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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Johnson, Branstine Meet in International Spring Championships Girls Final; Ross and Rotsaert Play for Boys Championship; Woldeab Wins Epic 16s Boys Final

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

Last year Carson Branstine and Taylor Johnson met in the first round of the International Spring Championships, with the unseeded Branstine defeating the eighth-seeded Johnson 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-3.  On Sunday, the two 16-year-old Southern Californians will meet in the final, after top seed Johnson defeated No. 11 seed Hurricane Tyra Black 7-5, 6-3 and Branstine came back from a set and a break down to beat No. 9 seed Elysia Bolton 6-7(2), 7-6(2), 6-1.

"This shows that we're both improving a lot, that's the good news," Johnson said.

"I agree with that," said Branstine, who has recently begun playing under the Canadian flag. "Taylor has been playing unbelievable and I think I'm playing pretty well."

Johnson said Friday's quarterfinal win over No. 12 seed Dominique Schaefer helped her against Black today.

"She's definitely a tricky player, but Dominique also slices a lot, so I got used to it, and I knew what I was in for," said Johnson, who had both Rosie Casals and Billie Jean King watching her match today. "I think I played the best I've played so far here, so I'm happy about that."

Branstine squandered a break in the opening set against Bolton and went on to drop the tiebreaker, and she was broken in the opening game of the second set.  When she failed to convert her break point, allowing Bolton to hold for 4-2, Branstine yelled out, "you're done."

She was wrong, of course. She was not done, breaking Bolton at 4-3, only to lose her serve in the next game, giving Bolton an opportunity to serve for the match.  Bolton went up 30-0, but missed a couple of forehands and double faulted at 30-40 to make it 5-all. In her next service game, Bolton had to save three set points, but she forced the tiebreaker. Branstine took advantage of poor play by Bolton to take a 6-0 lead and then closed out the set, more than two hours after the match had begun.

As for her announcement that she was done, Branstine said she didn't mean it as it sounded.

"I don't think everyone took that the right way," Branstine said. "I meant I'm done not playing the way I want to play. I came out today--it's been a good tournament, I've been playing pretty well--and it wasn't the same level as the other matches. I told myself how badly I wanted to win today and I put my head down and figured out how to win. Credit to Elysia, too. That's some of the best tennis I've seen her play."

Branstine admitted that Bolton's level did fall in the third set.

"I think in the third set it was kind of survival of the fittest," said Branstine. "I think I ended up just being the fitter player and outplayed her at the end. She was making kind of a lot of loose mistakes, so I tried to take advantage of that as much as I could."

Branstine has beaten Johnson all five times they have played in ITF junior events, with only one of those not going three sets.

"It's obviously going to be a great match," Branstine said. "We always have very, very competitive matches, no matter what the score is. Playing Taylor, it's always going to be fun."

The boys finals will feature No. 3 seed Gianni Ross and No. 10 seed Alexandre Rotsaert, after both continued their straight-sets march through the draw.

Rotsaert defeated unseeded Axel Nefve 6-4, 6-3 to reach his first Grade 1 final.

"I'm really happy," said the 17-year-old Floridian. "That training block I did, I didn't think I was going to get the final, I was just hoping to play well. I've played Clay Courts finals twice, Kalamazoo (16s) final and those didn't turn out great, so I'm trying to avenge that a bit."

Ross got past friend and fellow USTA training partner Oliver Crawford, the No. 5 seed, 7-6(5), 6-1, saving six set points serving at 5-6 in the opening set.

"It was a little bit of luck and a little bit of guts," Ross said. "That first set was just brutal. I felt like he was just there, and it's annoying when someone's there every point, wanting to when just as much as you. I was very lucky how I got out of those, I made the ball in the court; I don't think I hit a single winner on any of those. They were all tight, and you can feel it on those big points."

Ross actually did hit a good first serve and forehand putaway to save the sixth set point, but Crawford did make errors, most of them of the unforced variety, on the rest.

Crawford took a 3-0 lead in the tiebreaker, but missed a couple of forehands to give back the minibreaks and Ross converted his first set point when Crawford missed a volley.

"There was a drop off, a big difference from the first set," said Ross, an 18-year-old who now lives and trains in Florida. "It still felt like it was hard. Oliver is very good, I'm not going to take anything away from his game. He beat me the last time we played, and I know how he plays, he knows how I play, so we're out there just battling."

Ross won his previous meeting with Rotsaert earlier this year at the Grade 1 Banana Bowl 6-2, 7-5.

"It was a very tough match," Ross said. "It was close, all these matches I'm playing now are close."

"We had a good match," Rotsaert said. "It was one of those matches where the score did not really indicate the match. But I know him pretty well, and it will be fun, a fun final."

While that may turn out to be true, it's unlikely to be as exciting as the boys 16 final, which saw twists and turns galore before unseeded Siem Woldeab beat No. 6 seed Andrew Dale 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(7).

Dale served for the match at 6-5 in the second set, but never got closer than deuce, with Woldeab hitting a forehand winner and Dale missing a forehand wide to send the set to a tiebreaker. Several points in the tiebreaker had the fans scattered around court 5 gasping then applauding, and although he lost one such lengthy point to go down 4-2, Dale said "great playing" to Woldeab as they changed ends. Woldeab went on to claim the next two points as well, claiming the set on his second set point, with Dale netting a forehand.

Woldeab called for a trainer at the end of the set, receiving treatment on his back, but he quickly took a 5-2 lead.  Serving for the match, Woldeab began to show signs that his back was inhibiting his serve and his movement, and Dale pummeled a second serve to earn a break point, which he converted.

Woldeab had a match point in the next game at 30-40, but Dale saved it with a soft drop volley that Woldeab couldn't reach and went on to hold.

Serving for the match for a second time at 5-4, Woldeab made four unforced errors to lose the game, and his recovery seemed doubtful. Dale held easily to take a 6-5 lead, and Woldeab's prospects looked bleak, but he played an excellent game to hold and force a tiebreaker.

Woldeab continued to play well, and Dale matched his level, taking a 5-3 lead in the tiebreaker when Woldeab missed a drop shot badly.  But Woldeab followed with a backhand winner, and when Dale missed a passing shot, it was 5-all.  A Woldeab double fault, a rare occurrence throughout the match, gave Dale a match point, but he missed a forehand volley after a lengthy rally.  After a great lob, Woldeab had his second match point at 7-6, but Dale saved it with a backhand volley winner.  Woldeab hit a backhand that forced an error on the next point to give himself a third match point, and this time he converted when Dale's shot found the net, giving Woldeab the championship.

Woldeab said he had been having trouble with his back throughout the week.

"My back was giving me problems all week," said the high school sophomore from the San Diego area. "Today in the second set breaker, I think I pulled it a little bit and in the third set I was a bit sluggish. It was a really close one, but I happened to just pull it through."

Dale said he did what he could to take advantage after Woldeab had called for the trainer.

"When the trainer was called, I definitely saw," said the 15-year-old from Virginia. "I was maybe looking to step in a little bit, but he came out playing a different brand of tennis and I had to adapt to that. He was struggling on his serve and put a lot of spin on it, dropped it a little bit short, which made it hard for me to attack, which I had done really well in the first set."

Woldeab could have been worn down by another long three-setter, this one three hours in length, but he had beaten both No. 10 seed Leighton Allen and No. 5 seed Faris Khan in the quarterfinals and semifinals from a set down, so he had a history of success under those circumstances.

"The match is not won in the first set, it's the entirety of the match," said Woldeab, who does not play ITF tournaments, sticking to Southern California sectional and USTA events. "Just because you lose the first set, there's no need to panic. It means to just keep pushing and fighting harder."

Although obviously disappointed in the result, Dale was satisfied with how he competed.

"It was really tight, and it could have gone either way," Dale said. "I'm happy that I hung in and fought when I was down in the third set. Previously, I've gotten down on myself and I was happy just to hang in there and keep fighting.  A few points made the difference, he just won the ones that mattered the most.  In the tiebreak, we both played some of the best and toughest points we played in the entire match."

Both Woldeab and Dale are playing the Easter Bowl, which starts on Monday for the 16s division. Woldeab is the No. 3 seed and Dale is seeded number four; if they play there it will also be in the final.

The boys doubles final was decided on Saturday evening, after the semifinals were played Saturday afternoon.  No. 4 seeds Sebastian Korda and Colombian Nicolas Mejia won the title, beating unseeded Boris Kozlov and Karl Poling 6-7(4), 6-4, 10-2.  Kozlov and Poling had taken out top seeds Trent Bryde and Duarte Vale of Portugal 7-5, 4-6, 10-4 earlier.

Korda and Mejia had also won their quarterfinal and semifinal matches in a deciding tiebreaker, having also lost the first set in both of those victories. Against unseeded Christian Alshon and Tyler Zink in the semifinals, Korda and Mejia posted a 4-6, 6-0, 10-7 victory.

"We've played well in the tiebreakers, I don't think we've played well in the first sets," said Mejia. "We've started a little slow, but when you've got a good partner like Sebi, everything is easy."

