INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (April 12, 2015) – Taylor Fritz learned a lot of lessons on his way to capturing the 48th annual ASICS Easter Bowl ITF Boys’ 18s singles title. Most important was that a match isn’t over until it’s officially over.
The top-seeded Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., resident Fritz, who came back from down a set and 0-5 to win a third-round match on Thursday, continued his high level of play on the final day of the tournament as he beat No. 14-seeded Sam Riffice, 6-2, 6-3, to claim the title in the tournament played at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Fourteen-year-old Claire Liu, the No. 12-seed from Thousand Oaks, Calif., claimed the ITF Girls’ 18s trophy with an impressive 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, win over Katie Swan, the No. 2-seed from Wichita, Kan.
Fritz smiled when asked after the match if he was more determined to win following such an amazing comeback. “Of course,” he said. “After you have one of those it makes you more determined to win the whole thing.” He added: “It’s crazy to think how early in the tournament that was and I still had so many more matches to go. I just got better and better each match after that. And it woke me up because I had never been that far down before and came back.”
Just one week ago, Fritz was flying home from China after making the finals in the ITF Junior Masters. He was asked what lessons were learned during the week. “That I can play pretty well jet-lagged,” he said. “I learned I don’t have to always play my best tennis and can still win. As long as I can just keep fighting and keep my head in it. Sometime all you need is the heart to win the matches.”
Fritz and Riffice played some unbelievably high-level and entertaining points in front of a nice crowd on hand on a hot 90-degree day in the desert.
“I wanted to dictate more and play a little more offensively,” said Riffice, of Roseville, Calif. “Right off my serve he was pushing me back. He’s improved a lot since we played last. He wasn’t missing many serves and had a good first-serve percentage.”
Fritz added: “Sam and I play very similar. He moves better than I do but we both try to be aggressive. I was just able to take the first strike before he was and was a little more aggressive when I had to be.”
Fritz, who will likely move up a spot to No. 3 in the ITF world junior rankings, said he wasn’t sure if he was going to play the USTA Pro Circuit Challenger in Tallahassee, Fla., on clay April 25-May 2 that he had originally planned to. He will travel to Spain and Italy for ITF Grade A junior events, before playing the French Open Juniors where he will be one of the top seeds.
Fritz said after playing great in China, his play slumped at the start of the week, but got progressively better, especially his serve. “Everything but the serve was working good (this week),” he said. “But today it was working better than it has so I can’t complain.”
Liu joins former Thousand Oaks residents Sam Querrey (2005) and Marcos Giron (2011) to have won 18s titles at the ASICS Easter Bowl, and became one the youngest to win the 18s in tournament history.
Liu said she lost focus and her level of play dipped after a solid first set which she won 6-2. But she was able to get an early break of serve and take a 3-0 lead in the third set.
“I think I played pretty well,” said Liu. “In the first and third set I played better than I did in the second. I just wasn’t there in the second and had a lot of unforced errors.”
She chose several critical points to come to the net and recorded several put-away volleys. “I tried to come in as much as I could and it seemed to help,” she said, adding, “It feels really good to win the Easter Bowl.”
Liu said this tournament was important to her as she is trying to earn enough ITF points to get into the main draw at the Junior French Open.
Like Fritz, Liu said she got better as the week went on. “After every match I did better,” she said. “At the beginning I was nervous and then as I started to get into it. I just started to play more relaxed as the tournament went on.”
Swan was the winner of the Tory Fretz/Jackie Cooper Sportsmanship award on Saturday, along with Boys’ 14s winner Adam Neff.
Swan was playing in her second straight ITF 18s final, falling to CiCi Bellis one year ago. “It was tough and a battle,” Swan said. “I didn’t serve as well as I could have. I’m disappointed with the result, but it was great to be in two straight finals.”
It was Sweet 16 day at the 48th annual ASICS Easter Bowl as both boys’ and girls’ 16s champions were crowned on the final day of play in the USTA Spring Nationals lower divisions.
Top-seeded Oliver Crawford of Spartanburg, S.C., had little trouble with No. 11 Brian Cernoch of North Bethesda, Md., 6-2, 6-1, to win the Boys’ 16s singles on Friday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Crawford extended his personal win streak to 12 straight over the past 12 days. Crawford, 15, also won the 16s singles at the USTA International Spring Championships last week in Carson, Calif.
Las Vegas-based 16-year-old Samantha Martinelli, the No. 2 seed originally from Denver, also needed just two sets to win the Girls’ 16s singles beating unseeded Natasha Subhash of Fairfax, Va., 7-5, 6-3.
The final two days of the ASICS Easter Bowl are all about the ITF 18s as the Boys’ and Girls’ 18s singles semifinals and doubles finals will be contested on Saturday with both singles finals taking place on Sunday.
The Boys’ 16s champ Crawford has been training recently with the USTA in Boca Raton, Fla., and said he played with an injured lower back with pain shooting all the way down his leg.
He said he was aware that USTA Director of Coaching Jose Higueras and USTA Head of Men’s Tennis Jay Berger were watching the match. “It was a bit nerve-wracking when they first came around,” said Crawford, who is traveling here with his father while his mother and sister are in New York City on Spring Break.
“I played with a little bit more confidence today than last week’s final,” he added.
Martinelli also played in a final last Sunday, but not in the Carson ITF, instead choosing to play in a local USTA Intermountain Sectional event which she won.
Martinelli trains with the No Quit Tennis Academy in Las Vegas under the direction of Coach Tim Blenkiron. Martinelli is part of the Marty Hennessy Inspiring Children Foundation, a USTA NJTL program. She is also an elite member of Team Bryan and credits Blenkiron for her success. “He’s really amazing. We train up to four hours a day and he really has been able to help with me, both on and off the court,” she said.
On Thursday, Martinelli also added an ASICS Easter Bowl 16s doubles title to her resume. Before her singles final, Martinelli picked up an advantage by something she did during warmups. “In the warmup I noticed (Subhash) was running around her backhand and hitting a forehand so my strategy was to hit to her backhand.”
When Ken Thomas on the easterbowl.com live stream noted in her post-match interview that that was a very smart thing to pick up on, Martinelli responded: “Oh, yeah. I always start the warm-up by hitting a ball up the middle to see which side they favor.”
The finals of the USTA boys’ and girls’ 12s and 14s singles were completed on Wednesday with both 14s finals producing memorable matches. In the boys’ 14s final, 13-year-old No. 3-seed Adam Neff of Bradenton, Fla., came back from down 1-6, 1-4, to beat No. 10-seeded Jaycer Calleros of San Antonio, 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.
“He was playing unbelievable in the first set, and you have to give him credit for the way he played,” Neff said. “I’m not sure what happened at 1-4 in the second. Something just clicked and I was able to get the victory. I just told myself to not miss. I just tried to change the game plan and grind and tried to not out-hit him. That ended up working.”
Incredibly, Neff broke his strings in five of his Wilson rackets during the match and had to borrow a racket from someone in the stands at one point. He was actually leading 2-1 in the third with the borrowed stick before his coach scrambled to have more rackets strung.
Neff said it was “extra special” to make his largest comeback in an ASICS Easter Bowl final the way he did.
Neff said he wasn’t aware of any other 14s winners in the iconic event, but said, “I’m thinking Andy Roddick won the 14s maybe.”
Past 14s winners at the ASICS Easter Bowl include: Gene Mayer (1969), John McEnroe (1973), Vince Spadea (1988) and Justin Gimelstob (1991). Roddick did win the 16s Easter Bowl title back in 1998.
The Girls’ 14s final went down to the very end as No. 14 Whitney Osuigwe of Bradenton, Fla., came back from down 5-2 in the final set and saved two match points to beat top-seeded Alexa Noel of Summit, N.J., 4-6, 6-0, 7-6 (4).
Osuigwe, who won the 12s at the Junior Orange Bowl in December, said at last year’s ASICS Easter Bowl she was up 5-2 in the third set only to lose in the 12s quarterfinals to eventual champion Kacie Harvey.
“It feels great to win the Easter Bowl,” said Osuigwe, 12, whose father is a trainer at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.
Hunter Heck, the No. 6-seed from New Brighton, Minn., beat Jameson Corsillo, No. 2 from Boca Raton, Fla., to win the Boys’ 12s singles, 6-3, 6-2.
“I had a lot of nerves before the match but it goes away once I start playing,” said Heck, a 12-year-old seventh-grader who plays for his local high school tennis team.
In the Girls’ 12s singles final, top-seeded Gabriella Price of Montebello, N.Y., took out unseeded Emma Jackson of La Grange Park, Ill., 6-1, 6-2.
“It feels amazing,” Price said after the match. “The best thing in the world.”
Price took advantage of several Jackson double faults in the match. “I wasn’t nervous,” she said. “I was more excited than nervous.”
Just last month, Price had her name in lights as she participated in an exhibition at the BNP Paribas World Tennis Day celebration at Madison Square Garden. She took on Coco Gauff before the Monica Seles-Gabriela Sabatini exhibition “(Today) was kind of the same as that,” she said. “Because they had my name up there.”
Price is currently working full-time in Florida with renowned coach Rick Macci in Florida.