Jessica Ho in action.
© Cynthia Lum
Roman Safiullin in action.
© Cynthia Lum
By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
CARSON, Calif. – The sting of a first-round loss last year at the USTA International Spring Championships fresh on her mind all week, Jessica Ho of Tampa, Fla., put a halt to Los Angeles resident Emma Higuchi’s strong play in a 6-1, 6-1 victory in the Girls’ 16s final at the Home Depot Center on Saturday.
It was one year ago that Ho, from Wexford, Pa., and training in Tampa, Fla., lost to eventual champion Yuki Chiang on Day 1 of the tournament.
"I came out and played well from the start and felt my game matched up with hers," said Ho, who said she did not start to feel nervous until she went ahead 5-0 in the first set. After tournament director John Lansville handed her the crystal bowl trophy given to each winner, Ho seemed surprised. "Do I get to keep this?" she asked.
While Higuchi had dropped just 17 games in five matches without losing a set during the week, including a win over top-seeded Nicole Frenkel in the quarterfinals, Ho had to win consecutive three-set matches in the quarters and semis to contest the final.
Higuchi, who recently turned 14, began training at the USTA Training Center – West in Carson at age 9 five years ago. The top-ranked USTA player in the nation in the 14s, she will be the top-seeded player beginning Sunday in the 14s at the Easter Bowl in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Fourteen-year-old qualifier Roman Safiullin, playing for Russia but living currently in San Diego, was taking part in his just his second ITF tournament having lost in qualifying last week in the Claremont 18s. He came back to beat Frances Tiafoe from College Park, Md., 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1 in the boys’ 16s final.
Safiullin has been staying in San Diego with top 18s player Christine Makarova. "My father met Christina’s mother (Luda) at the Orange Bowl and she invited us to come stay with them in San Diego," Safiullin said. "It’s been really great to be here, about five month now. I plan to go back to Russia on May 15 and will play the Russian junior championships and more ITFs this summer.
The 14-year-old Tiafoe was being coached all week by Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) Senior Director of High Performance Frank Salazar, who was the 2008 United States Olympic Committee (USOC) National Development Coach of the Year. The JTCC is a USTA Regional Training Center.
Salazar moved to Atlanta to coach at Racquet Club of the South for a year, but recently returned to Maryland where he groomed such notables as Denis Kudla, Mitchell Frank, Junior Ore and Beatrice Capra.
"It just feels like the place I should be," said Salazar, who said he first saw Tiafoe hanging around the club at age 2 and who spent his formative years watching those named above.
In Sunday’s boys’ 18s final, top-seeded Mitchell Krueger of Aledo, Texas, will play 14-year-old Stefan Kozlov of Pembroke Pines, Fla. Krueger gutted out a tough three-set win over No. 3-seeded Noah Rubin of Rockville Centre, N.Y., 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-2. Kozlov beat Luca Corinteli of Alexandria, Va., 6-2, 6-3 in the other semifinal.
In the girls’ 18s final, No. 7-seeded Allie Kiick of Plantation, Fla., will take on No. 3-seeded
Chalena Scholl (3) of Pompano Beach, Fla. Kiick lost the first set to No. 1 seeded Taylor Townsend of Stockbridge, GA, 6-2, but came back to win the final two, 7-5, 6-1.
Later in the day, Townsend and Gabby Andrews repeated as 18s doubles champions, continuing a streak started in January when they won the Australian Open Juniors. Tiafoe also left Carson a winner, teaming with Yancy Dennis to win the 16s doubles title.
Both 18s boys’ and girls’ singles finals will be contested at the same time on Sunday morning at 9 a.m.
For complete draws log onto the website at www.usta.com/isc.
Boys' 18 Singles (Semifinals)
Mitchell Krueger (1) Aledo, TX def. Noah Rubin (3) Rockville Centre, NY, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-2
Stefan Kozlov Pembroke Pines, FL def. Luca Corinteli Alexandria, VA, 6-2, 6-3
Boys' 18 Doubles (Final)
Mackenzie McDonald / Trey Strobel (2) def. Thomas Colautti / Josh Hagar, 6-4, 6-3
Boys' 16 Singles (Final)
Roman Safiullin San Diego, CA def. Frances Tiafoe College Park, MD, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1
Boys' 16 Doubles (Final)
Yancy Dennis / Frances Tiafoe def. Augustus Ge / Jean Thirouin 7-6 (4) 6-4
Girls' 18 Singles (Semifinals)
Alexandra Kiick (7) Plantation, FL def. Taylor Townsend (1) Stockbridge, GA, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1
Chalena Scholl (3) Pompano Beach, FL def. Jennifer Brady (8) Boca Raton, FL, 3-6, 6-0, 6-0
Girls' 18 Doubles (Final)
Gabrielle Andrews / Taylor Townsend (1) def. Stephanie Nauta / Chalena Scholl (2), 7-5, 6-2
Girls' 16 Singles (Final)
Jessica Ho Wexford, PA def. Emma Higuchi Los Angeles, CA 6-1, 6-1
Girls' 16 Doubles (Final)
Yuki Asami / Ilana Oleynik def. Natalie Da Silveira / Ena Shibahara, 7-5, 1-6 (10-1)