"We always shine in third set breakers," said Korda. "We have unbelievable chemistry, we're best friends off court and we play well together."

Korda and Mejia had lost their last two Grade 1 finals, in College Park last August and in Tulsa's Grade B1 last October.

"It's a pretty good record, getting to the finals," said Mejia. "This time, we were lucky to win in the third. They played really well, they move a lot and make some volleys, so it was tough, really tough."

Mejia, who trains at the IMG Academy, is not eligible to compete in the Easter Bowl, so Korda will be playing with Vasil Kirkov. Korda and Kirkov reached the finals in Indian Wells last year.

The girls doubles final will be played after the singles final on Sunday, with Branstine competing in both.  Branstine and Ellie Douglas, the No. 1 seeds, will play No. 5 seeds Emiliana Arango of Colombia and Elli Mandlik.  Branstine and Douglas rolled past No. 7 seeds Black and Imani Graham 6-2, 6-1, while Arango and Mandlik took out No. 2 seeds Natasha Subhash and Caty McNally 6-4, 4-6, 10-7.

Both singles finals are scheduled for 9 a.m. on Sunday, with the girls doubles final not before 11:30 a.m.

See the ITF junior website for the draws.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bolton Celebrates Birthday with Quarterfinal Win at International Spring Championships, Rotsaert Rolls On; Stein Wins Girls 16s Title via Retirement; Gallien Out at Southern Cal

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

Blowing four match points is not an ideal way to celebrate a birthday, and No. 9 seed Elysia Bolton was obviously frustrated when she was unable to close out Amanda Meyer in the second set of their ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championship quarterfinal Friday at the Stubhub Center. In her first day as a 17-year-old, Bolton regrouped, earning a tense 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-1 victory.

Meyer, seeded No. 14, saved two match points serving at 3-5 in the second set, with Bolton missing forehands to end both rallies. Bolton then had two match points on her own serve at 40-15, but two more missed forehands and an untimely double fault and the end of the match was no longer imminent.  Meyer then went on to take the tiebreaker, leaving Bolton understandably frustrated.

"I got a little tight," Bolton said. "I went to the bathroom, splashed a little water on my face and gave myself a little pep talk in the mirror. I came out and decided I'm not going to let this slip from me."

Her first test came early, in the first game of the third set, when she saved three break points in a nine-deuce game to take a 1-0 lead.

"It was big to come out, after losing four match points, I knew getting that game was really important," said Bolton. "To not have her break me, that could swing the momentum a lot. So I was just staying in it, doing what I could."

Bolton held for a 2-1 lead, then broke Meyer to go up 3-1, and broke again for a 5-1 lead.  Although Bolton had seen a 4-0 lead disappear in the first set, she did not falter in the third, closing out the match on her fifth match point when Meyer netted a backhand.

Bolton will be playing in her first Grade 1 semifinal on Saturday, although she has reached a Grade A semifinal, earlier this year. Her opponent Saturday will be No. 2 seed Carson Branstine of Canada, who defeated friend Nicole Mossmer, the No. 10 seed, 6-0, 7-6(4).

Bolton and Branstine have split two ITF junior matches, both in 2015.

"She has a big serve and a big forehand," Bolton said. "I'll have to weather the storm and make sure I'm playing my game and try not to focus too much on what's going on on the other side of the court."

The other girls semifinal will feature top seed Taylor Johnson against No. 11 seed Hurricane Tyra Black.  Johnson was down a break in the first set against No. 12 seed Dominique Schaefer of Peru, but found her form in the first set tiebreaker and went on to record a 7-6(3), 6-2 victory.  Black, who took out No. 3 seed Emiliana Arango of Colombia 6-2, 6-4, defeated Johnson in their only ITF junior meeting, nearly two years ago in the Grade 4 final in Delray Beach.

Tenth seed Alexandre Rotsaert continued his impressive results this week with a 6-2, 6-2 win over unseeded Brian Shi, who had beaten top seed Trent Bryde in the first round.  Rotsaert, who has dropped only 15 games in four matches, said his recent training block has paid dividends this week.

"I had two, three really good weeks before coming here," said the 17-year-old from Florida. "I changed my serve a bit, and am trying to play more aggressive, take the ball more on the rise, especially on these hard courts. And I'm trying to play a bit more free."

After playing qualifying at the Orlando Futures, where he lost in the final round, went back home to Boca Raton to prepare for the California ITF swing.

"I trained with my coach, Ernesto Ruiz, for, I think it was three weeks, at my house, just grinding, long sessions, four or five hours, just to keep my concentration," Rotsaert said. "It was the first time I had three real good weeks of practice. I really believed that what I was doing was helping, just feeling it inside."

Rotsaert's opponent in the semifinals is unseeded Axel Nefve, last year's 16s champion, who came back to defeat unseeded Jenson Brooksby 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.

"I've never played him," said Rotsaert. "We've hit before in practice, but I don't remember the last time we've played a set. He likes these courts, I remember watching him in the finals last year. He's a really good player, good lefty. I think it's going to be a fun match; I'm looking forward to it."

In the other boys semifinal, No. 3 seed Gianni Ross will take on No. 5 seed Oliver Crawford.  Ross defeated No. 9 seed Patrick Kypson 6-3, 6-2, while Crawford took out future University of Florida teammate Duarte Vale of Portugal, the No. 2 seed, 7-6(7), 6-4.  Crawford and Ross met in the semifinals of the ITF Grade 1 last August in College Park Maryland, with Crawford earning a 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 victory.

The 16s finalists were determined today, and the girls 16s champion was decided, although not in the hoped for manner.

Unseeded Vivian Ovrootsky, the reigning 12s USTA Winter Nationals Champion, defeated top seed Skyler Grishuk 6-0, 6-1 in less than an hour in today's semifinal.  But she is playing the USTA Easter Bowl in the 14s division, and that tournament begins Saturday in Palm Springs. According to the referee, Ovrootsky played one point against No. 2 seed Lauren Stein and retired, with Stein going in the record books as the girls 16s champion.  Stein had defeated No. 3 seed Tara Malik 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals.

The boys 16s final will be played on Saturday, with unseeded Siem Woldeab meeting No. 6 seed Andrew Dale for the title.  Dale defeated No. 8 seed Stefan Leustian 6-1, 6-2 in a match much closer than that score indicates.  Woldeab took out No. 5 seed Faris Khan 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 in a match that took nearly three hours to complete.  It was the second consecutive match that Woldeab won after dropping the first set.

The 16s doubles semifinals and finals were played on Friday, with both the girls and boys finals decided in match tiebreakers.

In the girls final, No. 8 seeds Maxi Duncan and Jamilah Snells defeated No. 5 seeds Britt Pursell and Rachel Wagner 2-6, 6-1, 12-10.  From 5-4 in the match tiebreaker, neither team trailed nor led by more than one point, with Pursell and Wagner saving match points at 9-8 and 10-9. At 11-10, Duncan and Snells were able to convert their third match point.

In the boys final, No. 6 seeds Russell Berdusco and Theo Winegar defeated unseeded Hunter Heck and Alexander Petrov 2-6, 6-1, 11-9.

For Saturday's order of play, see the tournament website.

The University of Southern California announced today that Richard Gallien would be leaving as women's coach after the completion of this season. Although the release does not mention the fates of associate head coach West Nott and volunteer assistant Zoe Scandalis, I am told they are not finishing the season.

Keeping Doubles in the Junior Game

Before I head out for a long day of tennis at the International Spring Championships, I'm posting a link to my Tennis Recruiting Network article on junior doubles. The USTA's decision to adopt the abbreviated Division I format for some of its tournaments (one set, no-ad scoring) has its critics, and I discussed the implications of less time devoted to doubles with players, coaches and administrators.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Crawford Survives Another Three-Setter to Advance to Quarterfinals at ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships; Semifinals Set in 16s

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

All three of his matches at this week's International Spring Championships have gone three sets, with today's victory settled in a third-set tiebreaker, but No. 5 seed Oliver Crawford has survived.  On a clear and breezy day at the Stubhub Center, Crawford won a roller coaster of a third round match, beating unseeded Kyrylo Tsygura 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(2).

"I was playing well, was up 6-2, 3-0 deuce and had a short forehand and missed it," said the 17-year-old University of Florida recruit. "He always stays in there and fights, so credit to him. He makes a lot of balls, you don't know what he's going to do. He hits slice, drop shots, comes in on weird balls. He's crafty. He basically plays a game that makes other players play poorly."

Tsygura was able to earn a 3-1 lead in the third set, but he gave that break back and then gave Crawford another break, courtesy of two consecutive foot faults followed immediately by a more conventional double fault.

"He must have had 30 foot faults," Crawford said. "I don't know why he wouldn't take a step back, even his coach was telling him he was foot faulting. I think it was a bit of a shame she kept calling the foot faults, because I don't think he was getting any advantage from stepping on the line."

Tsygura, who will be joining the University of Virginia in the fall, was able to get that break back in the next game and hold for a 5-4 lead, but at 5-5, he was broken again, on a double fault, allowing Crawford to serve for the match.  Crawford didn't get to match point, with two unforced errors on the forehand side and a shank leading to a break and a deciding tiebreaker.

