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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

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Leroux Posts Two Comeback Wins to Reach First J300 Quarterfinal in San Diego; Top Seeds Bigun and Jovic Advance; Texas Men Beat No. 1 TCU; Florida Women Top No. 3 Michigan

©Colette Lewis 2023--
San Diego CA--

Rain on the first two days of the tournament forced the girls to double up for the second and third round of girls singles Wednesday at the ITF J300 Youth Tennis San Diego tournament. While 12 of the 16 boys second round matches were completed on Tuesday, most of the girls had barely begun their matches or had not started at all when rain cancelled play around 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Wednesday's weather cooperated for a 10 a.m. start, with partly cloudy skies and cool temperatures throughout the day, but it didn't begin well for unseeded Raphaelle Leroux of Canada, who dropped the first set to Ava Bruno 6-4, before the 16-year-old from Montreal took a bathroom break to collect herself. 

"I know I that I have to be more aggressive against her, so I was like, you know what, let me take a bathroom break and cool off," said Leroux, who went on to claim a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 victory. "Usually I just go to the bathroom and think about nothing. I just redo my hair, go back on the court, tell myself to play my game and everything will be good."

That same routine worked again in her third round match against No. 5 seed Ashton Bowers, with Leroux taking the match 4-6, 6-0, 6-3

"It was a good quality first set, but I lost it," Leroux said. "I was like, you know what?, I'll just be more aggressive and move her around more in the second."

Leroux won 11 consecutive games after dropping the first set, but Bowers held, broke Leroux serving for the match at 5-1 and held again for 5-3. With Leroux serving for the match a second time, the nerves returned and she went down 15-40 after a double fault. But she managed to steady herself, saving one more break point before her backhand forced an error from Bowers on her first match point.

"I got a little bit tight there, but she started playing better too," said Leroux, who defeated No. 11 seed Qavia Lopez in the first round. "I was just like, cool off, take a deep breath and you'll be fine. Just put the ball in the court and you'll be fine."

Leroux, who played qualifying for two indoor hard court $25K tournament in Canada before competing in last week's J300 in Indian Wells, admitted that she felt physically challenged late in the third sets of both her matches Wednesday, but that the fatigue didn't affect her mentally.

"I'm exhausted," said Leroux, who wasn't too disappointed that her doubles partner pulled out prior to their second round match Wednesday evening. "But mentally, I stay strong all the time. My physical condition and my mental condition are two different things in my opinion."

Leroux, who lost to eventual champion Clervie Ngounoue in the second round of last week's ITF J300 in Indian Wells, met her goal for the Southern California swing there and exceeded it here.

"For the first tournament my goal was just to win one round," said Leroux, who had lost her previous two first round matches at J300s. "I was like, I have to win at least one round and I did, I achieved my goal. And here it was two rounds, and I won three."

Leroux will face No. 4 seed Ariana Pursoo, who defeated Victoria Osuigwe 7-5, 2-6, 7-5 and Isabella Chhiv 6-2, 6-4.

The other girls quarterfinal in the bottom half will feature No. 2 seed Ngounoue and No. 10 Alanis Hamilton. Ngounoue came from 2-5 down in the second set to beat 13-year-old wild card Annika Penickova 6-3, 7-5 in the third round, while Hamilton got past qualifier Monika Ekstrand 6-4, 6-4.

No. 3 seed Tatum Evans will face No. 9 seed Yujin Kim of Korea, with Evans defeating Katherine Hui 6-3, 6-3 and Kim fighting back for a 1-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory over ITF Indian Wells finalist Thea Rabman, the No. 6 seed.
Top seed Iva Jovic dropped just one game in her two victories Wednesday, with her 6-0, 6-0 win over No. 16 seed Piper Charney putting her up against friend and doubles partner Tyra Grant, the No. 12 seed, in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Grant defeated wild card Julieta Pareja 6-3, 6-4 after a long wait for a court before starting her second round match, a 6-2, 7-5 win over USTA Winter Nationals champion Tianmei Wang. 

It was after 5 p.m before Grant took the court for her second match, but she was able to stay loose in the hours between matches. 

"I try to walk around, hang out with my friends, not be too tight before a match," said the 15-year-old. "I try to keep my mind off the match, and when I go on court try to play as free as I can."

Grant had beaten Pareja in the semifinals of the Las Vegas J60, which she went on to win, so there were no surprises in their second meeting in three weeks. 

"I started very good, was up 4-0 before I got broken," Grant said. "Second set, I was tired and she played very well, she started being super aggressive, played very, very well. I just tried to stay in there, get every point I can, be consistent and do my thing."

Grant's meeting with Jovic will be their second this year, after Jovic defeated Grant en route to the J300 title in Costa Rica.

