the past two times I played her; I was right there and strategically I played the right way. I don't usually play that way and I'm not comfortable with that, but if I just fine tune that a little bit, I think next time I can win."

The third set went much more quickly than the first two, with Jovic unable to hold despite game points in her first two service games. Ngounoue began to step up her serving, holding easily, which allowed her to swing freely when returning.

Ngounoue appreciates having a serve that can get her out of trouble, although she isn't completely satisfied with that shot.

"It's really important, and it does come when I desperately, desperately need it," Ngounoue said. "I'm just working on it being a little more consistent than that, trying to get it to help me get up, rather than to help me save. But it's a work in progress, something I look forward to improving."

Ngounoue didn't sense any fatigue from Jovic, but Jovic admitted that over two-and-a-half hours of countering Ngounoue's power left her drained.

"To return all of Clervie's balls you need a lot from your legs, because there's a lot of power behind them," Jovic said. "If you're just a little slower, less sharp, you're going to miss more. But ultimately I just made too many mistakes and I wasn't physical enough."

Ngounoue recognized the effort from Jovic, and what she had to do to secure the win.

"I had to give everything, I'm sure Iva had to give everything," said Ngounoue, who is planning to play the Roland Garros Junior Championships, as well as the USTA 18s Nationals in August at the Barnes Tennis Center. "It was a really challenging match. It's been a long, complicated week, but I'm really glad I was able to hang in there."

Jovic is playing the ITF Junior Billie Jean Cup North and Central American qualifying tournament in Lake Nona next month, and then is heading to Europe for the clay season, where she'll compete at the J500 in Milan and at Roland Garros.

The boys final also featured some changes in tactics, with Horovitz making a concerted effort to stay closer to the baseline, a strategy that earned him two set points serving at 5-4 in the first set.

"Last time we played, he gave me a hard time, so I knew I had to start off well," said the 16-year-old Horovitz, who lost to Bigun 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals of the J300 in Ecuador last month. "Kaylan's a great player on his front foot; when he's dictating points it's tough to get him out of his rhythm. I knew from the beginning I'd have to be the one to move him, so he wouldn't be running me around the whole time."

Bigun found his form just in time, with a backhand volley winner getting him back on serve. Two games later he had the set, relieving the pressure of having to come back from a set down as he had been forced to do in his three-hour semifinal win over Alex Razeghi Friday.

"He was playing really solid, pushing me, staying aggressive," Bigun said of the opening set. "I had to battle him for court position and stuff like that. I really had to stay strong in that 5-4 game, with his set points, but I kept to my game plan, stayed aggressive, and with the break there got the momentum for the rest of the match."

Once he had the first set, Bigun noticed that Horovitz retreated a bit, giving him more time to set up.

"He definitely adjusted; he was standing closer to the baseline this time, playing a little bigger, trying to be in control of more points," Bigun said. "After I broke him there in the first, he took a step back and I was able to take even more control, dictate the points and the pace."

When Bigun got the second break for 5-1 on a double fault from Horovitz, that first J300 title was in sight, but it wasn't an easy final game. Up 40-15, Bigun saw Horovitz dig in, saving those two match points by forcing errors. With the nerves of serving for a championship evident, Bigun made several errors, including a double fault, but saved the two break points with his forehand. The third match point was a another unforced error, but two points later a service winner and a net cord ace ended the suspense.

Bigun admitted his loss to Rudy Quan in the Indian Wells quarterfinals, when he held three match points, surfaced as he struggled in the final game.

"Rudy Quan flashback," Bigun said of Quan, who played the Calabasas $25K this week and won a round there. "Every single match point I get now, I think about Rudy. I'm going to see him in Carson(at the USTA Player Development Center) and I'm going to tell him that."

As for the net cord ace, Bigun had his joke ready.

"I'm not going to lie to you, I was aiming for the tape," Bigun said. "No, just kidding. But even if I had won it with a great shot, I wouldn't have celebrated. I wasn't feeling it."

Horovitz, who was also playing for his first J300 title, said the California tournaments are his two favorite events of the year.

"Last week was a pretty decent week, and this week I made some good points and I'm happy with that. It didn't go my way in the final, but it was still a great week for me."

Both Bigun and Horovitz will be training for several weeks before heading to Europe for the Milan J500 and Roland Garros Junior Championships.