The first five points of the tiebreaker went to the receiver, but Crawford broke that streak with a forehand winner and great overhead for a 5-2 lead.  Tsygura needed the next two points to keep the pressure on Crawford, but he shanked a forehand and then missed a forehand way long to end the match in anticlimactic fashion.

"I was making a lot of errors today," said Crawford, who won the 16s division here two years ago and made the semifinals of the 18s last year. "Maybe it was a little bit of the wind, and I definitely didn't play my best today, but I think it was just because of the way he played; he really didn't let me play my best."

Crawford will play No. 2 seed Duarte Vale of Portugal in the quarterfinals, with Duarte beating No. 14 seed Lukas Greif 6-4, 7-6(1).

The two players who shook up the draw with upsets Monday have continued to post impressive results. Brian Shi, who beat top seed Trent Bryde in the first round, beat No. 16 seed Timothy Sah 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4.  Wild card Jenson Brooksby, who took out No. 4 seed Sam Riffice in the opening round, beat No. 13 seed Juan Hernandez Serrano of Mexico 6-3, 6-1.  Brooksby will face unseeded Axel Nefve, last year's 16s champion,  assuring an unseeded semifinalist, after Nefve defeated Ryan Goetz 6-2, 6-2.  Shi will play No. 10 seed Alexandre Rotsaert, who beat No. 6 seed Toru Horie of Japan 6-4, 6-2.

No. 9 seed Patrick Kypson will play No. 3 seed Gianni Ross after both picked up straight-sets victories today.  Kypson took out 15-year-old wild card Brandon Nakashima, who had two set points serving at 6-5 in the first set, but ended up on the short end of a 7-6(3), 6-2 decision. Ross defeated No. 15 seed Sangeet Sridhar 6-4, 6-3.

All eight girls singles quarterfinalists are seeded, with top seed Taylor Johnson, No. 2 seed Carson Branstine of Canada and No. 3 seed Emiliana Arango of Colombia getting through their third round matches in straight sets today.  No. 4 seed Ellie Douglas did not survive, losing to No. 14 seed Amanda Meyer 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, and No. 6 seed Caty McNally was beaten by No. 10 seed Nicole Mossmer 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.

Mossmer trailed 3-1 in the final set, but Mossmer had a positive memory of a previous win over McNally to draw on.

"It was in the 14s Intersectionals, right after I had decided to quit soccer," said Mossmer, who was a top player in that sport before deciding to concentrate on tennis. "Midwest and SoCal were tied up, and it got down to my match, and I'd never played a national tournament before, and I beat Caty. I knew it was going to be a really long match, and she's just really good, so I knew it was going to be tough."

Mossmer won four straight games after falling behind 3-1, but she was unable to serve out the match, getting no closer than deuce.  But McNally couldn't seize that opportunity, and was broken in the final game, hitting a double fault on match point.

"We were both having a hard time holding serve, and I think we both have good serves, but it was just so windy today," the reigning 16s National champion said. "I tried to hold my serve, but you have a better chance of breaking, at least in this match, because the wind was so tough."

Mossmer will play her friend Branstine, who defeated Vanessa Ong 6-2, 6-3, in the quarterfinals.

"We're buddies, really good buddies," Mossmer said. "She's pretty funny and we get along really well. We haven't played since the 12s in SoCal, but it will be really fun to play her."

Meyer's opponent in the quarterfinals is No. 9 seed Elysia Bolton, who defeated qualifier Annette Goulak 6-3, 6-3.  Arango will take on No. 11 seed Hurricane Tyra Black, who downed Alexa Noel 6-4, 6-2.  Johnson, who defeated Georgia Drummy of Ireland 6-3, 6-2, faces No. 12 seed Dominique Schaefer of Peru, who beat No. 7 seed Hailey Baptiste 6-4, 6-0.

The boys doubles finally got underway this afternoon, with two rounds completed, and top seeds Bryde and Vale advanced to the quarterfinals.  No. 2 seeds Brian Cernoch and Riffice lost in the first round to Christian Alshon and Tyler Zink, and No. 3 seeds Crawford and Kypson were beaten in the second round by Boris Kozlov and Karl Poling.

Girls top seeds Branstine and Douglas and No. 2 seeds McNally and Natasha Subhash have advanced to Friday's quarterfinals.

See the ITF junior website for all the doubles scores.

