With a victory on Sunday, CiCi Bellis would join Melanie Oudin and Krista Hardebeck as back-to-back International Spring Championsips and Easter Bowl champions.
© Bob Kenas
By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Desperately wanting to play in her third straight ASICS Easter Bowl final, CiCi Bellis of Atherton, Calif., rallied to win the last four games to beat top-seeded Sofia Kenin of Pembroke Pines, Fla., 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in the Girls’ 18s singles semifinals on Saturday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
“I had to stay really focused and try not to give away any free points,” said Bellis, the No. 4 seed, who reached the girls’ 14s final in 2012 and won the 16s last year. “I was really scared being down 4-2. And nervous.”
Bellis, who turned 15 on Tuesday, will face fellow newly turned 15-year-old and No. 11-seeded Katie Swan of Wichita, Kan., Sunday in the final. Swan, who moved to the United States a year ago from Bristol, England, downed Michaela Gordon, the No. 7 seed from Saratoga, Calif., 6-0, 6-4, in the other semifinal.
After winning the first set, Bellis said she knew Kenin was prepared to play in her fourth consecutive three-set match. “She’s a fighter and she never gives up,” Bellis said. “She’s a good player. When I won the first set I said to myself, ‘You have two more sets to go.’”
Bellis called the ASICS Easter Bowl, “literally my favorite tournament. I don’t know why it’s so special, but it just is. Maybe it’s because it’s during my birthday.”
Bellis won the USTA International Spring Championships last week and is looking to join Melanie Oudin and Krista Hardebeck as back-to-back International Spring Championships and Easter Bowl 18s winners.
Bellis knows Swan well from international events they’ve played. One of Swan’s coaches is Colin Foster, the head women’s coach at Wichita State University.
“It’s amazing I’m in the final,” Swan said. “I’m just playing really consistent and have been playing better every match.”
Swan and her family moved to the United States a little over a year ago. They applied for a Green Card and were waiting for the receipt to show that they had applied; it came one week ago, enabling her to play in the International Spring Championships and the Easter Bowl.
Swan said she hit with Wimbledon champion Andy Murray as a young child and has also worked with his mother, Judy, who has served in the role as an Under 10 coach for Great Britain.
In boys’s 18s play, top-seeded Francis Tiafoe of College Park, Md., advanced to his first Easter Bowl final with a 6-2, 6-2 semifinal win over Robert Levine, the No. 13-seeded player from Bedford, N.Y.
On Sunday, Tiafoe will play unseeded Nathan Ponwith of Scottsdale, Ariz., in the final. Ponwith beat Aron Hiltzik Wilmette, Ill., 7-6(5), 6-4, in the other semifinal. Hiltzik was forced to call for a trainer near the end of the match to work on an injured shoulder.
Ponwith’s parents Jesse and Pam own the All About Tennis shop in Scottsdale, and the Ponwiths were named USTA Southwest Family of the Year in 2010.
Ponwith last played Tiafoe in the semifinals of Les Petits As, a top 14-and-under event in Tarbes, France, two years ago. He lost in three sets.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I’ve wanted to play Francis for a while now. It’s been tough because the expectations are high for the guys born during my year.”
Ponwith was referring to the current top three players from the U.S. born the same year (1998) as he was. All three – Stefan Kozlov (No. 4), Tiafoe (No. 7) and Michael Mmoh (No. 9) – are currently ranked in the Top 10 of the world ITF rankings.
In the boys’ 16s final, No. 9 John McNally of Cincinnati will play No. 2 Zeke Clark of Tulsa, Okla.
In the girls’ 16s, top-seeded Katerina Stewart of Coral Gables, Fla., will take on unseeded Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif. Stewart has won eight of her 10 sets during the ASICS Easter Bowl by 6-0 scores. She recorded another double-bagel Saturday in the semifinals, blanking unseeded Maria Mateas of Braintree, Mass., 6-0, 6-0.
In the boys’ 14s, top-seeded Steven Sun of Glen Cove, N.Y., will play No. 2 Keenan Mayo of Roseville, Calif.
In the girls’ 14s, unseeded Ashley Yeah of Los Gatos, Calif., will play No. 3 Rachel Lim Rachel of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.
In the boys’ 12s, Daniel Sharygin of Newburgh, Ind., will play No. 16 Ronan Jachuck of Slingerlands, N.Y.
In the girls’ 12s, No. 6 Katie Volynets of Walnut Creek, Calif., will face No. 9 Kacie Harvey of Braintree, Mass.
To keep up with the latest ASICS Easter Bowl news and results in all age divisions, visit the official website, and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter.