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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Five Boys Seeds Fall in Second Round of FILA International Championships in Indian Wells; All Eight Girls Seeds in Action Advance

©Colette Lewis 2023--

Indian Wells CA--

Seeds took the court for the first time Tuesday at the inaugural FILA International Championships, an ITF J300 regional tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. The juniors were hardly the main attraction, with all the professional players at the BNP Paribas Open in action, but with the cheers erupting from the stadiums all around them, they couldn't help but feel the excitement in the air on a calm and cloudy day in the Coachella Valley.

No. 4 seed Keegan Rice was experiencing the atmosphere of what is marketed as Tennis Paradise for the first time, and unlike five of his fellow seeds in the top half of the draw, the Canadian survived his first contest, beating qualifier Krish Arora 6-1, 2-6, 7-6(1) on Stadium 8.

"I've been loving it," said the 16-year-old from Saskatchewan. "It's really nice weather, compared to Canada. I'm enjoying it here, everything has been superb. It's a great facility, an amazing atmosphere with all the fans, I've never even come to watch before."

Arora, who just committed to Georgia Tech after graduating a year early extended the match past the two-and-a-half hour mark, saving three match points serving at 5-6, 0-40, but Rice was not discouraged when he failed to close out those opportunities.

"I just had to restart for the tiebreak," Rice said. "I knew that I could win those points once we got into them; he hit a couple of good serves, I lost one rally, but that was it, so I knew I was still right there and if I played my game I was going to be all right."

Arora lost both his serves to go down 3-0, with Rice making no unforced errors in the first six points, and Arora's mistakes making the deficit 6-0. Arora got on the board, saving his fourth match point when Rice finally made an error on a second serve return, but the match ended on a let cord ace by Rice.

"I was really happy with how I played the tiebreaker," said Rice, who plays Dylan Charlap in Thursday's third round, after Charlap took out No. 15 seed Nikita Filin 7-6(4), 6-3. "I took it in my control, played it how I wanted to, stayed strong and made the right decisions."

Rice, a high school junior, has not yet decided on whether he'll look at playing college tennis in the United States.

"I won't be making any decision, going or not, even where until later this year, or even next year," said Rice, who has not yet hit with any pros this week, but hopes to connect with some in the next few days. "If I have time, which I haven't, I could take a couple of visits but I don't have that time right now and I'm really focusing on my tennis."

While Rice is new to the BNP Paribas Open and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, girls top seed Iva Jovic is the opposite. The 15-year-old from Torrance California, who considers it her home tournament, has been attending the event since she was four years old.

"It's two hours away from my house, so it's always like a nice day trip," said Jovic, who defeated Nadia Lagaev of Canada 6-1, 6-3 in her opening match on Stadium 7. "I've gone every year since I was little, and this is my second time playing in the ITF."

While last year Jovic reached the semifinals of the Easter Bowl, the tournament that has been replaced by the FILA International Championships, that event was a week after the conclusion of the BNP Paribas Open. Competing on the grounds at the same time as pros this year has given Jovic a different perspective on the tournament.

"It's super cool; it's so much different than last year," Jovic said. "This is so much better, way cooler, so I'm excited to play this year."

Like Rice, Jovic is still waiting for her first hit with the pros, but she has contact with several of them.

"I've seen Coco, Bianca, Taylor, Ben," said Jovic. "A couple of them know me, and hopefully they'll remember me next time."

Jovic, who won 14 consecutive J300-level singles matches on Central and South American hard courts in late January and February, is not a fan of the slow court surface at Indian Wells, although she gave credit to Lagaev for using that to her advantage.

"She's a fighter, she stayed in it," Jovic said. "Even when she was down 6-1, she was still pumping herself up. So I was like ok. She made a lot of balls in and I had to work for every point, especially on these slow courts, it's so hard for the ball to go through. You really have to work hard, but it was a good first match."

Jovic's third round opponent is No. 16 seed Victoria Osuigwe, who came from 4-2 down in the third set to beat qualifier Julieta Pareja 6-1, 1-6, 6-4.

That was the only three-set match in the eight top half girls matches played Tuesday, with the bottom half second round matches scheduled for Wednesday.

Boys top seed Kaylan Bigun, who looked strong in his 6-3, 6-2 win over Matthew Forbes, will face qualifier Matisse Farzam, who cruised past No. 16 seed Ronan Belday 6-2, 6-1. Three wild cards advanced to Thursday's round of 16: Jack Kennedy, Rudy Quan and Connor Church of Canada. Kennedy defeated No. 7 seed Adhithya Ganesan 6-2, 6-1 and Church got past No. 6 seed Meecah Bigun 6-2, 3-6, 6-0. Quan defeated No. 12 seed Tristan Stringer 6-4, 6-2.

The first round of doubles was played today, with no seeded teams in action until Wednesday. The boys top seeds are Roy Horovitz and Alexander Razeghi, with Qavia Lopez and Clervie Ngounoue the top seeds in girls doubles.

Rain is in the forecast for Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, with clearing in the afternoon. The bottom half of the draws will play their second round singles matches, while the round of 16 in doubles is also on the schedule for Wednesday.