The boys doubles final featured local wild cards ZhengQing Ji of China and Trevor Svajda, both of whom train at the Steve Adamson Academy at Barnes Tennis Center, and No. 6 seeds Max Exsted and Nikita Filin, with Exsted and Filin earning a 7-6(5), 6-2 victory. 

Exsted and Filin trailed 4-2 in the first set, and had to break to get into a first set tiebreaker, but they seized the momentum with the point of the match at 5-all in the tiebreaker. Ji and Svajda sent overhead after overhead back, with Filin hitting three or four before Exsted finally bounced one out of the stadium court.

"That was a great point," said Filin, a 16-year-old from Illinois. "That definitely made the match, and we got more confidence and started playing more free in the second set. We started returning better and putting the pressure on them."

Exsted and Filin's first match as a team was last week in Indian Wells, where they lost in the quarterfinals, but they did not lose a set in their five victories this week, improving with each match.

"Our chemistry is good, we suit each other well, me at the baseline and he at the net," said Exsted, a 16-year-old from Minnesota. 

Their nearly instant success didn't surprise Filin.

"I was pretty confident in what we could do," Filin said. "As Max said, it was a good fit and it came together at the right time."

The girls doubles closed out the day of tennis, with No. 2 seeds Ngounoue and Lopez earning a 4-6, 6-4, 10-8 victory over top seeds Jovic and Tyra Grant.

Jovic and Grant dealt Ngounoue and Lopez their first loss of a set in the tournament to open the match, but got a break on a deciding point to go up 4-3 and closed out the second set. 

Leading 7-6 in the match tiebreaker, Lopez lost both of her serves, with Grant poaching to make it 7-7 and Jovic hitting a forehand volley winner to take an 8-7 lead with two serves coming. But Jovic gave the mini-break back with a backhand wide for 8-all and Lopez executed a perfect stop volley for a match point, which Ngounoue then converted. 

Ngounoue and Lopez, the Indian Wells ITF champions, were in such a groove after two weeks of winning doubles matches that they didn't sweat the late stages of the match tiebreaker. 

"We trusted ourselves, tried to hang in there, just do what we know," Ngounoue said. "There wasn't much else to do."

"Just trust your shots and go for it," said Lopez, a 17-year-old from Florida, who has won four doubles titles in Southern California J300s in the past three years. "There's always a little pressure of course, but whatever happens, happens. Let's go out with a bang, make it fun to watch."

"We've been here for a while," said Ngounoue, who has won five championships this month, including a Pro Circuit doubles title. "It's kind of like you're doing everything over and over again, so the pressure isn't even pressure. It's just another one."

Friday, March 24, 2023

FILA International ITF J300 Recap; Top Seeds Bigun and Jovic Meet No. 2 Seeds Horovitz and Ngounoue in Saturday's ITF J300 Finals in San Diego

©Colette Lewis 2023--
San Diego CA--

The first week of the junior version of the Sunshine Double was the new ITF J300 in Indian Wells, which brought the juniors on site during the second week of the BNP Paribas Open. If you didn't follow my daily coverage, make sure to read my recap of the titles for Clervie Ngounoue and Cooper Woestendick at the Tennis Recruiting Network.
For the first time this week, the threat of rain was absent and the courts were dry at 10 a.m. for the singles semifinals at the ITF J300 Youth Tennis San Diego tournament at Barnes Tennis Center. although sweatshirts and warm jackets were still advisable for those not competing.

Three of the four semifinals were straightforward affairs, but top seed Kaylan Bigun and No. 3 seed Alex Razeghi battled for over three hours before Bigun came away with a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4 victory and a trip to his second ITF J300 final.

The match was close throughout, with no breaks in the 60-minute first set. Bigun trailed 6-3 in the tiebreaker, but Razeghi couldn't win either of his serves to close it out. The momentum was squarely with Bigun at that stage, but he shanked Razeghi's return to drop the set, and conveyed his frustration with an angry toss of his racquet.

Bigun quickly collected himself in the second set.

"Only a few points decided [the first set], so I knew I could stick to my game style, maybe adjust a few things," said the 16-year-old left-hander. "But since it was so close. I knew I should stick to what I was doing."

That strategy led Bigun to the first break of the match to go up 3-2 and he earned a second break and a 5-2 lead, converting his fifth break point in the five-deuce Razeghi service game. But he quickly lost his service game, and needed four set points to finally close out the second set serving at 5-4.

"Alex is a player that makes you work for every single point," said Bigun, who had lost to Razeghi 6-3, 6-0 in the final of the J300 in Ecuador last month. "So if you're not focusing on a point or so, you'll definitely feel it. It was a marathon."

Bigun lost his serve in a five-deuce game to go down 2-0 in the third set but immediately got the break back. With Razeghi serving at 3-3, 30-40, Bigun came up with the shot of the match, hitting a backhand pass on the run from deep in the court that Razeghi could only watch with disbelief.

Given his struggles closing out the second set, the match was far from over when he stepped to the line to serve for it a 5-4, but three winners gave him the 40-0 cushion, and he converted his second match point with a forehand that forced an error from Razeghi.

"That was my mindset, serve and rip a forehand as hard as I could," Bigun said. "I really got behind those shots and was able to close it out."

It will be No. 2 seed Roy Horovitz who is seeking revenge in the final, with Bigun taking a 6-1, 6-2 decision in the semifinals in Ecuador. 

"The conditions are decently similar, but it's a final so we both have five matches under our belts, so now it comes down to competing and stuff like that, who can physically stay more fresh out there," said Bigun, who had post-match cramping today. "But I'll stick to my patterns; Roy's a good player, so anything's possible."

Horovitz defeated No. 13 seed Max Exsted 6-4, 6-0, spending half the time on court that Bigun did Friday.

Up 5-3, Horovitz looked to be cruising to the first set, going up 40-0. But Exsted hung tough to bring the score back to deuce, and a Horovitz double fault gave Exsted a chance to get back on serve. But Horovitz won a volley competition at the net to get back to deuce, then converted his fourth set point with a passing shot winner to secure the first set.

Exsted was immediately broken in the first game, and Horovitz sailed through the next five games to avenge his loss to Exsted in the round of 16 at Kalamazoo last year.

"That wasn't the greatest match for either of us," said the 16-year-old from Florida, who was the top seed in the 16s at Kalamazoo. "But I definitely wanted to come back and redeem myself from that. But I wasn't thinking about that too much. I had a really good day today, and Max didn't play his best, but I was happy I was able to take advantage of that."

Horovitz, who considers his speed and his consistency as the strengths of his game, said he has worked hard in the past few months at hitting the ball bigger and stepping into his shots more.

"I'm trusting myself and I've been doing a lot better recently," said Horovitz. "I have more confidence now, and there's definitely been a big improvement in my game."

The girls final is also between the top two seeds, with No. 1 seed Iva Jovic and No. 2 seed Clervie Ngounoue meeting for the second time in two weeks, with Ngounoue defeating Jovic in the semifinals at the Indian Wells ITF J300 6-1, 6-2.

Neither girl has lost a set in her five victories; Jovic defeated No. 3 seed Tatum Evans 6-1, 6-4 and Ngounoue beat No. 4 seed Ariana Pursoo 6-3, 6-3.

Ngounoue had beaten Pursoo in the final of the J500 in Merida Mexico last November, so was ready for the pace she would see from the 17-year-old from New York. 

"It was different, because that was on clay; she hits big and she's a really good player, the ball comes very fast," Ngounoue said. "So I was expecting the ball to come faster than it did in Merida, just because the clay takes some of your power away, points become longer, you can't end points as quickly. So I was glad I was able to hold it together today."

Ngounoue said the pace of Pursoo's ball made implementing a strategy difficult.

"It was hard to mix it up honestly, although I think we both threw in some variety," said the 16-year-old from Washington DC, who now trains at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona. "But it was quick, hard to really think of anything else, you just had to be ready for the ball to come back."

As for facing Jovic again so soon, Ngounoue is not surprised. 

"It's pretty much similar people from the last tournament, so you expect who you're going to meet," said Ngounoue, who also defeated Jovic in the 2022 Orange Bowl semifinals. "Unfortunately some people had to meet earlier, but I'm excited. When you're expecting it, well, we'll see what happens."

Jovic's match with Evans came after the three-hour boys semifinal, and it was Jovic that appeared to better handle that long wait for a court. With the match barely a half-hour old, Jovic was up a set and a break, with Evans unable to get her usually effective serve going. She did break Jovic three times in the second set, including at 5-2, when Evans saved a match point, then held to force Jovic to serve it out a second time. Up 40-15, Jovic netted a forehand on her first match point, but Evans sent a forehand long to put Jovic into her fourth J300 final this year.

"She was making mistakes in the first set, and I was changing directions well," said the 15-year-old from Southern California. "In the second, I was doing a good job on her service games, but at the end, she stopped missing as much. So I had to serve better and earn all the points, so it got a little tight at the end, but I'm glad I got it at 5-4."

