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Thursday, March 28, 2024

Kotseva, Johnson and Davletshina Sweep Titles at Easter Bowl, Zhang Wins Boys 12s; Hill Ousts Top Seed Jauffret in Girls 18s Quarterfinals

©Colette Lewis 2024--
Indian Wells California--

The FILA Easter Bowl Championships concluded Thursday for the 12s and 14s divisions on a warm and bright day at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden with both 14s winners and the girls 12s champion taking both singles and doubles titles.

Raya Kotseva is undefeated in Easter Bowl competition the past two years, claiming both singles and doubles in the 12s last year and repeating that twin triumph again today. The 13-year-old from Las Vegas avenged her two recent losses to Anjani Vickneswaran with a 6-0, 7-5 victory in the 14s singles final, then partnered with Jordan Hazelitt, her partner in 2023, for the 2024 doubles title.

Kotseva came out on fire against Vickneswaran, who had beaten her in straight sets in the quarterfinals of the USTA Winter National Championships, with Vickneswaran going on to capture the title.

The second set was a much closer affair, with multiple breaks, and it was Kotseva who got the last one, with Vickneswaran double faulting on match point.

"I went out there and said play aggressive, don't get tight," said Kotseva, who also lost to Vickneswaran last month at a USTA Level 2 in the 16s. "Just have fun and whatever happens, happens."

Kotseva's appreciation for the Indian Wells Tennis Garden certainly played a role in reversing her fortunes against Vickneswaran.

"This tournament is the best, I always love coming here playing amazing players, everything is amazing here, it feels like paradise," Kotseva said. "It always feels amazing coming here and playing."

In addition to avenging those recent losses, Kotseva also had an another incentive to perform well, with her coaches, including her sister Iren Kotseva Schneider and her husband Scott at the All In Academy, driving over from Las Vegas.

"My coaches came, so that was motivating at first," said Kotseva. "There was people watching, it just felt like paradise and I just had fun. I just felt free, like always."

Vickneswaran couldn't pinpoint a reason for her poor start. 

"I just had a really late start," said the 14-year-old from Arizona. "In the first set, I don't feel like I was there. She played very well, made a lot less unforced errors than she did last time. But I knew it was going to be close in the second set, because I felt I had more energy in the second set. But she played really well in the second set also."

Both Vickneswaran and Kotseva are moving on from the 14s, with Vickneswaran aging out in July and Kotseva, already a winner of a J60 this month in her hometown, eyeing the San Diego 16s this summer. But before she leaves Indian Wells, she plans to celebrate another sweep of the Easter Bowl titles.

"Last year we went to Cheesecake Factory and celebrated," Kotseva said. "This year, we might go to a friend's house where we are staying this tournament and to celebrate with them."

Andrew Johnson is also ready to leave the 14s age division after dominating the field once again. The 2023 Junior Orange Bowl and 2024 Winter Nationals champion, who didn't drop a set in claiming those titles, ran his winning streak in that age division to 20 matches, after defeating doubles partner Izyan Ahmad 6-0, 6-2 in a final that lasted less barely 50 minutes.

"I've been playing really well in general for the past few months," said Johnson, of Rancho Palos Verdes, who has been competing in the area's ITF Junior Circuit events and reached the semifinals of the J60 early this month in Las Vegas.

"But this week I learned not to take anything for granted," said Johnson, who is coached by Vasile Beches and Peter Smith. "I had a tough match early in the tournament, won 3 and 5, and I should have been more prepared for that. I have to focus on the matches in front of me, instead of looking to the future."

Johnson, the second seed, kept his focus in the final, even as Ahmad struggled.

"He is obviously a really good player and was playing at a high level, but I just had a really off day today," said the fourth-seeded Ahmad, a 13-year-old from New Jersey. "I completely wasn't making my shots. But when you're playing a guy as good as him and you're that off, it's hard to come back. I tried, but I really couldn't do much."

Ahmad, who reached the semifinals of the 14s last year, is hoping to continue his progression in Easter Bowl results in 2025.

"I'll hopefully come back here next year and play the 16s," said Ahmad, who trains at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. "Last year I got third place, this year I got second place, the next place up is winning, so it would be amazing if I could do well here in the 16s."

The 12s finals were both competitive, with No. 2 seed and 2024 Winter Nationals champion Jiarui Zhang defeating unseeded Nathan Lee 6-2, 7-5 for his second straight USTA gold ball and top seed Nikol Davletshina earning her first gold ball in singles with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Savannah Schmitz, a No. 9 seed.

