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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.