Jovic is planning to make some changes after two straight-sets losses to Ngounoue in the past four months.

"Hopefully this time I can do things a little different, put up a good fight," Jovic said. "Yeah, I'm trying to figure something out; I definitely won't do the same thing as last week."

Jovic is happy to be able to try these new options on the Barnes courts.

"These are probably my favorites courts, when it comes to tennis tournaments," Jovic said. "It's decently slow, but not as slow as Indian Wells. I like it, because it doesn't bounce as high; at Indian Wells the ball really jumps up and I like that on these courts it stays a little lower. This is definitely better for me."

Jovic and Ngounoue will not only meet in the singles final, but for the doubles championship as well.

In today's semifinals, top seeds Jovic and Tyra Grant defeated No. 5 seeds Piper Charney and Anya Murthy 6-1, 6-3, while Ngounoue and Qavia Lopez, the ITF J300 Indian Wells champions, defeated unseeded Kayla Chung and Alanis Hamilton 6-4, 6-2.

The boys doubles quarterfinals and semifinals were both played this afternoon, with the local wild card team of ZhengQing Ji and Trevor Svajda and No. 6 seeds Exsted and Nikita Filin picking up two wins to reach the final.

In the semifinals, Ji and Svajda, whose older brother Zachary was in attendance, defeated No. 3 seeds Keegan Rice and Duncan Chan 7-6(3), 7-6(3).  Exsted and Filin defeated the unseeded Canadian team of Kaetan Mehta and Emmett Potter 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals. Mehta and Potter had defeated No. 4 seeds Oliver Bonding of Great Britain and Max Stenzer of Germany 7-6(7), 6-1 in the quarterfinals, while Exsted and Filin beat No. 2 seeds Atakan Karahan of Turkey and Hoyoung Roh of Korea 6-3, 7-5.

The two singles finals are scheduled for 10 a.m, followed by the two doubles finals, with Jovic and Ngounoue allowed suitable rest between matches.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

All-USA Semifinals Set for Friday at ITF J300 Youth Tennis San Diego; Easter Bowl 12s and 14s Seeds and Draws Out for Saturday's Opening Day

©Colette Lewis 2023--
San Diego CA--

Thursday was another day with another delayed start at the ITF J300 Youth Tennis San Diego tournament at the Barnes Tennis Center, but when all of the quarterfinals were completed in the afternoon, eight Americans had advanced to the semifinals.

The girls quarterfinals went as the seedings would have predicted, with the top four seeds advancing in straight sets. No. 1 Iva Jovic defeated friend and doubles partner Tyra Grant, the No. 12 seed, 6-3, 6-3 to set up a first meeting with No. 3 seed Tatum Evans. Evans defeated No. 9 seed Yujin Kim of Korea 6-1, 6-1.

In the bottom half, No. 4 seed Ariana Pursoo ended the run of unseeded Raphaelle Leroux of Canada 6-3, 6-1 and will play No. 2 seed Clervie Ngounoue, who defeated No. 10 seed Alanis Hamilton 6-3, 6-3. Pursoo and Ngounoue met in the J500 final last November in Mexico, with Ngounoue earning a 6-3, 6-2 victory.

The top three boys seeds reached Friday's semifinals, but their paths were not as direct.  No. 1 seed Kaylan Bigun handled unseeded Matisse Farzam for the second time in two weeks 6-4, 6-0, and will face No. 3 seed Alex Razeghi, who defeated No. 7 seed and Indian Wells J300 finalist Oliver Bonding of Great Britain 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Down 6-2, 2-0, Razeghi recognized that if Bonding continued to play at the level he displayed in the first set, he had no chance to come back.

"I got up 2-0 in the first set and then he started playing some ridiculous tennis, very good tennis that I could only nod my head to," said the 16-year-old left-hander from Texas. "I couldn't get too down on myself, because if he just did that the whole match, it's just too good. But I had a feeling he was going to slow down at one point and after I fought for that 0-2 game, I had more belief in myself."

Razeghi said the key was getting Bonding's serve back in play.

"His serve is really big, so whenever I make that back, I would really like to win that point," said Razeghi, who lost to Bonding 7-6(5), 6-3 in the first round of the J300 in Colombia last month. "He gets so many free points on serve and he's such a big guy, that when he's at the net, it's really tough to pass him. I make more balls than him, but he hits more winners than I do; it's a weird matchup."