The 16s semifinals are set for Friday.  Unseeded Siem Woldeab will face No. 5 seed Faris Khan after both posted three-set victories. Woldeab defeated No. 10 seed Leighton Allen 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, while Khan outlasted unseeded Bradon McKinney 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.  In the bottom half, No. 8 seed Stefan Leustian will play No. 6 seed Andrew Dale for a place in the final.  Leustian dropped No. 14 seed Andres Martin 7-5, 6-3 and Dale defeated unseeded Stefan Dostanic 6-4, 6-3.

The girls semifinals feature three of the four top seeds.  No. 1 seed Skyler Grishuk, a 6-3, 6-3 winner over unseeded Katrina Scott, will play unseeded Vivian Ovrootsky, after Ovrootsky took out No. 14 seed Maxi Duncan 6-4, 6-3.  No. 3 seed Tara Malik defeated unseeded qualifier Nikita Vishwase of India 6-4, 6-4 and will play No. 2 seed Lauren Stein, who beat No. 8 seed Gianna Pielet 6-3, 6-1.

The 16s semifinals are scheduled for 9 a.m., with the 18s quarterfinals not before 10 a.m.  See the tournament website for the complete order of play.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Top Seed Johnson Saves Match Point In Nearly Four-Hour Win over Chen; Wild Card Nakashima Ousts No. 7 Seed Rubio in International Spring Championships Second Round

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA--

Although no precipitation fell Wednesday at the International Spring Championships, the effects of Tuesday's rain were felt all day, with a three-hour delay due to wet courts. Complicating the attempts to get back on schedule, two courts, including the primary show court 4, developed bubbling that kept them out of commission throughout the day and possibly all week.

What the tournament staff did not need in the midst of all these setbacks was a three hour and 46 minute match, but top seed Taylor Johnson and Kelly Chen played one anyway, with Johnson saving a match point in her 7-6(3), 5-7, 7-6(3) victory.

Chen was up 4-1 and serving in the first set, and 5-1 in the second set, but the windy conditions made holding serve difficult for both players throughout the match.  After Johnson had won four straight games in the second set to make it 5-5, Chen went down 0-40 on her serve, but won the next eight points and nine of the next 10 to even the match.

Both players held serve in the third set until Johnson was broken serving at 3-4, with three double faults in that game too much to overcome.  Chen didn't come close to serving out the match however, getting broken at love to make it 5-4.  Johnson held to pull even and Chen held for 6-5, putting the pressure back on Johnson.  Up 40-15, Johnson couldn't convert either game point and Chen won the next point too, with a great dipping shot at Johnson's feet as she closed the net.  Facing match point, Johnson hit a good first serve, but Chen handled it, only to hit a backhand well long when she had a good look at a down-the-line winner.  Johnson continued to serve well to close out the game, sending the match to a third set tiebreaker with a forehand winner.

Johnson took a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but gave one of the minibreaks back with a double fault.  Two forehand winners gave Johnson the luxury of four match points, but Chen responded with a forehand winner of her own to make it 6-3.  Johnson closed it out on her next chance however, when Chen's forehand went wide.

"I think I definitely did get frustrated," Johnson said of the challenging conditions. "I was definitely up and down. But in the third set, I just focused in and gave it all I had. I just really stayed calm."

Johnson knew that Chen, who received a wild card into the tournament, would be a tough opponent.

"She's been a really good player for a long time," said Johnson, a 16-year-old from nearby Redondo Beach. "She's had some unfortunate injuries, and I knew coming back, she was obviously going to try to go for it again. She's definitely getting back to her level, playing well."

Johnson also went three sets in her opening round match on Monday against Victoria Hu, and while not enthusiastic about her form, is happy to have survived.

"I'm obviously happy to have gotten through," said Johnson. "These were some tough first rounds and I think it's good for me to play tough right out of the chute. You have to play them all, so it doesn't really matter when. I know they're all going to be tough."

Johnson said she doesn't give much thought to her position as the top seed.

"Obviously it comes with a little pressure, but I really don't focus on that," said Johnson, whose coach Rosie Casals attended the match. "I just try to focus on the ball when I'm out there, not let any of that come into my head."

Two seeded girls fell in the second round today, with Ireland's Georgia Drummy defeating No. 13 seed Ann Li 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 and Salma Ewing beating No. 15 seed Victoria Emma 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.

In the boys draw, four seeded players lost, joining No. 1 seed Trent Bryde and No. 4 seed Sam Riffice, both of whom lost in Monday's first round action, on the sidelines.

Ryan Goetz defeated No. 8 seed Brian Cernoch 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, 2016 Carson 16s champion Axel Nefve downed No. 11 seed Sebastian Korda 7-6(3), 6-1 and Kyrylo Tsygura beat No. 12 seed Nicolas Mejia of Colombia 6-2, 6-1.

The fourth seeded player to go out Wednesday was No. 7 Alan Rubio Fierros of Mexico, who lost to 15-year-old wild card Brandon Nakashima 6-1, 6-4 under the lights on a chilly evening at the Stubhub Center.

Nakashima, who was a finalist last week at the ITF Grade 4 in Newport Beach, dominated in the first set, then fought back from 3-1 down in the second set to pick up his second Grade 1 win.

"I've been playing pretty well, playing with a lot of confidence," said Nakashima, who made his debut in Carson as a 12-year-old in the 16s division back in 2014. "I feel my game is doing really well right now."

With only three ITF tournaments on his resume, Nakashima's encounters with top international players are rare.

"I knew pretty much nothing about him," Nakashima said. "I knew he's pretty high ranked [34] and I knew he had to be pretty good, so I just played my game. He started playing better in the second set, and I just held my game together and played well at the end."

After going down 3-1, Nakashima won the next three games, but was broken at 4-3 to give Rubio hope. It didn't last long, as Rubio was broken back, giving Nakashima the opportunity to serve out the match. At 40-15, Nakashima showed some nerves, making unforced errors on both match points and the following point, likely the only time in the match he had made three consecutive unforced errors.  Rubio missed a forehand on that break point and then missed a too-casual backhand overhead to give Nakashima a third match point, which he converted when Rubio hit a forehand wide.

"I was getting a little bit nervous at that point," Nakashima said. "But I just played my game, consistent, just tried to hold my serve and play the points smart."

In the 16s, the boys lost two more top seeds, with No. 2 Eliot Spizzirri eliminated by Stefan Dostanic 6-2, 6-4, and No. 4 seed Martin Damm going out to No. 14 seed Andres Martin 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.  No. 5 seed Faris Khan is now the highest seed remaining.

Several girls 16s third round matches were still going after 8 p.m. Wednesday, with many having to play two singles matches due to Tuesday's rain.

See the tournament website for complete draws and Thursday's order of play.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Gupta Ousts Top Seed Khan in Boys 16s, Qualifier Cheng Advances at ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships; New ITA D-I Rankings; Tiafoe Among Eight US Qualifiers at Miami Open

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Carson, CA

The rain predicted for the Los Angeles area held off long enough to finish the first round of the boys and girls 18s singles and the second round of the boys 16s singles Tuesday, but the second round of girls 16s singles was cut short when a steady rain began to fall around 2:30 p.m.

All five seeds in the 18s who played Tuesday--Gianni Ross[3], Oliver Crawford[5], Nicole Mossmer[10], Hurricane Tyra Black[11] and Vanessa Ong-- advanced, but two of the top boys 16s seeds, who had byes in the first round, were eliminated.

No. 3 seed Niroop Vallabhaneni was beaten by Brandon McKinney 6-2, 6-1 and top seed Zane Khan went out to Aditya Gupta 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-1.

Gupta acknowledged that facing Khan in the second round "was a tough draw," but he wasn't intimidated.

"I knew if I played my game and stuck with him, I'd have a chance," said the 15-year-old, who trains with Chris Lewis and Chuck Brymer at Woodbridge Tennis Academy in Irvine. "I lost a tight first set, conditions were pretty windy, but I started finding my range in the second and third sets, and was able to really dictate with my forehand."

Gupta saved two break points in the second game of the third set, then broke Khan, who couldn't convert three game points, to take a 2-1 lead. Gupta held in another deuce game to go up 3-1 and when he broke Khan for a 4-1 lead, he saw a clear path to what he called his "best win."

"I knew I just had to stay focused, because he was starting to break down mentally a little bit, a lot of double faults toward the end," Gupta said. "So I knew if I just kept putting balls back in, I'd be able to pull it out."

Girls 16s seed top seed Skyler Grishuk was able to finish her match before the rain arrived, defeating Payton Saca 6-4, 6-1.

It wasn't a good morning for the reigning 16s Orange Bowl champions, with both falling to qualifiers in first round 18s matches.

Steven Sun was beaten by Henry Cacciatore 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 and Katie Volynets, who won the ITF Newport Beach Grade 4 title on Saturday, lost to Vivian Cheng 6-1, 7-5.

Although Cheng characterized her win over Volynets as "lucky," but the 15-year-old from Santa Monica showed impressive composure in the latter stages of the match.