"I don't know about them, but for me, it's pretty easy to set aside our friendship off court, or even on court, since Iva's my doubles partner, and just think about the match," Grant said.

As with the girls, the boys quarterfinals will feature just one unseeded player, Matisse Farzam, who completed a second round 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 8 seed Meecah Bigun and then defeated doubles partner Ian Mayew 7-5, 6-2 Wednesday afternoon. 

Farzam will play top seed Kaylan Bigun for the second time in two weeks, after Bigun defeated wild card Trevor Svajda 6-3, 6-2. In their previous meeting in the third round of last week's ITF Indian Wells, Bigun won 7-6(5), 6-3.

Bigun got the only break of the uptempo first set, with his aggressive hitting and high first serve percentage giving Svajda limited chances to dictate play. At 1-1 in the second set, Svajda fell deep behind the baseline, and came out of the fall shaking his wrist. A trainer was called to the court and the right-hander's right wrist was taped, but the disruption took its toll and looking discouraged, Svajda began to make errors that he had not made earlier in the match. Bigun's level also dropped, but he held on for the victory.

The other boys quarterfinal in the top half will feature No. 3 seed Alexander Razeghi and No. 7 seed Oliver Bonding of Great Britain. Razeghi avenged his loss to Cyrus Mahjoob last week in Indian Wells, defeating the No. 16 seed 6-3, 6-4. Bonding ended the run of qualifier Xavier Calvelo of the Philippines 6-1, 6-2. 

Bonding and Razeghi met in the second round of the J300 in Colombia, with Bonding winning 7-6(5), 6-3 en route to the title.

In the bottom half, No. 6 seed Hoyoung Roh of Korea will face No. 13 seed Maxwell Exsted, with Roh getting past No. 9 seed Adhithya Ganesan 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 and Exsted coming back for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over doubles partner Nikita Filin.

No. 5 seed Atakan Karahan of Turkey defeated No. 11 seed Quang Duong 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 and will face No. 2 seed Roy Horovitz, who beat Max Stenzer of Germany 6-3, 6-2.

The boys first round of doubles was completed today after being washed out Tuesday, but the second round of girls doubles was not finished due to more rain after dark Wednesday. Thursday's forecast is showing a 50% chance of rain, so all eight singles quarterfinal matches are scheduled for 10 a.m.

Two important results today in Division I college tennis, with the third-ranked Texas men defeating No. 1 TCU 4-1 in Fort Worth, handing the Horned Frogs their first loss of the season. TCU had defeated Texas 4-0 in the final of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships last month.

In Gainesville, the 19th-ranked Florida women defeated No. 3 Michigan 4-1, just three days after losing 4-2 to No. 68 Kentucky. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Wet Weather Continues at ITF J300 San Diego, but Svajda and Filin Manage to Finish Off Seeds; Secord and Walker Take ITF Junior Circuit Singles Titles

©Colette Lewis 2023--
San Diego CA--

A two-hour hiatus from the rain was available for second round matches at the Youth Tennis San Diego ITF J300 Tuesday, and Trevor Svajda and Nikita Filin seized their moment, with Svajda defeating ITF J300 Indian Wells champion and No. 14 seed Cooper Woestendick 7-5, 6-4 and Filin avenging a previous loss to No. 4 seed Keegan Rice of Canada 0-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Svajda is a familiar name in junior tennis, with his older brother Zachary a two-time Kalamazoo 18s champion, but the 16-year-old from San Diego has played little on the ITF Junior Circuit, with this event the third of his career. Svajda trains at the Barnes Tennis Center, where he won the ITF J30 last November without dropping a set, and after reaching a Universal Tennis Pro Tennis Tour final early this month in Newport Beach, he was prepared to put his wild card to good use this week.

After beating Aayush Bhat 6-1, 6-0 Monday, Svajda faced the red-hot Woestendick in today's second round, and managed to play excellent tennis despite the unpleasant combination of cold and wind that prevailed throughout the match.

"He was a great player," said Svajda, who was aware of Woestendick's title last week. "It was pretty tight, both sets took just one break and I got lucky to break him."

Svajda pointed to his serve as a major reason for his win, and after Woestendick had saved a match point serving at 3-5 in the second set, he needed to rely on it one last time.

"The nerves were definitely there," Svajda said of the final game, which required saving a break point. "But throughout the whole match, I was serving great, even in this wind. I don't know how. It is usually windy here, but not like this."

With older brother Zachary living in Los Angeles and training at the USTA's center in Carson, Trevor also has opportunities to work out with the players there on occasion, although he doesn't recall seeing his next opponent, No. 1 seed Kaylan Bigun, there. Bigun defeated qualifier Nathan Blokhin 6-1, 6-0 in under an hour Tuesday.

"Tough draw," Svajda said. "But I don't play any junior tournaments, so everyone's new to me."

