CiCi Bellis extended her winning streak to 18 matches in 2014 after winning the girls' 18s singles title at the Easter Bowl.
Francis Tiafoe edged Nathan Ponwith to capture the boys' 18s Easter Bowl crown.
© David Kenas
By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – With his ultimate goal of winning an ASICS Easter bowl finally complete, 16-year-old Francis Tiafoe said his focus will now turn to the junior Grand Slam events in the coming months, including the French Open and Wimbledon.
Tiafoe joined No. 4-seeded CiCi Bellis of Atherton, Calif., as the 18s winners as the 47th annual event ended with rave reviews from players, parents and coaches being played for the first time at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, home site of the BNP Paribas Open.
The top-seeded Tiafoe of College Park, Md., needed three sets to beat Nathan Ponwith of Scottsdale, Ariz., 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2. Bellis had an easier time in defeating good friend Katie Swan of Wichita, Kan., 6-3, 6-1.
“I definitely could have made that a little easier,” Tiafoe said. “I was up (5-2) in the first set and we were both playing ugly tennis.”
After dropping the second set, Tiafoe was able to pull out two long games to open the third and deciding set. “The first game of the third set is always huge. Always,” Tiafoe stressed. “I could have easily been down 0-2 but I was up 2-0. Where would you rather be?”
Tiafoe was told by his traveling coach Frank Salazar after the match that he would move up from No. 7 in the ITF world junior rankings to No. 2, becoming the highest-ranked U.S. junior in the world. And for now, with his Easter Bowl title behind him, Tiafoe said he can’t wait to get on the red clay in Paris once the French Open starts May 25.
“That’s some place and I’m really looking forward to being there,” he said. “I’ve been watching that tournament on TV since I was 6 years old. I plan to get on the grounds early and hit with guys like Sam [Querrey], Stevie [Johnson] and Jack [Sock].
Bellis, who sat with Swan and watched the Tiafoe-Ponwith match before they took the court, is also looking to head to Europe for the junior Slams, as well as the Italian Open. “I can’t wait to get on the red clay,” she said. “I love it.”
The win marked the second straight Easter Bowl title for Bellis. She won the 16s last year.
Said Swan: “I’m happy she won. I mean, if it was going to be anyone I’m glad it’s her. She’s a great player.”
John McNally, who won the 16s at the International Spring Championships last week, was victorious on his second straight Sunday, avenging a heartbreaking loss in last year’s Easter Bowl 14s final. The No. 9 seed from Cincinnati defeated No. 2 Zeke Clark of Tulsa, Okla., in an entertaining match, 6-3, 7-6(4).
In last year’s 14s final against Connor Hance, McNally let a match point slip away, up 6-4, 5-4 and 40-30. On Sunday, with McNally leading 6-3, 5-4, 40-love lead and serving, Clark was somehow able to get it back to deuce, and broke McNally to tie it up 5-all. But the big-serving McNally was able to hold his next service game and won the tiebreak with the help of two big aces.
“Yeah, that was big,” he said, adding that he was clocked by the court speed gun serving 120 mph. “Just to be able to pull out this match is like a huge sigh of relief. I’m still shaking. As soon as I lost that game to make it 5-all, I just I just said focus on the next game and hold serve.”
What did he think after Clark battled back to tie it up and letting three match points slip away? “I was in shock,” he said. “It was getting hard to breathe after losing those match points. I was pretty worried. But everybody has match points and blows them. I said in my interview last year that all good players bounce back after losing match points, and I bounced back this year to win the title.”
Girls’ 16s top-seeded player Katerina Stewart of Coral Gables, Fla., did not drop a set in the tournament, beating unseeded Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif., 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, in the final. “It feels good,” Stewart said. “This is my last 16s tournament. I’ll play the 18s National Clay Courts and Hardcourts and try to get the wild card into the US Open.”
Top seed Steven Sun, 13, of Glen Cove, N.Y., beat Keenan Mayo, the No. 2 player from Roseville, Calif., 6-0, 4-6, 6-1, to win the boys’ 14s crown. “This was a lot tougher and I played better opponents,” he said. Sun overcame a semifinal match on Saturday where he was down, 6-1, 3-1, but came back to win.
Another New Yorker, No. 3 Rachel Lim of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., took out unseeded Ashley Yeah of Los Gatos, Calif., 6-1, 7-6(2) to win the girls’ 14s. Lim trains at the USTA National Tennis Center – East in in New York. “It’s amazing to win the Easter Bowl,” said Lim, who lost in the round of 16 last year. “It’s been a tiring week, but it’s a good kind of tiring.”
Unseeded Daniel Sharygin of Newburgh, Ind., won the boys’ 12s title with a 7-6(4), 6-2 victory over No. 16 Ronan Jachuck of Slingerlands, N.Y. Sharygin battled back from being down 5-3 and then 6-5, love-30, in the first set. “I was extremely nervous today,” he said.
Kacie Harvey, No. 9 from Braintree, Mass., edged out No. 6 Katie Volynets of Walnut Creek, Calif., in a nearly two-hour match that was closer than the 6-2, 6-1 girls’ 12s final score indicated. “She was a really good runner so I had to really be smart with my shots,” said the seventh grader. “I usually had to hit a few extra shots than I’m used to. This is my best tournament result. I usually lose like in the third round.”
Bellis was awarded the overall girls’ Jackie Cooper-Tory Fretz Sportsmanship Award, while Ponwith took home the honor on the boys’ side.
For all Easter Bowl news and results in all age divisions, visit the official website, and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter.