By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
– They came from all parts of the United States and even countries like Japan, Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Argentina and Venezuela, but on the final day of the 16-and-under division at the USTA International Spring Championships on Saturday, a player from Pete Sampras’ childhood hometown just eight miles up the hill from the tournament site captured both the singles and doubles titles.
Ena Shibahara, 15, of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., swept past 12-year-old Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif., 6-1, 6-2, to win the girls’ 16s singles title and then teamed with Savannah Slaysman to capture the doubles championship at the prestigious event being played at the Home Depot Center.
"She sure doesn’t look 12," Shibahara said of Liu, who trains at the USTA Training Center West in Carson three days a week. "She had a little more power than I thought."
Shibahara trains with her father and coaches Oliver Messerli and Kimberly Po-Messerli near her home at the Peninsula Racquet Club. Po-Messerli was a successful WTA player, winning the Wimbledon mixed doubles title in 2000 with Donald Johnson and making it all the way to the Australian Open quarterfinals in 1997.
Shibahara said winning a gold ball at the USTA Winter Nationals helped boost her confidence over the last few months.
Liu said she picked a bad time to play her worst match of the tournament, especially with USTA coach Adam Peterson looking on.
"He just said I played well in the rounds before and to just learn from it," Liu said.
You can’t get much closer than boys’ 16s singles finalists Jake Devine and Catalin Mateas have been this, week as the two USTA National Training Center practice partners shared a room during the entire week.
Using his booming serve to get him out of several tight spots throughout the match, the No. 4-seeded Devine of Boca Raton, Fla., beat No. 7 Mateas from Braintree, Mass., 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
"I don’t think we’ve ever played a match in a tournament where it hasn’t gone three sets," said Devine, who blamed nerves on his slow start. "It was kind of a pattern for me in this tournament. I started slow, and it took me awhile to find my game. I finally started to hit my forehand."
With Devine serving leading 3-2 in the final set, Mateas had a break-point chance to get it back on serve but missed an easy down-the-line passing shot just wide.
"I had a chance there, but I just couldn’t convert," he said. "Every chance I had, he came up with a big serve."
In a battle of 15-year-olds in one 18s semifinal, No. 2-seeded Stefan Kozlov of Pembroke Pines, Fla., came up with the bigger shots against Francis Tiafoe of College Park, Md., 6-3, 6-4.
It marks a return trip to the final for Kozlov, who, as a 14-year-old, lost to Mitchell Krueger in last year’s final.
"Last year in the final, I wasn’t playing my game and attacking. I was playing more defense and letting him dictate the points," said Kozlov, ranked No. 21 in the ITF World Junior Rankings.
He faces 16-year-old Henrik Wiersholm of Kirkland, Wash., in the 9 a.m. Sunday final. Wiersholm trains with Kozlov at the National Training Center in Boca.
"It hasn’t been much of a rivalry because I have never beaten him," said Wiersholm, calling Kozlov one of the smartest players in junior tennis. "I’m hoping to change that in the final."
In the girls’ 18s final, Jamie Loeb of Ossining, N.Y., will take on Mayo Hibi of Irvine, Calif. Loeb ended Kimberly Yee’s run, 6-2, 6-4. Yee, who trains at Mike Agassi’s No Quit Academy in Las Vegas, was a qualifier who was riding a seven-match winning streak entering the match. Hibi beat top-seeded Christina Makarova of San Diego, 6-4, 6-1.
Loeb and Redondo Beach’s Maegan Manasse downed Hibi and Denise Starr for the 18s doubles title, 6-3, 6-3, while Tommy Mylnikov and Naoki Nakagawa beat Spencer Papa and Alexander Zverev, 6-4, 7-5, for the 18s boys’ doubles championship. In the boys’ 16s doubles final, Taylor Fritz and Daniel Gealer beat Chase Colton and Kyle Seelig, 6-2, 6-3.
For a complete rundown of Saturday’s scores and updated draws, click here
Boys' 18 Singles (Semifinals)
Henrik Wiersholm, Kirkland, WA def. Naoki Nakagawa (4), Japan 6-4, 6-3
Stefan Kozlov (2), Pembroke Pines, FL def. Francis Tiafoe (14), College Park, MD 6-3, 6-4
Boys' 18 Doubles (Final)
Tommy Mylnikov / Naoki Nakagawa (2) def. Spencer Papa / Alexander Zverev (3) 6-4, 7-5
Girls' 18 Singles (Semifinals)
Jamie Loeb (5), Ossining, NY def. Kimberly Yee, Las Vegas, NV 6-2, 6-4
Mayo Hibi, Irvine, CA def. Christina Makarova (1), San Diego, CA 6-4, 6-1
Girls' 18 Doubles (Final)
Jamie Loeb / Maegan Manasse def. Mayo Hibi / Denise Starr (7) 6-3, 6-3
Boys' 16 Singles (Final)
Jake Devine (4), Boca Raton, FL def. Catalin Mateas (7), Braintree, MA 2-6, 6-3, 6-4
Boys' 16 Doubles (Final)
Taylor Fritz / Daniel Gealer (8) def. Chase Colton / Kyle Seelig (5) 6-2, 6-3
Girls' 16 Singles (Final)
Ena Shibahara (13), Rancho Palos Verdes, CA def. Claire Liu, Thousand Oaks, CA 6-1, 6-2
Girls' 16 Doubles (Final)
Ena Shibahara / Savannah Slaysman def. Caroline Dolehide / Alexis Nelson (8) 7-6(1), 6-2