Filin was well versed in the game of his opponent, No. 4 seed Keegan Rice, who had beaten him 6-2, 6-2 en route to the ITF 300 title in Nicholasville Kentucky last fall.

It looked as if their second meeting was going to produce a similar result when Filin lost the first set 6-0, and was broken to start the second, but he roared back to earn a 0-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

"I thought to myself, just make it competitive, because the games that I lost were pretty close," said the 16-year-old from Illinois, who has verbally committed to Ohio State. "I was just giving him too many short balls, and it was pretty windy out there, so I had to swing harder to get the ball deeper."

Filin also found a tactic that produced the results he was looking for.

"I just tried to get him off his front foot, use my lefty rolls to my advantage, because he likes everything flat and in his strike zone," Filin said. "So I tried to mix it up with some slices, started to come in off my slice, serve and volley a little bit, try not to let him get a rhythm from the back, to mix it up more."

Filin will face No. 13 seed Max Exsted, his doubles partner, next, after Exsted defeated wild card Calvin Wang 6-2, 6-0.

The weather forecast for Wednesday contains a 50% chance of rain in the morning, which will likely mean another late night at Barnes, with none of the girls second round matches completed today and several boys second matches still in progress, and no boys doubles matches yet played.

Last week's ITF Junior Circuit produced not only all six champions at the ITF J300 Indian Wells, but also two singles and four doubles titles in other parts of North and Central America.

Fourteen-year-old Jack Secord earned his first ITF Junior Circuit title last week at the J30 in Monterrey Mexico. Seeded No. 16, Secord defeated the No. 1 seed in the first round and went on to defeat unseeded Maximo Llamas Castellanos of Mexico 6-4, 6-2 in the final, with all his victories coming in straight sets.

Catherine Walker swept the titles at the J60 in El Salvador, with the 18-year-old, seeded No. 2, beating No. 1 seed and doubles partner Sam Grosjean of France 6-4, 7-6(3) for her fourth ITF Junior Circuit singles title. Top seeds Walker and Grosjean defeated the unseeded Canadian team of Samila Jarrah and Havana Kadi 6-0, 6-1 in the final, giving Walker three ITF Junior Circuit doubles titles.

The boys doubles title in El Salvador went to Abhinav and Prathinav Chunduru, with the top seeds defeating the unseeded Colombian team of Lucas Castillo Sanchez and Juan David Robayo Arias 6-0, 6-3 in the final. It's the second ITF Junior Circuit doubles title for the twin brothers.

At the J200 in the Domincan Republic, the unseeded team of Oliva Center and Sophia Webster took the girls doubles title, beating the unseeded pair of Natalia Castaneda Guerrero of Mexico and Tereza Krejcova of the Czech Republic 6-0, 6-1 in the final. It's the fourth ITF Junior Circuit doubles title for the 17-year-old daughter of UCLA women's coach Stella Sampras Webster and the third for Center, who has verbally committed to UCLA. They did not lose a set in their five victories.

Andrew Delgado won the boys doubles title in the Dominican Republic, partnering with Ilyas Fahim of Morocco. The No. 2 seeds defeated No. 5 seeds Thomas Faurel of France and Nikola Jovic of Serbia 3-6, 6-3 13-11 in the final. It's the fourth ITF Junior Circuit doubles title for the 17-year-old Delgado, who also reached the quarterfinals in singles.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Wet Start and Late Finish on First Day of ITF J300 Youth Tennis San Diego, But Top Seeds Advance to Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2023--
San Diego CA--

Stadium Court at Barnes Tennis Center Monday morning
Wet courts and mid-morning drizzle set back the start of play for more than four hours at the ITF J300 Youth Tennis San Diego tournament at the Barnes Tennis Center Monday

But the sun came out briefly, helping to dry the courts, and most of the first girls matches on 18 courts were underway by 1 p.m. Although a few sprinkles fell now and then, play didn't stop for more than a minute, and matches cycled through the courts until after 10 p.m. Monday night.

The girls played first, with last week's Indian Wells J300 champion and No. 2 seed Clervie Ngounoue getting another routine victory, beating qualifier Simone Kay 6-1, 6-2 on Stadium Court.

Top seed Iva Jovic followed Ngounoue on Stadium Court and although she was challenged on every point by the reigning USTA 16s National champion Alyssa Ahn, playing on her home courts, Jovic came through with a 6-3, 6-0 victory. The length, depth, consistency and point construction by both players made for an exceptional first round match despite the lopsided scoreline.

After last week's ITF J300 in Indian Wells, which featured live scoring and chair umpires for every match, this week players were back to the usual ITF Junior Circuit protocol, calling their own lines and updating the scoring devices on changeovers. There were plenty of disputes on calls and requests for roving umpires, especially in the late boys matches, many of which went to third sets.