After beating Cyrus Mahjoob, who had beaten him at the ITF J300 in Indian Wells, in the third round Wednesday, and avenging his loss in Colombia to Bonding today, Razeghi finds himself with the shoe on the other foot in the semifinals. Bigun and Razeghi met in the final of the J300 in Ecuador last month, with Razeghi getting a 6-3, 6-0 victory.

"We're really close, almost best friends, we talk every day, so it's good to play someone like that," Razeghi said. "We have a lot of respect for each other, and I know he's going to want to beat me now. He's like Oliver, he can go on stretches when he takes the racquet out of your hand, hit some really, really good shots. He's a little more consistent, but with a little smaller serve. So it's a similar matchup, but just a lefty. My first two rounds here I played lefties, so that's a good thing."

While Bigun will be seeking revenge in the semfinals, so will No. 2 seed Roy Horovitz, who defeated No. 5 seed Atakan Karahan 7-6(4), 6-4. Horovitz's opponent will be No. 13 seed Max Exsted, who beat the top-seeded Horovitz last summer in round of 16 at the USTA Boys 16s Nationals in Kalamazoo.

Exsted got an opportunity to play Horovitz again with a 7-6(6), 6-4 victory over No. 6 seed Hoyoung Roh of Korea. Both players had set points in the first, with Exsted taking the 75-minute set with two tricky overhead winners.

There were no breaks in the second set until Roh lost his serve at 4-all, with Exsted closing out the victory with some excellent serving.

"I made all four first serves and getting ahead in that game was really important," Exsted said. "Playing free and playing to win."

Exsted had gotten off to a good start, but Roh got the break back and stayed with Exsted from then on.

"I was up 4-1 in the first, but he is a very good opponent, he finds his forehand well off his serve," said the 16-year-old from Minnesota, who trains at the USTA National Campus with Razeghi and Horovitz. "So I had to be sharp, make sure to keep the ball deep and try to find ways to pressure him. His weakness is probably his speed and net game, because in his groundstrokes, it's really tough to push him off the baseline. I tried to find ways to bring him in, because his forehand was on fire today, and it worked."

As for playing Horovitz, Exsted says he's looking forward to it.

"We're good buddies, we train together, so it should be a fun one," Exsted said. "That Kalamazoo match was kind of a bad memory for both of us, it was not a good match. We're both playing well now, so tomorrow's match should be good."

Friday's schedule starts with the boys singles semifinals at 10 a.m., followed by the girls singles semifinals. The boys are a round behind in doubles due to all the rain, so they will play their doubles quarterfinals after the girls singles. The girls doubles semifinals will follow, then the boys were play their doubles semfinals to close out the day.  There is just a 10% chance of rain Friday.

The girls doubles semifinals will feature No. 1 seeds Grant and Jovic against No. 5 seeds Piper Charney and Anya Murthy, with the bottom half semfinal a rematch of last week's final at the Indian Wells J300. Unseeded Kayla Chung and Hamilton will face No. 2 seeds and Indian Wells champions Qavia Lopez and Ngounoue.

The top seeds in the boys doubles, Indian Wells finalists Horovitz and Razeghi, lost to unseeded Mitchell Lee and Meecah Bigun 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 in second round action.

The FILA Easter Bowl begins Saturday with the 12s and 14s divisions and the draws have been posted. The top 8 seeds are below. The 16s and 18s divisions begin play on Monday/ The complete schedule is here, and a preview of the event is available at the tournament website.

1. Zesen Wang
2. Dylan Meineke
3. Luca Queiroz
4. Carter Jauffret
5. Adrian Sharma
6. Jason Eigbedion
7. Advay Singh
8. Danile Gardality

1. Colin McPeek
2. Liam Alvarez
3. Ryan Cozad
4. Ilias Bouzoubaa
5. Navneet Raghuram
6. Joseph Nau
7. Roshan Santhosh
8. Erik Schinnerer

1. Grace Hong (withdrew)
2. Caroline Shao
3. Allison Wang
4. Raya Kotseva
5. Daniela Del Mastro
6. Michelle Lee
7. Aarini Bhattacharya
8. Enya Hamilton

1. Carrie-Anne Hoo
2. Nancy Lee
3. Isabelle DeLuccia
4. Abigail Gordon
5. Anita Tu
6. Alyson Shannon
7. Ireland O'Brien
8. Anna Bugaienko