After dominating the first set with her depth and consistency, while efficiently putting away any short balls, Cheng did not let up in the second set.  Although Volynets may have missed a few more balls than normal, some of that was due to Cheng's aggressive play.  At 4-4 in the second set, Cheng got a break and a chance to serve out the match, but she was unable able to finish it.  Volynets was helped by a net cord winner, but she hit two forehand winners to break back and make it 5-all.

Volynets was broken at love in the next game, however, giving Cheng an opportunity to serve out the match a second time.  Again Cheng got a bit tentative and at 30-all, Volynets was able to force an error for a break point. A good first serve saved it, and Cheng went on to earn a first match point, but she overcooked a forehand putaway.  Cheng would earn a second and third match point, both of which were denied by Volynets, often after lengthy rallies that went from moonballs to half volleys to driving ground strokes and back again. Cheng saved two more break points in the six-deuce game, but she finally converted when Volynets return of a first serve went just long, finally ending the two-hour-plus match.

"I knew I just needed to keep playing, not try to change my style," said Cheng, who trains with Troy Collins in Santa Monica. "I couldn't play differently, I just had to keep playing the way I was."

Cheng, a sophomore on the Santa Monica High School team, competes almost exclusively in Southern California, with the only ITFs she has played the area tournaments held here this time of year.

After three straight-sets wins in qualifying, Cheng said her attitude was "just do the best you can, no real expectations," with that mindset helping her record her first main draw victory in an ITF.

"I think I played a little bit better than usual," said Cheng, who was hustling back to her high school classes. "I haven't had many big wins."

When play was called for the evening, seven girls 16s matches were in progress, with two matches yet to go on.  Several girls 18s doubles matches were completed, but there were no boys 18s doubles matches put on court at all.

For Wednesday's schedule, see the tournament website.

The Division I ITA team and individual rankings came out today, with the Florida women, despite a loss to Georgia, and Wake Forest men staying at No. 1. Click on the headers to go to the complete rankings at the ITA website.

The women's Top 10 team: (previous week ranking in parentheses)

1. Florida (1)
2. Ohio State (2)
3. Georgia (6)
4. North Carolina (4)
5. Stanford (4)
6. Georgia Tech (11)
7. Oklahoma State (8)
8. Vanderbilt (10)
9. Texas Tech (7)
10. Michigan (9)

The men's Top 10 team:
1. Wake Forest (1)
2. Virginia (3)
3. Ohio State (2)
4. Baylor (6)
5. Southern Cal (5)
6. Texas (8)
7. Oklahoma State (5)
8. Texas A&M (11)
9. North Carolina (4)
10. UCLA (10)

No. 1s in the singles rankings also have not changed, with Ohio State's Mikael Torpegaard and Francesca Di Lorenzo staying at the top.

The women's Top 10 singles:

1. Francesca Di Lorenzo, Ohio State (1)
2. Hayley Carter, North Carolina (2)
3. Ena Shibahara, UCLA (3)
4. Blair Shankle, Baylor (11)
5. Astra Sharma, Vanderbilt (5)
6. Luisa Stefani, Pepperdine (6)
7. Karla Popovic, Cal (9)
8. Eleni Christofi, Georgia (18)
9. Sara Daavettila, North Carolina (4)
10. Viktoriya Lushkova, Oklahoma State (10)

The men's Top 10 singles:

1. Mikael Torpegaard, Ohio State (1)
2. Petros Chrysochos, Wake Forest (2)
3. Cameron Norrie, TCU (23)
4. Hugo Di Feo, Ohio State (3)
5. Juan Benitez, Baylor (15)
6. Thai Kwiatkowski, Virginia (9)
7. Alfredo Perez, Florida (10)
8. Nuno Borges, Mississippi State (4)
9. Christopher Eubanks, Georgia Tech (7)
10. Michael Redlicki, Arkansas (6)

In men's doubles, Wake Forest's Skander Mansouri and Christian Seraphim returned to No. 1.  In women's doubles, North Carolina's Jessie Aney and Hayley Carter remained in the top spot.

The qualifying is complete at the Miami Open, with five US men and three US women advancing to the main draw.

Frances Tiafoe defeated Mathias Bourgue of France 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to join Ernesto Escobedo, Jared Donaldson, Christian Harrison and Tim Smyczek as qualifiers.  Escobedo defeated Renzo Olivo of Argentina 7-5, 6-3, Donaldson topped Stefan Kozlov by the same score, Harrison defeated Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil 7-5, 6-2 and Smyczek beat Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium 7-5, 6-1.

Varvara Lepchenko, Madison Brengle and Taylor Townsend are the US women qualifiers, with Lepchenko beating Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, Brengle outlasting Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain 7-6(2), 7-5 and Townsend beating Mona Barthel of Germany 7-6(6), 6-3.