Top seed Francis Tiafoe celebrates his win over No. 7 Taylor Fritz in the boys' 18s quarterfinals.
© David Kenas
By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – In a match that had all the intensity of a final between two of the nation’s top 16-year-olds, top-seeded Francis Tiafoe of College Park, Md., came back to beat No. 7 Taylor Fritz of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-2, on Friday to advance to the ITF boys’ 18s semifinals at the ASICS Easter Bowl.
At 4-all in the second set, with Tiafoe serving down 15-40, Fritz had a chance to break and then serve for the match, but Tiafoe came up with a huge serve and then played another smart point to eventually hold serve, win a close tiebreak and close out the match at the 47th annual tournament, being played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
“In the third set, I really started to play my game and use the plan that my coach here Frank [Salazar] gave me,” Tiafoe said. “I knew if it was going to go three it would be mine because I knew he was getting tired. They asked if we wanted the 10-minute heat rule before the third set. I didn’t want it, and I didn’t even let him get a chance to answer.”
Tiafoe has never faced his semifinal opponent Robert Levine, the No. 13 seed from Bedford, N.Y., who ended unseeded Michael Genender’s run in the tournament, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4.
Tiafoe said he knew Fritz would come out firing since he sorely needed to win this event to get straight into the junior French Open and Wimbledon later this spring. Tiafoe said he’s never had great results at all the past Easter Bowls he has played.
“To me, it’d be so huge if I won here because I’ve never done that great here,” he said. “I lost in the first round the first year, second round the next year and the third round last year. So I was thinking I might be leaving in the quarters after the first set and this would be it for me.”
In the other semifinal, Aron Hiltzik of Wilmette, Ill., will take on unseeded Nathan Ponwith of Scottsdale, Ariz. Hiltzik took out William Blumberg of Greenwich, Conn., 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-3, and Ponwith eliminated No. 3-seeded Logan Smith of Carlsbad, Calif., 6-1, 6-4.
Hiltzik was an Easter Bowl boys’ 16s finalist in 2012, when he lost to current UCLA Bruin Joseph DiGiulio in the final. In his quarterfinal Friday, he was down 5-2 in the first set and faced multiple set points, winning each one and climbing back to take the first set in the tiebreak.
“I actually don’t know exactly how many set points it was, but just say it was a lot,” he said.
Hiltzik, whose brother Jared is a current NCAA Top 10-ranked player at the University of Illinois, said his game has elevated since September, when he moved to College Park, Md., and began training full time at the Junior Tennis Champions Center, a USTA Certified Regional Training Center.
“It’s been unbelievable there,” he said, citing coaches he’s been working with, including Misha Kouznetsov, Frank Salazar and Kyle Bailey. “The level of coaching has been amazing.”
Katie Swan was named the winner of Friday’s Jackie Cooper-Tory Fretz Sportsmanship Award, selected by the tournament staff, and was presented with a medal and free pair of ASICS shoes. Winners earlier in the week include Aron Hiltzik, Jean Thirouin, Nicole Kalhorn and Reilly Olpeka.
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.