Top seed Kaylan Bigun avoided that dilemma, although after trailing 4-1 in the first set against longtime friend Stefan Regalia, it looked as if he might be playing late into the night too. Bigun rebounded however claiming the match in straight sets, 7-6(0), 6-4.

"It's never easy to compete against your friends, especially when we know one another so well," said the 16-year-old left-hander. "I know where he going to serve before he even thinks about going there. Stefan's kind of like a brother to me, I trained in College Park (Junior Tennis Champions Center) with him, always stay at his house when I visit the area, so yeah, it's never easy to play a friend."

The conditions, with temperatures in the upper 50s, and the long wait to get on court as the fourth match of day, may have contributed to Bigun's slow start.

"I started out a little cold, I had to adjust my eyes to the lights and stuff like that," said Bigun, who now trains both with his father, and at the USTA Player Development Center in Carson California. "It's never easy to play under the lights, especially when it's cold, so it took me a few games to get used to that. He was playing good tennis and I was a little cold, but I started to gain my rhythm as the games went on."

As the wait to get on court stretched into the evening, Bigun was already on edge, and the fact that he was playing Regalia didn't help.

"It's never easy," said Bigun. "When I first looked on the schedule, I realized I was last on, and I was like, ooh, that's going to be a lot of waiting. So I had to time what I ate, when I ate, had to stay warm throughout the whole day, not sit down and get cold. It's never easy to play when you're the last match on, because you're anticipating your match the whole day, it's going through your head."

No. 14 seed Cooper Woestendick, last week's champion in Indian Wells, won two tough sets to defeat Adam Faragcao of Canada, while Indian Wells finalists Oliver Bonding[7] of Great Britain and Thea Rabman both advanced to the second round in three sets.

Boys seeds eliminated included No. 10 seed Duncan Chan, who lost to Jordan Reznik 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-6(1); No. 12 seed Stiles Brockett, who was beaten by Matthew Forbes 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-1; and No. 15 seed Tristan Stringer, who lost to Max Stenzer of Germany 6-2, 6-4.

Four girls seeds went out in today's action, with Shannon Lam taking out No. 7 seed Wakana Sonobe of Japan 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.  Kayla Chung advanced when  No. 15 seed Ellie Daniels of Canada retired trailing 4-6, 6-5, with No. 13 seed Ava Krug also retiring, to Emily Sartz-Lunde of Norway 4-6, 4-3. No. 11 seed Qavia Lopez lost to Canada's Raphaelle Leroux 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

With a 100 percent chance of rain forecast for Tuesday, the ITF referee decided to play the first round of the girls doubles Monday evening and several of those matches were also still going at 10 p.m.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Woestendick Saves Two Match Points to Claim ITF J300 FILA International Boys Title; Ngounoue Completes Sweep of Girls Titles; Kang Falls in Bakersfield $25K Final; Borges Captures Phoenix Challenger; Stearns and Navarro Win as Miami Open Qualifying Begins

©Colette Lewis 2023
Indian Wells CA--

Cooper Woestendick's wait for his ITF Junior Circuit breakthrough tournament is now officially over, with the 16-year-old from Kansas saving two match points in a 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 6-2 victory over Oliver Bonding of Great Britain in the final of the ITF J300 FILA International Championships. 

As fans began arriving at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for the women's and men's singles finals on a cool and cloudy day in the desert, a few hundred made their way into Stadium 2 to see No. 11 seed Woestendick and No. 5 seed Bonding in a rematch of a meeting earlier this year at the J300 in Costa Rica, which went to Bonding 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.

"I've been kind of waiting for this, waiting for a breakthrough this year, and this week has been great," Woestendick said. "Every match I've been super confident and mentally I've been positive. I'm happy with my play right now and happy in general."

The nerves of playing on the 8000-seat Stadium 2, and for a qualifying wild card into next year's BNP Paribas Open, were evident at the start of the match, with both boys unable to build any momentum. Woestendick was broken to start, immediately got the break back, and that same pattern repeated in the fifth and sixth games.  As the jitters subsided the quality rose, and although the points were short--the first 12 games of the first set took only 39 minutes--many ended with winners rather than errors.

Woestendick led 5-3 in the tiebreaker, but couldn't hold onto it, and had to save a set point at 5-6 with a forehand volley winner. After passing Woestendick for a 7-6 lead, Bonding converted his second set point with a deft drop volley.

"I got a little passive," Woestendick said. "I was up 5-3 and had a couple of points when I didn't take my chances, and he's very good when he's aggressive."

There were no breaks of serve in the second set, although Woestendick was struggling mightily with his first serve percentage, saving break points in both the second and fourth games. Woestendick could be seen wincing with an ab problem that he has dealt with throughout the week, but he did not call a trainer and he said that paradoxically, it might have helped him in the long run.

"I served really well in the first, but in the second I started missing firsts and then the ab started to come in," Woestendick said. "It was getting better, but today it was a little worse. I had slowed it down too much, so I started swinging a little bigger. I've had some of my best tournaments with this ab; you have to play better in other ways."

Serving from behind wasn't a problem for Woestendick in the second set, and once he started to swing more aggressively on his serve, he held with no problems for 4-4 and 5-5. Bonding came up with three aces in the eleventh game to take a 6-5 lead.

Woestendick fell behind 15-40, giving Bonding two chances to get through in straight sets, but Woestendick's serve came through when he needed it most, with Bonding missing a pass on the first match point and unable to return the second.

"I just wanted to make him play. I made two big first serves that were good; first one, I hit a first ball and came to the net, put pressure on him and it worked perfectly," Woestendick said. "On the second one, I hit an ace, I like going T on match points, and I've saved some hitting an ace T on the ad side. I wanted to make him play and just not give it to him."

Bonding then made two errors to send the match to a second tiebreaker. Neither player led by more than a point throughout, and after Woestendick's backhand forced an error to go up 6-5, Bonding needed a first serve, but didn't get one, nor a second, and the double fault put the match back at even once again.

In the third set, Woestendick held and broke, and soon was up 3-0. Although both players had begun to doubt the chair umpire's judgment in the second set, their lack of confidence really began to surface in the third. A particularly obvious out ball on the far sideline that Woestendick had hit to make it 15-40 was called good by the chair, who had no other officials on court to assist him in calling that far sideline.  Bonding was broken on the next point to go down 4-0, but to his credit, he found the mental strength to put it behind him and broke Woestendick back for 4-1.

"After he got it to 4-0, I just wanted to leave it all out there," said Bonding, who will turn 16 in June. "I think at 4-2 I got shafted again with the calls. I think it was both ways, but when it happens it's tough."

After holding for 4-2 despite two double faults, Bonding got two unforced errors from Woestendick for 0-30, then got it to 15-40, but Woestendick saved them both with a good first and then a forehand volley winner, and after one more deuce had his 5-2 lead.

Bonding fell behind 0-40 in the final service game but saved all three, the third on an ace call that Woestendick vociferously objected to, as he even pleaded with Bonding to acknowledge it was wide. Bonding was understandably not inclined to donate that point, drawing Woestendick's attention to the sideline call in the fourth game that he did not concede.

"The serve was pretty far wide," Woestendick said of the 30-40 serve that was called an ace. "I was really tight, so I overreacted a little bit, but thankfully I locked in and in the next two points made my returns and focused."

Woestendick will receive a wild card into the 2024 BNP Paribas Open qualifying next year, a prize that he was determined not to affect his play.

"I didn't really know that until yesterday, and then I tried to keep it out of my mind," Woestendick said. "Honestly I forgot about it today, which is good."

Bonding took the match points lost and the bad calls in stride as he assessed his run to the final.

"It was obviously a tough match, with the match points, but you've got to say hats off to Cooper today; he got through in the end," Bonding said. "I don't think it was either of our best matches of the tournament, but it's not always like that in finals either. This was a very positive week for me, a lot of good stuff, a lot of positives to take. Obviously, this one will sting a little bit, but I think I should be happy with how I did here."

The girls final was a less dramatic affair with No. 3 seed Clervie Ngounoue defeating No. 7 seed Theadora Rabman 6-1, 6-2. Ngounoue, who did not lose more than three games in any of her five victories this week, won the first eight points of the match and although Rabman recovered to hold serve in her second attempt, the outcome of match never appeared in doubt.

Rabman continued to battle, particularly when serving in the sixth game of the first set, which went to eight deuces before she double faulted to fall behind 5-1.

Ngounoue closed out the 33-minute set by holding serve and then went up 1-0 in another lengthy game, with Rabman again double faulting on game point, this time after four deuces.

"Double faults always creep in here and there, but I'm definitely working on it," said Rabman, a 17-year-old from New York. "But it's tough, when you're playing a girl with so much power, I feel like I have to go for a lot."

Ngounoue was broken in the fourth game of the second, with Rabman converting the second of the two break points she had all morning with an excellent return, but she lost her serve at love in the following game, sealing her fate.

Ngounoue, who won the FILA International doubles title with Qavia Lopez Saturday, now has three titles already this month, adding these two to a doubles title on the USTA Pro Circuit in Texas. Going back to junior competition is not easy for any player with professional aspirations, but Ngounoue is satisfied with the competition she received in this event.

"It was definitely worth my time, I got experience from every single match," said the 16-year-old, who is originally from Washington DC, but now lives and trains in Orlando. "Where some were more challenging than others, each one challenged me in a way others couldn't. I'm really glad I played the tournament; I got what I was looking for."

Like Woestendick, Ngounoue will receive a qualifying wild card into the BNP Paribas Open next March, although she expressed hope that she wouldn't need it.

"Hopefully, let's see how the next year goes, but if I can grab a couple of points, maybe I can get in on my own," said Ngounoue, who is currently 578 in the WTA rankings. "We'll see."

Rabman, who was playing in her first J300 final today, doesn't doubt Ngounoue's prospects for pro success.

"I got overpowered and I got outsmarted," said Rabman, who was surprised by her father and sister, who flew in for the final from New York. "It was tough competition out there. She's an incredible player, a step ahead of everyone."

Rabman's father Louie, who often accompanies his daughter to tournaments but ceded that responsibility to Thea's mother this week, had promised Thea earlier that he made the trip if she made the final. But her sister's presence was totally unexpected.

"I knew my dad was flying out, because before the tournament we made a promise to each other, if I made the finals he was going to fly out," said Rabman, who joins the North Carolina Tar Heels this fall. "But my sister surprised me; she lied to me, I didn't think she was coming and I'm very happy."

All four of today's finalists are on Monday's order of play at the J300 in San Diego, with the first round scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Barnes Tennis Center. As was the case in Indian Wells, Iva Jovic and Kaylan Bigun are the No. 1 seeds, with Ngounoue No. 2, Rabman No. 6, Woestendick No. 14 and Bonding No. 7.

It has been raining all evening in San Diego, although qualifying was completed today. 

The Indian Wells Tennis Garden and Universal Tennis hosted a dual match between No. 8 USC and No. 44 Pepperdine and it came down to a third-set tiebreaker at line 3 before USC claimed the 4-3 victory. I was able to take in a game or two between the girls and boys singles finals, but am sorry I wasn't able to catch that dramatic ending.

Eighteen-year-old wild card Kyle Kang lost to No. 5 seed Alex Bolt of Australia 6-3, 7-6(3) in today's final of the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Bakersfield California.

Nuno Borges(Mississippi State) of Portugal bested a loaded field at the ATP Challenger 175 in Phoenix, beating qualifier Alexander Shevchenko of Russia 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 in today's final. Borges is now up to 68 in the ATP live rankings. For more on the final, see this ATP article.

Qualifying began today for women at the ATP/WTA Masters 1000 Miami Open, with reigning NCAA singles champion Peyton Stearns(Texas) picking up a 6-2, 6-4 win Rebecca Peterson of Sweden, currently No. 76 in the WTA rankings after reaching the round of 16 in Indian Wells. 2021 NCAA singles champion Emma Navarro(Virginia) also picked up a first round qualifying win, beating Cristina Bucsa of Spain 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. 

Men's qualifying begins Monday, with 2022 Kalamazoo 18s champion Learner Tien, a wild card, playing Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. Monday's order of play is here.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Rabman and Ngounoue Meet for ITF J300 FILA International Girls Title; Bonding and Woestendick Face Off in Boys Final; Leach and Oyebog Take Boys Doubles; Ngounoue and Lopez Claim Girls Doubles Championship; Kang Reaches Bakersfield $25K Final

©Colette Lewis 2023
Indian Wells CA---

Playing on Stadium 2 in his first ITF J300 semifinal could have been intimidating for No. 11 seed Cooper Woestendick, but the unfamiliar atmosphere didn't faze the 16-year-old from Kansas, in his 6-1, 6-3 win over wild card Rudy Quan at the FILA International Junior Championships.

Although the late morning crowd was sparse, the semifinal featured an on-court announcer introducing the players, stadium musical selections on changeovers and ballrunners, the first time the junior competitors had experienced those standard WTA and ATP amenities. Woestendick took all that commotion in stride, but the court surface itself took some adjustment.

"The court was very, very slow compared to the other courts," Woestendick said. So basically you have to hit the ball huge, swing out, and that's what I did. Early in the match I recognized I had to be really aggressive because the ball doesn't move that far and it moves very slow."

Woestendick never trailed in the match against the 17-year-old Quan, who had saved three match points in his 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 quarterfinal victory over top seed Kaylan Bigun Friday. Quan looked sluggish and was not getting any free points on his serve, while Woestendick was holding easily.

"I played super solid, didn't have any lapses, was locked in the whole time," said Woestendick, who defeated No. 4 seed Keegan Rice of Canada 7-5, 7-6(4) in the quarterfinals. "I hit the ball really well today. He had a long one yesterday, so I tried to move him, was all over him and finished a lot of points at the net again. By moving him, he was going to the slice, so I just closed it off at the net."

Woestendick was broken once, directly after getting the first break of the match in the fourth game of the first set, but he had a two-break lead early in the second set and was able to close it out with his third break of serve in the second set.

"I've been waiting for a while," Woestendick said of his first J300 final. "But my tennis has been really good this week and I've been just really confident, so it's very exciting and I'm hoping I can get it done. It's one of the coolest places I've been, it's my favorite tournament to come to, it's tennis paradise."

Woestendick's opponent in the final is No. 5 seed Oliver Bonding of Great Britain, who defeated No. 13 seed Cyrus Mahjoob 6-3, 6-4. 

Much like Woestendick, Bonding held serve with ease in the opening set, increasing the pressure on Mahjoob. Yet the 17-year-old from Maryland dug himself out of numerous holes until serving at 3-4, when Bonding got the break and closed out the set. He then broke Mahjoob in a long third game to go up 3-1 in the second set. Mahjoob, who will join the University of Michigan team this fall, got his only break of the match at with Bonding serving at 4-3, but he double faulted twice in the next game and Bonding took advantage, blasting a backhand winner at 15-40 to go up 5-4. The 15-year-old right-hander closed out the win with a great serve at 40-15 to reach his second J300 final.

"My first serve percentage was really high," said Bonding, who won the ITF J300 title in Colombia last month. "My win percentage off it was good also. I don't mind when guys stand back, because I have a lot of time." Bonding, who defeated No. 2 seed Roy Horovitz 6-3, 7-6(6) in the quarterfinals, faced a contrasting set of tactics from Mahjoob today.

"He brought some different style today," said Bonding, who had not played Mahjoob previously. "Some slicing, he likes to volley, so I had to be ready for anything."

The final will be a rematch of a first round encounter in January at the J300 in Costa Rica, which Bonding won 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. 

"That was also on hard, but it was at altitude, so it will be a different match," Bonding said. "The conditions there were super quick, which favored me a little bit more. But Cooper's a great player and I'll have to play my best again to beat him."

The girls final will feature No. 3 seed Clervie Ngounoue and No. 7 seed Theodora Rabman, who defeated the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in Saturday's semifinals.

The 16-year-old Ngounoue, who won a J500 title in Mexico and reach the final of the Orange Bowl last December, had beaten top seed Iva Jovic 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals in Plantation, so there was no sense that today's result on Stadium 2 was an upset, although the 6-1, 6-2 score was a surprise.

Ngounoue's power is always a challenge for her opponents, and Jovic's typical counter to that game style is her consistency, her movement and her tenacity. But the 15-year-old made more unforced errors than usual, and with Ngounoue's 75% first serve percentage, she couldn't find a way to put any pressure on Ngounoue.

"Honestly, she brought out the fight," said Ngounoue, who was a teammate of Jovic's on the USA's Junior Billie Jean King Cup championship team last year. "She has that and it's a really huge thing to have. I've seen her come back from so far down, she's a really great player, so I'm really glad I was able to pull through."

Ngounoue, who has yet to lose more than three games in a set, has a WTA ranking of 578, but because of the age restrictions, is playing junior tournaments to keep her competitive edge.

"I don't have that many pro tournaments, so I have to, otherwise I might be training for four weeks, which I don't want to do," said Ngounoue, who works with Jermaine Jenkins at the USTA National Campus in Orlando. "I knew I was going to know a lot of people, but there are some good Americans hiding out there, so coming back to my first junior tournament in a while, I was just hoping to play some matches. It's hard to get that sometimes in practice and just competing is the only way to do that."

On the line in Sunday's final is a qualifying wild card into the 2024 BNP Paribas Open, which would be a first for Ngounoue, but not for Rabman.

The John McEnroe Tennis Academy is sponsored by the BNP Paribas Bank, and for several years they have offered a wild card to a top junior. Rabman received it in 2021 and 2022, with Stephanie Yakoff the recipient this year. As it happened, they met in the second round of the FILA International this year, with Rabman winning 6-0, 2-0 retired.

The 17-year-old from New York earned a chance for a third qualifying wild card today with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 2 seed Kaitlin Quevedo on Stadium 3.

"I was just trying to stay the course," said University of North Carolina signee Rabman, who will be playing in her first J300 final Sunday. "I thought we both came out pretty nervous, and rightfully so, but I think I settled in a little better and played my game."

Similar to Jovic, Quevedo relies on her movement and point construction, with unforced errors kept to a minimum. That is also Rabman's game, however, and today she was the player closer to her best.

"I do think we play very similar; she hits a very heavy ball," said Rabman. "I knew I had to be aggressive and capitalize on those short balls and the balls I could take on the rise."

In her 7-6(6), 6-3 quarterfinal victory over No. 4 seed Tatum Evans, Rabman had difficulty holding serve, and was determined to improve on that.

"My coach (Greg Lumpkin) was like, please stop trying to go for aces and just make first serves, so I tried to stick to that plan," Rabman said.

Ngounoue and Rabman have never played, but Rabman is looking forward to the opportunity.

"I know she's really good and it will be an interesting match definitely," Rabman said. "I'm very excited; I'm smiling from right to left and left to right."

Regardless of the outcome of Sunday's girls singles final, Ngounoue will leave tennis paradise with a winner's trophy after she and Qavia Lopez took the girls doubles title.

The top seeds defeated the unseeded team of Kayla Chung and Alanis Hamilton 6-1, 7-5 Saturday afternoon on Stadium 2, an opportunity they were thankful to have after saving two match points in their 6-0, 5-7, 12-10 semifinal win over Valerie Glozman and Anya Murthy Friday.

"That's all still a blur," Ngounoue said. "That was a tight one," said Lopez, who has now won the last three J300 Easter Bowl doubles titles, with three different partners. "A lot of fight, a lot of belief, a lot of energy is what got us through."

Ngounoue, who won a $25,000 Pro Circuit doubles title with Maria Mateas earlier this month, and Lopez took the first set in just 21 minutes, but in the second set, Chung and Hamilton showed the form that had seen them take out three seeded teams, including No. 2 seeds Tyra Grant and Jovic in the semifinal. Holding comfortably for a 4-3 lead in the second set, Chung and Hamilton got their first opportunity to break with Ngounoue serving at 30-40, but a service winner and an ace erased that chance, making it 4-all. At 5-all, Hamilton was broken and Ngounoue finished off the championship with an ace.

"That's Clervie," Lopez said of her partner's clutch serving.

"I just want to say they're both just good doubles players," Ngounoue said of the 15-year-olds on the other side of the net. "They both have really good volleys, so you can't let any ball sit; they're really aggressive and you can feel their presence on the court."

Lopez and Ngounoue are planning to play together again next week at the J300 in San Diego.

In the boys doubles final that closed out Saturday's FILA International Junior Championship schedule on Stadium 2, the unseeded team of Joseph Oyebog Jr. and Jagger Leach took out top seeds Roy Horovitz and Alexander Razeghi 7-6(5), 6-2 in an impressive display of power tennis.

The 15-year-olds, who had already defeated the No. 3 and No. 2 seeds in advancing to the final, found their stride midway through the first set after going down a break after losing a deciding point.

Oyebog, who served well throughout the match, caught fire in the tiebreaker, hitting two aces at 4-3 for three sets points. Horovitz held his two serves, but Leach closed out the set with a deep second serve that Razeghi and Horovitz were not convinced had landed in the box.

Leach and Oyebog then got two breaks for a 3-0 lead, taking a deciding point with volley winner from Leach on the Horovitz serve and they were not seriously challenged after that. With their seamless teamwork, it was hard to believe that they were playing together for just the second time.

Their first tournament as a team was last year's Eddie Herr 16s Championship, when shortly before the event, Leach learned his original partner was playing the 18s qualifying, so would not be able to play with him.

"I was on the phone with my mom (Lindsay Davenport) in the locker room in Orlando and was saying, man, I don't have anyone to play double with, and Joseph overhead me in the locker room and said, oh, you want to play doubles?," Leach said. "That was our first tournament; we got to the semis."

"We're just happy we were able to find each other," Oyebog said. "We were friends beforehand, but we had never played doubles before. It's amazing how randomness led to something like this."

Oyebog sees their different skill sets as the reason for their success as a team.

"I'm an aggressive player at the net and Jagger's a very good baseliner," Oyebog said. "He has a great mind on the court, so it's very useful to have somebody who knows how to think more than me."

Oyebog claimed two J30 doubles titles with Carel Ngounoue, Clervie's younger brother, last year, while this is the first ITF Junior Circuit doubles title for Leach. The pair will go for another J300 title in San Diego next week.

At the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Bakersfield California, 18-year-old wild card Kyle Kang defeated top seed Alex Michelsen 6-2, 6-1 to advance to Sunday's final. Kang, who reached the final of a $15K in Naples Florida last month, will face No. 5 seed Alex Bolt of Australia for his first Pro Circuit title. Bolt defeated No. 7 seed Christian Langmo(Miami) 7-6(0), 3-6, 6-2 in the other semifinal. 

With the points from reaching the final, Kang will move well into the Top 750 in the ATP rankings, assuring himself entry into the remaining junior slams. His ITF junior ranking, currently 21, will fall after he did not defend his San Diego and Easter Bowl points from last year's final and semifinal, respectively. 

Unseeded Langmo and Vasil Kirkov won the doubles title, defeating Sekou Bangoura(Florida) and Great Britain's Blu Baker, also unseeded, 7-5, 7-6(2) in the final.