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Friday, March 17, 2023

Quan and Bonding Oust Top Boys Seeds in FILA International Junior Championships Quarterfinals; Top Three Girls Reach Semifinals; Kang and Michelsen to Meet in Bakersfield $25K Semifinals

©Colette Lewis 2023--
Indian Wells CA--

Five years ago, Rudy Quan won the Easter Bowl 12s title here at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the first of three USTA National Championships he would capture in 2018. There's nowhere to go but down after a year like that, and Quan, who won the Junior Orange Bowl 12s title to close out the year, played little during 2020 and 2021 and didn't earn another major title until the Eddie Herr 16s in 2021.

Down 6-2, 4-5, 0-40 to top seed Kaylan Bigun on a picture-perfect Friday at the FILA International Junior Championships, the wild card looked to be on his way out after reaching his first J300 quarterfinal. But the 17-year-old from Thousand Oaks California fought back to hold serve, won the subsequent tiebreaker and found another gear in the third set to take a 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 victory.

After seeing his 5-0 third set lead become 5-3 and the match duration tick past two hours, Quan closed out the match on his second opportunity, sinking to his knees on the baseline after he completed his comeback.

"The biggest part was that I fought back and I just kept believing in myself, that I could win this match," Quan said. "He was coming back and you could feel the momentum shifting, but I was able to keep calm and visualize my shots and was able to execute."

The first set went by in a hurry. 

"He was just killing me," Quan said. "He was playing very well, his first serve percentage was really high, and he was the one dictating everything, even in the second set. But I was able to claw back those three (match) points; I remember on the last point, he played a good volley, but I was able to dip it back at his feet, and then I passed him forehand line. After that, I was okay, you've just got to stay aggressive."

Quan said the several hundred fans watching on Stadium 3 were an important part of his performance in the second set tiebreaker, and as he built that 5-0 lead. 

 "It's a blessing to have the appreciation of the crowd; I've never had a big crowd like this," said Quan, who also noted how important it was to him that his grandmother could be at the match. "I've never had people clap on every point, it was very surreal, but at the same time I was trying to stay locked in."

Bigun, a 16-year-old left-hander, played poorly in his first two service games of the third set, with Quan returning well and giving Bigun no time to set up his dangerous forehand. Bigun held for 5-1 however, and Quan played poor service game, including two double faults, to keep Bigun in the match. Bigun then held to make it 5-3, yet Quan didn't let the previous service game affect him on his second attempt to close out the match, making all six first serves, with two of them service winners.

"I planned out every point, and it was just go up and attack and see what happens," Quan said. "If you lose, you lose, it's not the end of the world. I'm pretty proud of myself, just how I fought back from three match points down, visualized my patterns and was able to execute."

Next up for Quan is friend Cooper Woestendick, the No. 11 seed, who took out No. 4 seed Keegan Rice of Canada 7-5, 7-6(4). Woestendick trailed throughout the first set, with Rice serving for it at 5-4, but Woestendick finished with a surge, then held his nerve in the second set tiebreaker, hitting a drop volley winner on his second match point.

Woestendick believes his ability to move forward is crucial on these courts.

"Here it's very slow courts and Keegan's very fast, so I have to be able to finish points at the net, because it's going to be tough to win from the baseline," said the 16-year-old from Kansas. "You have to come to the net quite a bit, I feel like. It's a very good skill to have."

Like Quan, Woestendick appreciates the opportunity to play in front of the many spectators who attend the event.

"Having lots of fans watching, that's probably the biggest thing," said Woestendick, who lost in the Easter Bowl 12s final at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 2019. "Being with the pros is cool, and you get to be around them, but having fans cheering for every match is great. Especially for me, I like having extra support, and playing on a Stadium court like today is very cool."

With seven of the eight semifinalists from the United States, the international part of the tournament's name is now in the hands of Great Britain's Oliver Bonding, who defeated No. 2 seed Roy Horovitz 6-3, 7-6(6). The tournament this year is a regional J300, confined to players from the United States and Canada, but Bonding is allowed to compete as a US passport holder.

"I was born in the States, but I play under the British flag and I've been living in London for 11 years now," said the 15-year-old, seeded No. 5 this week. "But my dad's Danish and my mom's Korean, so it's pretty crazy, I kind of snuck into this event."

Bonding was not completely certain about the number of set points he saved in the second set, guessing it was around eight.

"I think he had three at 5-2, had some advantages, it was seven or eight, around that," Bonding said. "Roy's a great opponent, and I had to be really aggressive, I couldn't let him get on his front foot. Whoever was dictating was going to win the match. I managed to push him back a bit and that helped me to win."

Bonding has taken advantage of his proximity to professional players, practicing with both Jack Draper and Andrey Rublev.

"It's a great experience to have this kind of environment around the pros," the 6-foot-3 right-hander said. "It's a different feel to normal junior tournaments, a more serious atmosphere. I've been lucky enough to hit with two of the pros; I've hit with Jack Draper a few times, we met each other about three weeks ago at the (LTA) National Centre and I hit with him about four times out here. And then I hit with Andrey Rublev twice. It was crazy, because I saw Rublev's coach come and watch my match yesterday. It was super nice of him."

Bonding will face No. 13 seed Cyrus Mahjoob, who neutralized the serve and volley game of No. 8 seed Duncan Chan of Canada 6-3, 6-1.

Both semifinals will be first-time meetings in ITF Junior Circuit competition.

The girls quarterfinals featured three close matches, but only one upset, with No. 7 seed Theadora Rabman defeating No. 4 seed Tatum Evans 7-6(6), 6-3.

The first set took 70 minutes, with neither Rabman nor Evans able to hold serve. Evans led 6-4 in the tiebreaker, but Rabman saved both set points, winning the last four points of the set. 

"I was just trying to stay with it," said the 17-year-old from New York, who had beaten Evans for the Easter Bowl 16s title in 2021, when it was played in San Diego due to the pandemic. "I was pretty nervous and playing one of my best friends. We just weren't holding serve at all, so I just tried to stay the course. After that, moving toward the ball I was much more confident."

True to the form, Rabman was broken serving for the match at 5-2, but she broke Evans to earn an important win.

"I'm defending a good amount of points and my goal is always to play the slams," said Rabman, who reached the quarterfinals last year. "Doing really well here is a great accomplishment for me, but I love these courts, love the weather here. I don't sweat much out here, but it's always a grind."

Rabman will face No. 2 seed Kaitlin Quevedo, who defeated wild card Valerie Glozman 6-2, 7-6(1) in the semifinals, a first meeting for the pair.  Glozman served for the second set at 5-4, but couldn't get to set point, and Quevedo was much too steady for the error-prone Glozman in the tiebreaker.

The only semifinal which features an ITF Junior Circuit rematch will be in the girls top half, with No. 1 seed Iva Jovic taking on No. 3 seed Clervie Ngounoue. The two met in the semifinals of the Orange Bowl back in December, with Ngounoue posting a 6-3, 6-1 win.

Jovic had two match points at 6-2, 5-2 in her quarterfinal with No. 9 seed Alanis Hamilton, but it more than an hour later before she got a third match point, which she converted for a 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3 victory.  

Ngounoue had the most straightforward of the quarterfinal wins on the girls side, beating No. 12 seed Maya Joint 6-2, 6-3.

The doubles finals, scheduled for Saturday afternoon and evening on Stadium 2, will feature two unseeded teams against the top seeds.

Hamilton got some revenge over Jovic, with a win in the doubles semifinals. Hamilton and Kayla Chung defeated No. 2 seeds Jovic and Tyra Grant 6-4, 1-6, 10-4.  Ngounoue and Qavia Lopez, the top seeds, defeated the unseeded team of Glozman and Anya Murthy 6-0, 5-7, 12-10.

The unseeded boys team in the final is Jagger Leach, the son of Jon Leach and Lindsay Davenport, and Joseph Oyebog, who defeated No. 2 seeds Chan and Rice 6-3, 6-4, by taking the final four games of the match. Oyebog and Leach will face top seeds Alexander Razeghi and Horovitz, who escaped with a 3-6, 7-6(5), 10-6 win over No. 8 seeds Woestendick and Matthew Forbes.

The single semifinals will be played on Stadium Courts 2 and 3, beginning at 10 a.m. Pacific, starting with the girls. 

Kyle Kang and Alex Michelsen played in the Easter Bowl ITF J300 semifinals last year, with Michelsen taking that match 6-1, 6-4, a week after Kang had defeated Michelsen 6-4, 6-4 in the first round of the San Diego ITF J300. Tomorrow they will play in the semifinals of the $25,000 USTA men's Pro Circuit tournament in Bakersfield California after both picked up straight-sets wins today. Kang, who withdrew from the FILA International and took a wild card into Bakersfield, defeated No. 8 seed Aidan Mayo 6-2, 7-5, while top seed Michelsen beat No. 6 seed Naoki Nakagawa of Japan 6-4, 6-1.

In the other semifinal, No. 7 seed Christian Langmo(Miami) will face No. 5 seed Alex Bolt of Australia.