Zhang was rolling along in the first set, winning the final four games, but Lee regrouped and took a 3-0 lead in the second set, which he then expanded to 5-2.

"I had a brain freeze or something and he started to play a lot smarter," said Zhang, a Houston resident who will turn 13 next month. "I didn't know what to do. But I held for 1-3 and 2-4, and then I had nothing to lose. There was a lot of deuces, at 3-4 and 4-5, and then when I got to 5-all I started playing better, started believing in myself."

Zhang relied on his serve plus one game in the final game, and as he prepared to catch a flight back home to Texas, he was satisfied with his six straight-sets victories and another gold ball.

"This is my last tournament in 12s, so it was a good ending," Zhang said.

While Zhang had won the Winter Nationals, Davletshina had settled for a silver ball in San Antonio, so she was determined to come out on top in her next Level 1 final.

After over 90 minutes of competition, with grueling points and multiple deuce games producing a score of 2-2 in the second, Davletshina found the key, reeling off the final three games in efficient fashion after holding serve in the lengthy fifth game.

"I started rallying after that and she started missing a lot," said the left-hander from Florida, who turns 11 next month. "I sometimes lost my focus in the match, but not in the last three games."

After losing in the second round her last year, Davletshina was pleased with her improvement and with her first gold ball in singles, accomplishing that goal without losing more than three games in any set.

"This feels very good," Davletshina said.

Davletshina added another gold ball in doubles, with she and Isha Manchala, the top seeds, defeating No. 5 seeds Audrey Dussault and Olivia Lin 6-4, 7-5 in the afternoon's final.

Top seeds Johnson and Ahmad took the boys title with a 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 3 seeds Gadin Paxton and Arun Au.

The boys 12s doubles title also went to the top seeds, with James Borchard and Taiki Bortolin defeating No. 2 seeds Danile Gardality and Andy Wu 6-4, 6-2.

Kotseva and Hazelitt, the No. 4 seeds, defeated No. 3 seeds Shaya Jovanovic and Julia Seversen 6-4, 6-2 to win their second straight Easter Bowl doubles title.

While the 12s and 14s were receiving their trophies Thursday, the 16s and 18s played their quarterfinal matches, with the No. 1 seeds still in contention in the 16s, but not the 18s. 

Boys 18s No. 1 seed Braeden Gelletich had lost in the first round Monday; today Girls 18s top seed Capucine Jauffret also lost in straight sets, with No. 5 seed Claire Hill holding off a late comeback by Jauffret to earn a 6-3, 7-6(1) victory.

"In the first set I was playing really well, being aggressive, coming into the net and attacking off her return," said the 17-year-old from North Carolina, who has committed to the Tar Heels and plans on joining the team in January of 2025.

Up 5-2 in the second, Hill let the lead slip away, with Jauffret saving three match points serving at 2-5 and then two more with Hill serving at 5-4, 40-15. 

"I double faulted, was getting kind of tight," Hill said. "I probably should have been a litte more aggressive at that point. I think the nerves were kicking in."

Jauffret held to go up 6-5, but Hill didn't let the disappointment of the unconverted match points effect her, holding to force a tiebreaker, which she welcomed.

"I just didn't want to play a third set," said Hill, who needed two and a half hours to get to that point. "In the tiebreaker, I knew I had to be aggressive, not regretting not going for it."

Jauffret appeared to have given all she had to reach the tiebreaker and Hill stepped up, with a volley winner, a backhand forcing an error and a forehand winner for a 6-1 lead. With yet another match point, this time Hill didn't hesitate, with Jauffret sending a backhand just wide to end the match.

Friday's 18s semifinal matches:

Claire Hill[5] v Tianmei Wang[9]
Daniela Borruel[9] v Addison Lanton[2]

Jack Satterfield v Ronit Karki
Saahith Jayaraman[8] v William Manning[2]

Friday's 16s semifinal matches:

Gus Grumet[1] v Andrew Li
Lukas Phimvongsa[3] v Gavin Goode[2]

Bella Payne[1] v Ellery Mendell
Ava Rodriguez[9] v Isabelle DeLuccia[5]

With rain in the forecast for Saturday, check the USTA tournament website for information about the possibility of semifinals and finals both being contested on Friday.