Girls' 18s top seed Sofia Kenin won a third-set tiebreak against Ena Shibahara to reach the quarterfinals.
© David Kenas
By Steve Pratt, special to USTA.com
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – What a difference a year has made for 15-year-old Sofia Kenin, the girls’ 18s No. 1 seed in this week’s ASICS Easter Bowl.
As an unseeded player in the 16s draw last year, Kenin, from Pembroke Pines, Fla., lost to Ena Shibahara of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., in straight sets in the first round. On Thursday, in one of the best matches of the iconic 47th annual tournament being played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Kenin rallied for a 2-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(6) win over Shibahara on a day that saw the temperatures reach into the high 90s.
“I knew it was just a year ago that I lost to her and a lot has changed,” said Kenin, who is ranked No. 37 in the ITF World Junior Rankings. “I just tried to stay with it, and she missed a volley at 6-6 (in the third-set tiebreak), and so I said, 'Let’s get this point at 7-6 and close it out quickly.'”
Kenin also won a three-setter on Wednesday and was watched closely by current UCLA women’s coach Stella Sampras-Webster.
Revenge was also fresh on the mind of Robert Loeb of Hilton Head Island, S.C., who just two weeks ago lost in straight sets to boys’ 16s ASICS Easter Bowl top seed Evan Zhu of Greenbelt, Md., in Mobile, Ala.
But on Thursday, Loeb, like Kenin, was able to reverse the results, pulling out a 6-4, 6-4 win over Zhu. Later in the day, Loeb beat Conrad Russell, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(4), in the second round.
In another upset, unseeded Michael Genender of Los Angeles beat No. 5 seed Sameer Kumar of Carmel, Ind., 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in a round-of-16 boys’ 18s match. Kumar turned an ankle during the third set, which allowed Geneder to take control and win the match. But it wasn’t easy.
“I thought he was cramping, but he turned his ankle and had to call for the trainer,” he said. “I abandoned my game. It’s tough because you don’t want to miss, and you focus on what he’s doing and not on your game.”
Genender moved on to the quarterfinals, where he will face No. 13 seed Robert Levine on Friday.
“I lost in the first round in Claremont and Carson the past two weeks,” Genender said. “I knew I was close but that I just had to get a few matches under my belt.”
The big matchup slated for Friday in the boys’ 18s involves top-seeded Francis Tiafoe of College Park, Md., and No. 7 Taylor Fritz of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. In their last meeting in the final of the Tulsa ITF last October, Tiafoe and Fritz were knotted at 3-all in the first set before Tiafoe reeled off nine straight games to win, 6-3, 6-0.
“I woke up in the morning, and I was like, ‘Wow, this isn’t happening today,’” Fritz said of that final. “I felt so bad that morning. I played four really good matches before that, and I was playing some of my best tennis ever. But I was going to bed a little bit later each night. I wasn’t responsible enough off the court at all, and that hurt me.”
He doesn’t mind meeting Tiafoe in a quarterfinal match.
“I don’t pay much attention to it,” said Fritz. “It is what it is. If I want to win the tournament, I have to beat the best player in the tournament. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s going to be the quarters, the semis or the final.”
Jean Thirouin of Houston was named the winner of Wednesday’s Jackie Cooper-Tory Fretz Sportsmanship Award, which is selected by the tournament staff, and was presented with a medal and free pair of ASICS shoes. Winners earlier in the week include Nicole Kalhorn and Reilly Olpeka.
To keep up with the latest ASICS Easter Bowl news, visit the official website, and check out the tournament on Facebook and Twitter.